Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fate - An Unusual Christian View

The photo above is of the book (by that title) written by Vasily Grossman in 1959. I have not read the book, but only the Cliff's Notes version. In very brief summary, it is about the life journey of a Jewish man, Viktor Shtrum, caught between two totalitarian states. The two states were Soviet Communism and Nazism. One of the major themes of the work was looking for human good in the midst of tyranny.

What I want to discus is not the book, but the concept of fate and the Christian perspective. If you are interested in the book you can read more about it here. I hope to read it soon.

As I start this long discussion on fate, you will see a recurring theme. Yes I have addressed it before (just go back to some of the old postings.) I really think that most Christians have a defective view of fate. They feel secure in that view because that view (in their opinion) is the only one that has a God who is big enough. However, I really think this defective view does far more harm than good. How many people have been disillusioned over believing that God is the one who caused the tragedy that they faced? Millions?

Two things have brought this back to the front burner for me. One (as mentioned a couple of posts ago) is having recently read the book The Shack. The entire book is devoted to dealing with a tragedy and one man's pain about that. The second event was getting a newsletter today from some dear friends, who are missionaries in the Middle East. They described a tragic event in how Tim's (the husband) mother had suddenly died. In their missionary newsletter they went a long way to describe how God had orchestrated every event of that sad tragedy.

I also want to try and do a more thoughtful and scholarly treatment of this topic than before. I have a feeling that it will spread out over several posts. Many of my previous posts have been under a tremendous stress of time (usually typed out in 15 minutes between patients in a busy medical office). I don't even have time to proof-read them. But I want to try and take my time, trying to reduce the number of typos (some which I find weeks later that completely change the point I was trying to make).

I believe that this issue of fate is connected closely to whether you are a Christian Dualist or Monist. I must explain before I end this post and return my focus on the Olympics and the Michael Phelps' show. If you believe that the spiritual realm is far more significant than the physical realm, then everything that happens in the physical realm must be connected to events, persons or destinies within that spiritual realm. Does that make sense? So, if an event happens here, for it to make sense, you must say that God did it . . . or Satan. A Christian Dualist can't let a physical event stand alone . . . as a simple working out of the laws of cause and effect.

As a Christian monist, I am not faced with that pressure. The reason is, because I believe that God created the cosmos (this physical world) and He created it very, very good. Yes it is fallen and defective but it's not garbage. Therefore God created the laws of physics (those described by Newton and others). They are God's handiwork. So are the laws of bio-chemistry, human psychology etc. So I don't have to say that God is the puppeteer, pulling the strings of every event in my life. The vast majority of events are the simple working out of cause and effect . . . that in most cases are amoral. The fallen world is far more dangerous than the pre-fall world. So bad things do happen now. Some of them have no purpose (slipping on ice and falling off a cliff) because they are not a direct act of Satan, nor by the hand of God. The laws of physics can allow you to skid on a wet road and crash your car if you are going at a certain speed with certain bald tires.

But just listen to the Christians around you. Can they say that grandma was hit by a Mack truck and killed in a tragic way . . . and God had nothing to do with it? If they say such a thing, it would be in the privacy of their hearts . . . maybe with their husband or wife in their bedrooms . . . okay, maybe with non-Christian friends at a bar, but never in a church. It is a very strong colloquial, American, Evangelical Christian belief that if you are a mature Christian, you will see God's direct hand in every event. A mature Christian would never, ever talk about luck.

More to come


bryan said...

Would it not be a sign of ineptness on the part of the creator if he was constantly changing things? Did he make things poorly the first time, that they now must be corrected? Could he not have made it good enough that he wouldn't need to constantly tinker with it?

MJ said...

That's an interesting thought. If you factor in the Fall, and the world no longer being the perfect place that God created . . . then there's room for improvement.

I see the Church (the true church) as the major instrument of redemption and improvement for that which is broken.

But, and maybe this is what you are saying, I think many Christians see this world as alien . . . a strange place where God enters only now and then to do trivial tinkering.

Rufus Opus said...

As a Christian Monist, you don't suffer pressure to ascribe events we judge as good or evil to God or Satan, you are free to see it as simple mechanistic cause and effect, correct?

After a lot of spiritual transformation and study, I've come to adopt the view of God as the Prime Mover, the First Cause. Every subsequent event in our experiential lives is based on that First Cause, and God's Omniscience and Omnipotence ensures that all the subsequent causes and effects are part of His plan.

How do you separate the causes and effects of individual events in a person's life from the chain of causes and effects that extend back to the First Cause?

MJ said...

I'm not a fatalist. I mean, I do believe that we have free will to make choices that change the flow of history.

If the cosmos was a glorious machine made by a good God, then I see the influence of Satan as throwing some sand in the gears of that machine ("sand" like war and cancer).

I do believe that God has stepped outside the flow of cause and effect by doing "supernatural" like those recorded in old Biblical history. Does He do that today? I'm not sure. I've never witnessed a true miracle. I would still pray for one (if I or someone in my family had cancer). Maybe God still does them, but so rarely that we don't see them.

I do believe that most of the miracles that people, and Christian people, attest to are bogus (wishful thinking).

Rufus Opus said...

So you don't see Satan as a servant of God? I think he's another cog in the machine, and it's barreling on towards its inevitable (and beneficent, intentional) outcome.

I agree that most "miracles" are embellished by most Christians. I'm Charismatic, and I use the Gifts of the Spirit as much as possible. People want fantasy magic in their lives. They don't like that the Spirit operates within the boundaries of Natural Law. They see "supernatural" and want to believe it means that they can fly, get gold teeth, and have gold dust descend from the rafters of the Church where God has manifest.

In practice, the Gifts of the Spirit work mostly through the imagination. It's a sensitive topic, because most people think that anything they imagine is simply not real. God gave us the gift of imagination to be able to communicate with us, but it takes discipline to keep the egotistical fallen nature out of the reception of Divine will. Like getting a Word from the Spirit, it's not like you hear an audible voice, or are somehow telepathic. You just sort of know something, and you take a step in faith to say it.

But the real life miracles of God can always be attributed to some natural phenomenon. God made the universe and operates within the Laws he laid out. Mostly. :)