Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mission Control - we have a problem

Yesterday, I was traveling in rush-hour traffic behind a car with a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t worry – God is in Control.” And as we crawled along we passed a fender-bender, pulled over to the side of the road. I couldn’t help wondering if God was in control of that!

What if it wasn’t just a ding in some metal? What if it was a pile-up, with hurt people, and severe, life-altering injuries? Would God still be in control of that?

How much is God actually in control? Does He care as to who is elected President of the United States, or Prime Minister of Great Britain, and get actively involved in politics? Does He monitor the finances of Christian corporations, to prevent embezzlement?

One of the catch-all excuses for why the world is the way it is, is the claim that God holds Free Will as the highest precept. The reason we even have a hell, is that God does not want to interfere too much, thus eliminating faith. He needs free will to reign supreme. It is over love, over communication, over evil, sickness, disease and death.

Why did God even have that awful tree in the Garden of Eden? To give Adam & Eve Free will. Why do we have the problem of natural evil, such as tsunamis? Because, in order to protect free will, God must allow such events to happen. Time and time and time again, I am assured by the theist that the reason God won’t communicate directly with me, is that it will somehow impinge on my free will.

But as God is in control, doesn’t He impinge on Free will all the time? Theists that pray actually hope that God will force his way into a life, and set aside their Free will. Think of the simple prayer, “God, help the doctors that do this surgery. Guide their hands. Give them strength, and wisdom to perform their work. Amen.” How many 1000’s of times have I heard that prayer!

Yet the theist is directly asking God to impose himself on the doctor’s free will. That doctor has the ability and freedom to slip with the scalpel, cutting too much, or not admitting the surgery is beyond his capabilities, or perhaps not getting enough sleep the night before. What the theist is asking is for God to set aside the doctor’s free will, preventing the knife from slipping too far, giving him a quick kick in the seat of the pants to wake him up.

Deists, of course, don’t have this problem, but most brands of theism have their God intervening all the time, crushing free will. The story of the tower of Babel is a great example. Humans had the free will to communicate in one language. God couldn’t have that, so he stepped in and deliberately caused confusion.

In order to take blame away from God (who is in Control) and impose it upon humans, the free will excuse will be employed. But if a person starts to worry that free will may eliminate their brand of theism, the God is in control excuse is brought out. It is the best of both worlds. However, a pattern comes forward that becomes suspect.

As we watch these arguments unfold, amazingly free will is always, always, always happening just at the moment it is most convenient for the theist’s position. When we inspect why God would let children die, free will is handy to let the children stay dead, and keep God from being implicated. God didn’t want it that way, it just had to be, to protect free will. When we attempt to use reason to investigate God, free will becomes most inconvenient, and God’s sovereignty is brought out. Who are we to question a God?

Yet this is unconvincing to an atheist. Why? Because we realize the theist is in no better position to determine what is free will and what is God-controlled. And by constantly defending God in the most favorable light, the theist’s credibility is compromised as being biased. No theist is going to state, ever, “There you got me. God shouldn’t have imposed his will against the humans in that situation.”

Look at this minor automobile collision. Was it just God, letting two drivers use their free will? Or was it God, attempting to have two drivers meet, so that they could show love toward each other? Was God preventing a much more tragic accident? Or was God sending a message to other drivers in the area? Or did God, not caring, never even know about the accident? Was he in control, or was it free will?

There simply is no way to determine this.

I can read all the fancy philosophical arguments on whether humans have free will or not. I can read them on whether God has free will or not. The one thing I do not read is a method by which we can determine, “Here God is restricting free will and here he is not.” And if we cannot determine it on any occasions, how can we say He ever does, or never does?

What would a world look like, if God sat back and never interacted at all? What would a world look like if God interacted at every decision, no matter how slight? As we have no basis of comparison, either prospect is a guess. I, obviously, think the world would look like it does without God’s interaction, but a theist would equally obviously disagree. O.K., but with this “sometimes in, sometimes out” theory, we are left with pure speculation.

If God is in control, then why do people get traffic tickets? Can’t they state that God is the one that was driving at the time?


  1. I was always under the impression that in order to secure an eternal place in heaven, a Christian must have faith. It's like a price that needs to be paid or a test we must pass. We are given a chance to gain this faith during our lifetimes but one must remember that a price needs to be earned before it can be paid. Keeping in mind this basic tenet of salvation, how can God interfere in any way that would "signal" his act as a miracle. Would that not destroy this basic tenet by insuring a 100% guarantee of our reward hereafter? What happens to the meaning of faith when we are sure of God's existence? It would be a "free pass" to eternal bliss without paying the price or passing the test. Fair to all who have gone before?

  2. roman, I admit I don’t know a lot about you. Do you love someone? A spouse, a child, a friend? Not some mushy “I would die for you” but a person that you would give up a much-needed Saturday afternoon, planned to do what you want to do, for them? Help them do something you do NOT want to do?

    Could you imagine “testing” such a person? Trying to give them “faith” as to whether they really loved you or not? And by deliberately withholding information and affection from them? Is God so petty, that He is afraid to reveal himself for fear we won’t like him? How very bizarre!

    Why do we need faith (lack of knowledge) as a test of whether we qualify for God? I have no problem with a God that gives a “free pass” to every person in the world, as compared to mandating torture for an eternity. Do you? Do you find that “unfair”?

  3. I agree with you that testing of people close to our hearts is a bizarre concept and that everlasting damnation is a silly concept dreamed up by village elders long ago to keep children in line. Faith is not exclusively one's love of Jesus. I can see how one would make this assuption from the way my comment is phrased and I should have been more specific.
    The faith that I refer to, however, is not one of proving one's love of Jesus but that of the fundamental belief in His existence. I can only infer God's basic requirement being what I, myself, would logically demand. Acceptance.
    My interpretation of what my obligation is during my life's existence is to "accept" that Jesus Christ existed and that He was the son of God and died for our sins.
    Heaven and Hell? Heaven ,Yes. Hell, however, is one more turn through this plane of existence.
    We will need to keep at it 'till we get it right.

  4. Roman, you said here: "Hell, however, is one more turn through this plane of existence.
    We will need to keep at it 'till we get it right."

    Zoe asks: Can I interest you in explaining a bit more of what you mean here by "this plane of existence?"

    And do you believe in reincarnation?

  5. zoe,

    Being a pragmatist, I believe that our consciousness exists on an infinite number of planes (universes of time, matter and space) simultaniously. We are, however, blind to the "others" due to our physical and mental limitations. I do not want to believe in re-incarnation as popularly described (but I really don't know). Rather, I believe that our unique essence of mind (for lack of a better description) survives the bounds of this plane and bonds to or becomes part of a new life force. Being an eternal optimist, I want to place this cummulative/additive phenomena in a stage of development that places us at a point where the next plane will make our consciousness an "improved" version. This is my version of heaven.
    I was only kidding about hell being another round through the here and now because I just don't see the process working in reverse.
    I am glad to see that recent reseach into the field of quantum physics is starting to reveal the possibility of infinite planes of existence.
    These complex "natural" processes, IMHO, could not have formed by themselves. As a Christian, I try to reconcile natural phenomena and human nature to the Old and New Testaments and have to remind myself that these writings are the best that "men" could do in those days. The lessons are valuable but are not to be taken as "gospel".

  6. Thanks Roman. I am continually amazed at the diversity I encounter within the Christian context. I know that in my fundamentalist days I would not have considered you a Christian based on your answer to my questions.

    Now, in my reading I see that there was/always has been, great diversity among Christians through the centuries. More then I ever realized before.

    I just recently watched the DVD, What the bleep do we know? and I must say that your comments here reminded me so much of the commentary on that movie. :)

  7. Roman: The faith that I refer to, however, is not one of proving one's love of Jesus but that of the fundamental belief in His existence. I can only infer God's basic requirement being what I, myself, would logically demand. Acceptance.

    Again, though, I would ask why? We know all kinds of people, places and things that exist, yet question their motives, their thoughts, their ideas, their concepts. While you, roman, may have a certain logic, based upon your personality, as to what a God would want or do, you seem to be an affable enough person to understand each of us are very, very different.

    I may require logical proof. That person who had a crushing childhood may not require any logical proof at all, but just to be comforted by a real hand, a real voice, a personage. This person may need a visual, that one a mathematical proof. We are all different. Why is it this God must play hide-and-seek with everybody?

    Frankly, if God appeared, and admitted He ordered Midianite babies killed to reward his favorite crowd with Virgin females, he has no worries—I won’t accept him. Is that why he is hiding? Because he worries, as humans, we won’t like what we see?

    What is the difference between an invisible creature in my hand that leaves no mark, has no proof, requires complete faith in its existence or nothing in my hand at all?

  8. Dagoods,
    "Why is it this God must play hide-and-seek with everybody?"
    I don't know. If I did I would announce myself as the contemporary (and way overdue) prophet of this modern era. I believe we briefly touched on this subject in one of our past conversations. It is a frustratingly puzzling enigma. The closest I can imagine the reason might be is the "set course" of Free Will. Even if our God were only an advanced alien species, their (hopefully advanced) code of ethics would logically require a strict non-interference law. I would expect nothing less from Him. This substitute for a "divine will" is about as close as I can get to hint at the answer to this riddle.
    OK, you asked for it and here it is. I know that this will produce at least a chuckle.
    Your invisible creature can be real and at the same time be not real. You decide! To me, it is a matter of likelyhood. You need proof beyond "a reasonable doubt" but for me this burden of proof is not as important as expediency.
    I know, I know. Metaphysics. I'm heading into the realm of mystifying abstractions. I don't mean to get into this gobbledygook but there is no other way around it.
    If you say that you are an atheist and believe it, then you are an atheist. You have accepted this state of mind as your own. Remember, it is only a state of mind. It is incorporeal but it exists nevertheless. You have "created" it. It is real. Is it malleable? YES. Our convictions tend to seesaw back and forth with external and internal influences. Carry the "what if" to its extreme.
    You have seen what can happen when a key individual lies on the witness stand. Could all of these biblical interpreters have lied? NO
    Are all the things written in the bible true? Since they were written by men, the answer is a resounding, NO. Does this mean that we should discard the message altogether. I think not. Were they written by men who were trying to interpret and describe God's message to the best of their ability? YES. Did Jesus Christ exist? Billions of Christians believed it, why should I doubt it now?
    Could I be using faulty reasoning? YES, but it does not really matter in the long run. In the short run, on this plane of existence, I have grown to be very comfortable with seesawing back and forth.