According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Monday, August 27, 2012

Is God Always in Control?

 
 
Since inception of this website I have been attempting to wrestle with the legitimate question of whether God is in control of this world or not, having presented it in differing contexts from salvation history (the history of Israel and the Church); to scientific (found in the science sidebars here relative to anthropologic and cosmic evolution); to mundane world and personal events (floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, personal experiences of tragedy, unnecessary suffering, abusive families, friends, religions and governments); to present day Church and fellowship experiences (found in the turbulent ecclesiastical reformations occurring in today's denominations, associations, universities, media outlets, and even political parties). What I have discovered is that I can answer this question both ways by accepting, or not accepting, the updated responses of (i)  Evangelic Classical Theism (God IS in control) or of (ii) Process Theology (God is NOT in control). However, what I fundamentally believe is that it is the question itself which is wrong. To ask the question is to show both our ignorance and our fundamental misperceptions of our view of God and the world. It is a complex relationship and cannot be treated so naively nor simply.
 
 
And so, having striven to re-contextualize this question through my own views of Relational Theism (which is currently in the rough stages of development) I have been attempting to define this subject by what it is not - in relation to other systems of doctrinal thought (sic, Calvinistic Classicism and Process Thought) - but have yet to fully recreate a set of criteria of what Relational Theology could be or might become. To some extent we have already done this here through our simple explorations of emergent subject matters and topical themes. However, it has not been laid out rigorously as a (i) doctrinal theology or as a (ii) philosophical behavior and belief. And to some extent we should probably avoid this... but to the extent that this task is avoided (for fearing of misrepresenting God and His Word by systematizing Scripture) to that extent other lesser views will come along to expunge common sense biblical viewpoints with something else even less desirable. And so, it is accepted that whenever there are two strong opinions of oppositional thought, a third will mostly likely synthesize. This third I am describing as Relational Thought which may behave as an eclectic mix between Calvinism and Progress Theology until it can find a "stream of its own." In the meantime, the easy answer to our dilemma would be to continue to explore Narrative Theology which by its form and definition resists more systematic perceptions of God and his world.
 
Man made in the Image of God (Genesis 1:26 to 2:3)
Illustration from a Bible card published 1906 by the Providence Lithograph Company
 
Accordingly, the story of man is found in the story of God. And the larger story of God is found in the larger story of man (which means all of man's history - from world events to each person's experiences). God did not begin an act of holy creation to simply abandon it. No. Any artist can tell you that whether through creating a poem, a painting, a sculpture, a piece of music, all were some kind of personal expression. And to look upon our cosmos as God's expression of Himself is to re-visualize all that God is... for creation is the revelation of God. But not the perfect revelation of God. At least not yet. Only One has come to be this perfect reflection - both in essence (hupostasis) and in glory - and that is Jesus who perfectly revealed the Godhead exactly (Col. 2.9, Heb 1.1-3).
 
When God revealed Himself to man it looked like Jesus, exactly -
Other comparisons between the God of the OT and Jesus of the NT -
 
 
 
 
However, we also have the cruel distortions brought about by sin and death that arose to undo God's joy and fellowship. How it arose we cannot know. Genesis says that is came through Adam and Eve's disobedience. However, it was there before the Garden of Eden when discovering in Scripture Lucifer's angelic disobedience of pride and rebellion; and of a third of heaven's angelic beings falling likewise into the sin of pride and rebellion (Ez 28.1-19; Isa 14.1-22). And through astrophysics we've discovered that even in the very elemental stages of our universe's birth (sic, singularities and multiverses) death and destruction were the very ingredients used by God in creation's very nature of indeterminacy (sic, elementary particles being momentarily birthed and colliding to create reactive energies and forces). Of course, this last illustration differs from the first two in that those were instances of creaturely willful disobedience and pride; whereas the latter is of nature itself which is not so much "willful" but indeterminate (sic, see the science sections). Further, it is not a moral/ethical act of a sentient being but an amoral/non-ethical activity found within matter's interaction with itself and other bodies of matter. And so, how sin and death arose is unknown (I sometimes think it comes as part-and-parcel with the sublime act of creating a willful creation itself - as an allowed reactive process - but not as emanating from God Himself in His essence).
 
What we do know is that God is using sin and death, devil and demon, the cosmos, and human experience, to evolve this world into a renewed creation - into a heavenly kingdom of light-and-life. Where no sin exists. Where no death can be found. How this occurs is a mystery. How this is unlike our old cosmos is a mystery for it seems that the death of particulate matter (from cells to atoms) must still occur in our new world if life is to continue and so, cannot be abandoned but re-purposed. We do not understand these things. Nor can we so simply say that God is in control (for this would ignore the ravages of life) or is not in control (which would then ignore the redemptive story of the bible as found in this world's history and present circumstances). Consequently, it is both. In some complex mix of divine sovereignty and indeterminacy (sic, which would also include the "unknowingness of the future" which theology falls yet into another "sea of turbulent debate" known as Open Theology... also examined here in the sidebars).

For me, it is enough to know that God is God. And that He is my God. And that I am His. Beyond that we can debate and argue around-and-around-and-around our particulate views of the world we think we apprehend but can not. For God is beyond our comprehension and He will do as He will do. He will react as He will act. He will grieve as He will sing for joy. He will suffer as He will bring healing. This we do not understand but know that God is our Redeemer. And that through God His creation will be redeemed from the final throes of sin and death by the atoning work of Jesus made on the cross of Calvary.

And that during those experiences of suffering and death to not accuse God as the author for someone's cancer or a child's death, but as the God who suffers with us in our pains and losses. Who will do anything and everything that He can to help us within the parameters of this sinful world's free will turbulence and turmoil. Who allows sin and death its course but who also will direct sin and death to His ultimate ends of renewal and recreative wholeness with His Spirit. Even in sin and death, even in pain and suffering, even in defeat and death, shall God "win" and reign. God will not be defeated though we suffer. For we suffer towards renewal and recreation. Though harm and destruction comes still God's Spirit continues to work through holiness, love, justice and truth all that is Himself into the very corners and textures of a comos and humanity held in the grip of sin and death. At the last, these too shall be put  away with finality (Rev 21-22).

What this means we cannot explain. Our present cosmos is unimagined in its current construction and operation without the reality of death present within its very framework  (perhaps not sin, but death certainly, as is the bedrock of indeterminant re-creative construction of something from nothing formed within the continual process of randomness and evolution). For myself, I don't normally link sin with death (that is physically, not spiritually)... for physical death feels more natural within this world of ours and I can't imagine a physical world without it. However, sin seems very destructive and unnatural within this world of ours. It speaks to a spiritual death to be borne by sentient beings - be they human or angelic or some other form - who are willfully at cross purposes with their Creator. Each though, in their constitutions as sin or death, do bring harm and ruin to our mortal bodies.

Curiously, sin's effects upon our mortal bodies (not our souls) cannot be death... only its results. But on our souls it is immediate (thus we can effectively say that sin brings death). Sin is a process of dying. A presence of death. But I speak in spiritual terms of sin and not in physical terms. In comparison, death's effects can be seen upon our mortal bodies immediately beginning at birth as it wears away at our soul and upon our bodies. But for the Christian, death is seen as a period of transformation towards God. It can begin early in life when discovering Jesus' love for us while taking a lifetime of spiritually transformative living to fully-and-finally occur... this is what we mean by the term "salvation" (in its fullest sense). Though saved in Christ we are in the process of becoming saved in this life as we work out the effects of our salvation against the countermanding effects of sin's spiritual death. But eventually we die and must return to the earthen soil of our constitution (dust we are and dust we become - but remember, we are made of stardust!). However, with sin, it is there with us from the start. And like death, continually wears away upon us, only to be prevented when met by the power of the Holy Spirit begun at the birthing of faith come through the spiritually transformative event of Christ Jesus' living atonement and abiding resurrection. From that point onwards we are removed from spiritual death though we remain within our bodies and souls to suffer sin and death's adverse affects upon us. Even so, the cycle has been broken with promising renewal and recreation at the hands of an Almighty God. These things are mysteries and within Christianity we have all kinds of doctrines that help us explain what this means more explicitly. But this is my simplified understanding of how our Sovereign God rules in, through, and over a cosmos of sin and death.

So then, be at peace and know that our God reigns - despite what we think of the unhelpfulness of the Christianized word, control. A word I don't necessarily prefer as an explanation for this current cosmos we live within at its behest. For with its usage comes our expectations placed upon God which asks when bad things happen "Why didn't you stop this!?? Where were you when we needed you?!!" A God who controls is a God that is weak when He doesn't answer. Or is unable to help us in dire straits. Or is unwise within the predicaments of sin and death. Or has become a futile figment of the human psyche built as a dithering idol to our hopeless predicaments within this life's never-ending perturbations and agonies.

But a God who reigns, who is Sovereign, is a God who suffers with us in our tragedies. Who comes to assist us in every way possible, even until the end. This kind of God is strong. He can deliver. If not by our own expectation, then by His own expectations of renewal and recreation. The God of the Bible is the God who works within the constraints of a freewill system of this created world. Who is present with us even in our worse moments. And so, we proclaim that our God reigns sovereignly - whether He controls this old creation or not is to ask the wrong question and see the solution in the wrong perspective. No. God doesn't control anything that has its own free will. But yes, God is creation's Sovereign. And as its Sovereign He reigns over heaven and earth, hell and death, even over sin and all its miseries. God is no more and no less - though He be Creator He was  ever-and-always first creation's Redeemer! And He is our Redeemer-Creator who will rule ever-and-always to that end. Amen and Amen.

R.E. Slater
August 27, 2012
updated November 3, 2012
 
Praise the Lord; praise God our savior!
For each day he carries us in his arms
(Psalm 68.19)
 
 
1 John 1
 
English Standard Version (ESV)
 
The Word of Life
 
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our[a] joy may be complete.
 
Walking in the Light
 
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
 
 
 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 
 
Does God always get his way?
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/08/does-god-always-get-his-way/
 
by Roger Olson
August 20, 2012
Comments
 
Does God Always Get His Way?
 
I suspect that question would surprise most Christians and atheists alike. Most atheists I read seem to operate on the assumption that Western monotheism includes God’s absolute sovereignty such that whatever happens is God’s will. Most of them fall back on some version of the problem of evil to attempt to sweep away belief in God as impossible (because no one expressly questions God’s goodness). But Christians (I’ll limit my comments here to Christians although they could apply to other monotheists) give atheists their ammunition by believing that “God is in control” (a bumper sticker I often see).
 
I see two versions of “God is in control” among Christians. One is theological and the other is folk religious. The difference lies in considered reflection versus unreflective assumption.
 
Many Christian theologians believe and teach that whatever happens, without exception, falls into the category “God’s will” in the sense that it conforms to God’s “blueprint” for history and individual lives and, even though evil and innocent suffering may grieve God, God ordains and governs them for a greater good (e.g., his glory). I call this divine determinism because it fits the ordinary definition of “determinism.” Those who teach it often deny that it is deterministic (at the very least it is meticulous providence). Not only Calvinists teach this; it is a view held in a perhaps more nuanced way by many non-Calvinists (e.g., conservative Lutherans).
 
My hunch (I haven’t taken a poll) is that most Christians believe some version of divine determinism often inconsistently. This is revealed when, after a tragedy, they say “God knows what he is doing” and “God is in control.” Very often, however, that is not what they say or appear to believe before the tragedy strikes. That is certainly the view I was taught growing up in the “thick” of evangelicalism. Or perhaps I should say I wasn’t so much taught it as I caught it from my elders. Many of the songs we sang in church reflected some kind of divine determinism or meticulous providence. (E.g., “Day by Day and with Each Passing Moment”)
 
Recently I introduced a group of students to my saying that “God is in charge but not in control.” Some were shocked and indicated they probably could not accept that even though intellectually they do not think God controls everything that happens. My conviction is that “God is in control” is a cliché that has taken on a life of its own among Christians and is inevitably conveys the impression that God plans and renders certain everything that happens without exception. That is, God always gets his way in everything.
 
Let’s look at ordinary language. If I say that so-and-so is “in control” of a certain situation (and not only himself or herself), most people will automatically assume I mean that the person has a plan and is manipulating events to fit that plan. They will assume the person I’m talking about always gets his or her own way in that context. That’s what “in control” means (when said of a person about his or her management of a context).
 
Someone might quibble about that, but I believe especially when “in control” is attributed to God, who is believed to be omnipotent, it always automatically implies meticulous providence.
 
That is a problem, however, in light of Scripture and history (including contemporary events in persons’ lives). Many Scriptures more than imply that God was not getting his way in certain situation. The clearest one to me is Matthew 23:37: Jesus wept over Jerusalem’s rejection. Was God getting his way there and then? The Bible is filled with examples of God not getting his way even though he was able to bring something good out of those disappointments.
 
History also gets in the way of saying “God is in control” or “God always gets his way.” Just the other day I was told about an incident in a poverty-stricken country not far from America’s shores where a woman and her boyfriend invaded an orphanage at gunpoint, kidnapped three children they believed were theirs and took them away. When confronted by police the adults brutally butchered the children. What I want to ask people who say “God is in control” and who believe God always gets his way is: Do you believe God controlled that situation and got his way in it?
 
Now, many theologically minded Calvinists and other divine determinists will, when pushed against the wall and forced to answer, will say yes, even in such a horrible situation of innocent suffering God was getting his way and was totally in control. My complaint here is not with them although such an answer leaves me absolutely bewildered. I do complain about them and that answer, but not right now. Here my complaint is about the widespread, almost universal, unreflective assumption on the parts of non-Calvinists, non-divine determinists, that “God is in control.”
 
I theorize that this folk religious belief in God always getting his way sets especially young people up to adopt divine determinism, meticulous providence, when confronted with it. What’s wrong with that? Well, in my opinion, it can have the effect of making them immune to the real horrors of history and of sin and evil. If all that is God’s will, if in it all God is getting his way, if in it all God is “in control,” then why be fired up with indignation against it and go out to fight against it? Also, it may cause them to ignore whole chunks of Scripture and think dishonoring thoughts about God. Finally, I know from personal experience it leads some young people to think that they don’t need to resist sin in their own lives because, if they are succumbing to temptation, it must be God’s will [(sic, antinomianism - res)].
 
Here Am I: A Believer's Reflection on GodOne of my favorite books about all this is by South African theologian Adrio König. It’s title is Here Am I! A Believer’s Reflection on God (Eerdmans, 1982). Here is one of the best statements against meticulous providence (whether theological or folk religious) I have ever read and it is by a Reformed theologian!
 
Anyone who levels things out in vague generalizations by attempting to explain everything and all possible circumstances as the will of God always ends up in the impossible situation that there are more exceptions than rules, more things that are inexplicable and that clash with the picture of God that is given to us in his word, than there are comforting confirmations that he is directing everything.…
 
[And] anyone who tries to use the omnipotence and providence of God to propose a meticulously prepared divine plan which is unfolding in world history (L. Boettner) will always be left with the problem that other believers might not be able to discern the God of love in the actual course of world events.… [i]t must be emphatically stated that… the Scriptures do not present the future as something which materializes [sic] according to a ‘plan’ but according to the covenant [of God].…
 
There are distressingly many thing that happen on earth that are not the will of God (Luke 7:30 and every other sin mentioned in the Bible), that are against his will, and that stem from the incomprehensible and senseless sin in which we are born, in which the greater part of mankind lives, and in which Israel persisted, and against which even the ‘holiest men’…struggled all their days.…
 
To try to interpret all these things by means of the concept of a plan of God, creates intolerable difficulties and gives rise to more exceptions than regularities. But the most important objection is that the idea of a plan is against the message of the Bible since God himself becomes incredible if that against which he has fought with power, and for which he sacrificed his only Son, was nevertheless somehow part and parcel of his eternal counsel. (pp. 198-199) (I apologize for the spaces; I cut and pasted this and some of the formatting went strange. I don’t have time to fix it.)