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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Reaping what you sow

Last night at my small group we looked at Luke 1, (specifically the passage about Elizabeth being barren). This started a discussion about reaping what you sow and determining which bad events in life are the result of punishment and which are of testing. On the way home I started thinking about this a bit more and realized that there's an easy way to explain Luke's point (and Jesus' in John) using simple laws of logic.

Logic tells us the way we can appropriately think about the world. Logic is rooted in the nature of God, meaning that even God obeys laws of logic. That may surprise some of you, but it's really no different from saying that God couldn't make 2+3 = 97. This isn't a limit on God in any way, just the way any rational being's mind works. For example, imagine I say something like, "If it is raining outside, then the streets are wet." If you look outside and see that it is raining then you'll know that the streets are wet. To make it easier to see the structure of this argument we can put it into what is called standard form.

1. If it is raining outside, then the streets are wet.
2. It is raining outside.
3. Therefore, the streets are wet.

This type of reasoning will always guarantee the conclusion. If premise 1 is true, then any time it is raining the streets will be wet. However, sometimes people reason incorrectly like this:

1. If it is raining outside, then the streets are wet.
2. The streets are wet.
3. Therefore, it is raining outside.

Why is this a case of poor reasoning? Because there is no guarantee that the conclusion is true. The streets might be wet because someone isn't very good at aiming their lawn sprinklers. The conclusion might be true, but there is no guarantee. Okay, now that we've gone over a bit of basic logic, we can see that even Jesus used this type of reasoning. But first, let's revisit what we know about the principle of sowing and reaping. There are many references to this principle throughout Scripture, so I'm going to assume you know what I have in mind. We can present the principle the same way we presented the argument about the streets being wet when it rains.

1. If you sow bad things, you will reap bad things.
2. When you sin, you sow bad things.
3. Therefore, at some point you will reap bad things.

Here again, this will always produce a true conclusion if premise 1 is true. Now, recall that in John chapter 9 the disciples and Jesus come across a man born blind. They asked Jesus whether it was this man's sin or his parents' sin that caused him to be born blind. The disciples understood the principle of sowing and reaping. If you sow bad things, you'll reap bad things. But, they were guilty of fallacious reasoning and Jesus pointed it out to them. We can put this into the same form as we did above.

1. If you sow bad things, you will reap bad things
2. The man's being born blind is a bad thing.
3. Therefore, either the man or his parents sowed bad things.

To refute the disciples argument, Jesus gives them a counterexample. He responds that it was neither the man's sin nor his parents' sin, but that he was born blind so God could be glorified. Jesus recognized that their argument does not guarantee the truth of the conclusion and he provided an example showing that it doesn't. Just as it might be true that because we know the streets are wet that it is raining, it might be true that being blind is the result of sowing bad things. But Jesus' point is that there is no guarantee. It could be that I don't know how to use a sprinkler very well and it could be that God had another reason for the man being born blind.

In conclusion, we know from Scripture that we reap what we sow (both good and bad). But that does not mean we can determine why someone is going through what they are. It could be that it is the result of the principle of sowing and reaping or it could be because God desires that he be glorified and revealed to his creation.


Craig said...


Thanks for posting this. I will pass it on to those in our small group. Your use of the logic greatly helps us see that sometimes we easily can draw incorrect conclusions about our lives and the lives of others.

Ryan said...

RYC - We actually had communion together as a large group. The only ones who did not participate where the Catholics.