Monday, August 25, 2008

your will, God’s will, and the screwy mess we make of it all

I was out of town last week and things got a bit crazy, but I wanted to comment on the weekend we talked about complexity. I’ll ramble about this weekend’s subject of mystery in a few days.

When we decided to include complexity as an aspect of God that creates awe, the challenge for me was to not turn it into an apologetic for God. Part of me falls under the spell of Paley’s watchmaker analogy; that is, if you found a pocket watch in a field you would assume it didn’t just happen—it’s too complicated with interdependent parts. Pop über-atheist Dawkins counters this in The Blind Watchmaker. I think it still has street cred philosophically, but hey, I’m just a drummer from Kentucky.

I love books about biological and cosmological systems and complexities, at least to the degree I can understand them. I find it fascinating bedtime reading. I even try to read plebian stuff on quantum theory by accessible writers like Ferris and Greene.

But that’s still about natural complexity. That’s the pocket watch. I didn’t want to start there. The question I started thinking about was the problem of free will…and assume God’s existence and that He has a purpose. Now it gets interesting. Just those four words in the same sentence make things very complicated: free will and God’s purposes. How can that work?

Even if you’re a hardcore predeterminist, it’s still incredibly complex. You could argue (oddly) that predeterminism doesn’t necessarily rule out your ability to choose freely. If you lean that way theologically it just makes God a Boris Spassky on cosmic steroids…fifty gazillion moves ahead and able to checkmate you whenever He wants while all the time you think you’re choosing your own destiny with that cool move of your bishop. Is free will not free will if you’re unaware of the Chess Master? Okay, maybe not in the purest sense.

Anyway, I’m way too Wesleyan for that. Or at least this week. Admit it: there are compelling scriptures on either side of the fence.

But I wonder if this little illustration might be more accurate where the truth actually falls. Think of our brain capacity as the size of a bottle cap (now we’re getting honest…). Imagine two toothpicks placed across it. One of the toothpicks represents classic Calvinism; the other Arminianism—predestination versus free will—in their most primitive forms. Where the points of the toothpicks meet is the actual Big “T” Truth. I wonder if that particular Truth is simply outside of our capability to grasp?

It could be a cop-out.

But how many of us can really understand current theories in quantum mechanics? And do we find it particularly difficult thinking the best and brightest brains among us might not actually understand, uh, everything? Really?

It doesn’t mean we stay stupid. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t explore the edges of our gray matter. I was stunned recently when I visited Ford's Greenfield Village in Michigan and saw the bike shop where the Wright brothers built their airplane. Henry Ford moved the whole house from Dayton, Ohio (a pox upon you, Dayton city fathers…). It displayed a wing from the plane with a simple plaque expressing something to the effect of: “Sixty-five years later man walked on the moon.” Can you imagine the extremely complicated technical advances in just a handful of decades? Human beings are pretty impressive on some points.

But can we know everything…philosophically and ontologically?

Please. Give me a break. That one started in the garden: “You will be like God.”


  1. One of the interesting things about mystery is that all is not as it appears. As we gather additional information, perspectives can radically change.

  2. A small group I am in was just talking about this the other day...We were struggling with "if God already knows the number of our days and if/when people will be healed, saved, etc...why bother with prayer? If so and so is going to die of cancer on such and such a date no matter what we do - what's the point?" It was a rabbit trail that went on for quite sometime. I still can;t wrap my mind around it, but I know in my heart of hearts that prayer does change things whether it be circumstances or me or the outcome of a situation...If I try to analyze God's omniscience in relation to all that I just get a headache. Just because I, as a human, can't reason it out doesn't make it any less true. I'll let the smart people figure all that out and explain it to me in layman's terms. Til then I think I'll just keep praying like He tells me! :)

  3. Hi Dave,
    I am back from the dead. My son said he grabbed you at the door on Saturday night to solicit prayer so since I have had a recent encounter with "the light," I thought I'd weigh in on some of these deep philosophical thoughts.

    You know, besides being Flora's mom, I am a Mechanical Engineer. That means that when Joe Boyd recommends Pascal's Pensees, I am so there!

    The thought I most want to throw in the pot is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Man has figured it out time and again that things return to simple states (so much for the theory that we started out as a single cell and developed into the complex blob we call man).The Word says "God made us plain and simple, we complicate things..."
    There is so much truth and peace in just keeping things simple! It hurts to love... I am referring to sending my babies back to third world countries, but what's the better answer? Protecting your heart does no good. You just have to use what has been given you and thankfully the doctors will figure out a way to keep it ticking.
    So Saturday, my heart stopped beating. It was quite dramatic and I do feel for my children. When it is all said and done though, I wouldn't change a thing that supposedly got me here. Instead of expecting God to justify and clear everything with me, I find it much easier to accept this role of honor that I totally do not deserve. Well, maybe I don't always accept it, I just roll with it? Still, I am bright enough to comprehend that I do make a screwy mess of things when I try to figure it out!
    Your message a week ago was so spot on for me that I felt like God spoke right threw you directly to me. I wish everyone could turn on those ears and get away from their own intellect. It makes dieing much easier!
    Love ya,

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