Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sovereignty of God – The Corner We Paint Ourselves Into

This posting will NOT be a theological discourse on the Sovereignty of God. There has been books and upon books, articles after articles written on the topic by far more scholarly people than myself. Of course there is not agreement even within Christendom on the conclusions, but there is a popular perspective that you will hear from Christians across the theological board.

I personally have been a Calvinist for most of my life, but what I’m about to say does not taint my view (I don’t think) because I want to address the colloquial, on-the-street views of the typical Evangelical. If you are interested in a comprehensive review of the subject, then read something like Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian faith. On the other side, you may want to read something by Jacobus Arminus, a Dutch theologian who wrote views in opposition to Calvin.

In colloquial Evangelicalism, the believer is faced with several philosophical issues that he/she attempts to answer through a precise definition of God’s Sovereignty.

1). The first problem is God’s bigness (or omnificence). Rightly, the Evangelical (differ from the Greeks) recognizes that for God to be God, there can be nothing bigger, like chance or fate. A God who controls everything is a God big enough that He is above fate.

2). The next problem is the Evangelical’s needs to make meaning out of their personal lives. If X happened, then God, a loving and just God, must have caused it to happen. Otherwise, if the event was caused by the simple laws of nature, the event would be meaningless at best and possibly cruel at worst. To solve this problem of finding meaning in life, the Evangelical feels that they must have a God that is not only bigger than everything (including fate) but also who is also the ultimate micro-manager with puppeteer strings attached to every leaf on a tree, every speck of dust and certainly to every neuron in our brains.

3). Connected to number 2, is the psychological need for security. “God is in control, so nothing can go wrong.”

This brings me to the Today Show episode featuring the families of the two girls that were mixed up when the school van that they were riding in crashed and killed six on April 26, 2006. For details of the story click here.

As you may know, the two girls, Laura VanRyn and Whitney Cerak were switched at the scene. "Whitney" was pronounced dead and "Laura" was transported to the hospital in critical condition. Larua’s parents took care of her for five weeks before they discovered that she was really Whitney Cerak.

On the Today Show the comment was made:

"The Ceraks might have been angry at the Van Ryns for not realizing the mistake sooner. The Van Ryns might have resented the fact that the Ceraks had their daughter back while they had lost theirs.

Both families might have sued the truck driver, the trucking company he worked for, and anyone else they could think of.

None of the above happened, because the families believe that everything that happens is part of God’s plan, and their duty is to accept it. "

Before I get into this, I want to make it clear that my heart goes out to the entire family and I am sure that they are good people. But I do think there are some mistakes in their thinking, that has deep Christian Culture (and Dualistic ) roots that I wanted to point out. I do this, not to be cruel, but because of my compassion. When Christians think wrongly, I believe that their pain is magnified. I also think that we have a less chance of reaching the loss when we have irrational theology.

If you are a Dualist (as I believe that most Evangelicals are) then you see this world, the laws of Newton, nature itself, our emotions, our brains and even our bodies as greatly inferior to the "spiritual." Spiritual here would mean God, heaven and our own souls. The Dualist looks at the physical cosmos as if it was not of God, maybe even opposed to God.

Therefore, any event in this physical world (in the Dualist's eyes) must have strings attached to spiritual forces (satanic, or God) in the heavens.

So in the case of Laura and Whitney . . . it doesn't make good theological sense to the families that a guy would just dose off, due to his lack of sleep, increase in the levels of dopamine in his brain (etc.) and then, because he is sleeping, he pulls on the wheel of his truck, it crosses the mid-line striking the van. It doesn't make sense that, following perfectly the laws of physics, the huge truck would caused the type of damage to kill people.

It doesn't make sense people with good intentions would accidentally pick up Laura's pocket book along with Whitney's limp (but alive) body and take them to the hospital.

All these events, in their eyes, must have been directed by God. God pulled the steering wheel over and literally closed the eyes of the truck driver. God caused the van to be in the right place. God caused the heavy sharp metal of the truck to cut into the flesh in a terrible and deadly way.

God blinded the eyes of the people on the scene so they would mix of the bodies and create this awful situation. It was God that closed the eyes of the VanRyans so that they did not realize that the girl in the bed, and then had started to walk, was not their daughter. Even the girl's friends knew it wasn't her. But God must have closed the parents eyes. No, it couldn't have been their psychological make up, the intense desire to believe that their daughter was alive that caused them not to see the truth . . . could it?

This is insane! Can anyone really want to serve a God this cruel . . . who would cause such a mess only so He could teach someone patience or to depend on Him.

Now imagine that this world is not crap. That physics really do matter. That the physiology of sleep deprivation really does matter. That the way the human body is made, when it is cut up, it dies. This is the world that God has made. It is wonderful . . . but it is NOT safe. Maybe it was safe or at least safer before the Fall of Adam.

No where in scripture does it say that God controls all events in this life. People can pull out verses to support their views. One of the main passages is the following from Matthew 10:

26"So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny[d]? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Read the verse carefully and in context. Usually verse 29 is taken away from 26-28. "It says, don't be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." Indeed, bad guys can kill you. Bad drivers can kill you. Accidents (following the laws of physics) can kill you in this fallen world, and those things are not from the hand of God as part of "His plan." But, the great protection is, no one, but God, can condemn you. That's where our safety lies.

This doesn't diminish the power of God. It isn't like He doesn't have the power to control every speck of dust, but he has already created a system (some know as Newton's laws) and therefore he doesn't need to counteract that system--but he could. Prayer is not in vain to change the laws of God's nature. Sometimes He does it.

I first came to this discussion after suffering a very perplexing failure on the mission field. Things did not make sense and I could not understand why "God was doing this to me." Especially when I felt that I had been very faithful to Him. In my many readings in those days, I came across Philip Yancy's book "Disappointment with God."

In that book, Philip tells the story of going to meet a man who had a serious of personal disasters, and he was not bitter at God. When Philip asked him why he was not bitter, his answer was simple, "God didn't do this. These things happen in the fallen world (including his wife dying from cancer and him being blinding from a car accident on the why home from visiting his wife in the hospital).

The writings I mentioned above by Calvin and Arminus do deal with this aspect of God, but it seems to focus only as it applies to salvation. Does God choose us or do we choose Him?

I really don't think the Church has done a very good job of trying to answer the age-old question of why bad things happen. It is the assumption of the American Evangelical subculture that God plans every thing. That attitude, I'm afraid, leads to a lot of disillusioned Christians, who leave the faith after a personal disaster . . . or at least they don't allow themselves to mourn fully.


Anonymous said...

Michael Jones,

Intertesting site with topics that are tough ones and ideas that one doe not normally hear.

When it comes to bad things that happen to us or in the world, my pastor always says that, "God lets everything happen". He also says that He uses whatever happens (somehow in his ultimate wisdom)to accomplish His purposes.

It sure seems as though God is not there (much of the time). I guess that is where faith comes in.

Thanks for your post!

- Steve

Anonymous said...

This is insane! Can anyone really want to serve a God this cruel . . . ?

Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors,
Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda,
Mullah Omar and his Taliban...

MJ said...

You got me on that one. Yes they do "serve" a God like that. But in reality,I think it is more of, "I'm better than you because I serve the right God and you don't" that motivates them as well as, "I'm God's inforcer so I can do whatever I want to you and say that was from God."