On Sunday, I spoke about the difficulty of discerning where God is in the midst of pain, grief, and suffering. Said a little differently, how do we answer the questions that leap to our mind: “Why? How could this happen? I don’t understand.”
I’d like to share here, in three posts, most of what I shared on Sunday in case it can be helpful. Also, I’ll list some additional resources (and link them when appropriate).
In this post, I’d like to share three views on “how the world works” (aka “why things happen the way that they do”). In my reading, I found that Adam Hamilton nicely captured the way I understand it too, so I’m borrowing and leaning on the way he discusses it in a really good resource, chapter 14, “Where is God When Bad Things Happen?”, in his book Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White.
This view says that a god exists who designed the universe and set in place laws to govern the processes of nature. Then that god stepped back from creation in order to let it unfold according to the laws that govern it, never to intervene in its affairs. The classic analogy is of a clockmaker who designs the timepiece, winds it up, then lets it run on its own while observing it at a distance.
A strength of this view is that it takes seriously the natural laws and processes than govern the world/universe. Therefore, it seeks to discover and understand those laws and processes in order to apply knowledge of them to important concerns (medical research is an example).
But this view is not a Christian one, because there is no room whatsoever for divine intervention in the form of miracles or divine revelation.
This view says that everything that will occur has been planned and scripted. For Christians who believe in determinism, God is the one who has planned and scripted every event in our lives, in human history, and in the history of the natural world.
Perhaps you’ve said one or both of the following at some point: “Everything happens for a reason” or “It’s all part of God’s will/plan.” Even if you have said them (to yourself or to someone else), you may have wondered if you really believed them. Both of those statements, said assuming that God predetermines everything, mean something like that God caused or orchestrated that event, or the chain of events that led to that occurrence, and that he had a good reason and purpose to do so even if we don’t understand it.
A strength of this view is its dogged insistence that God is still present in our circumstances regardless or what we are going through. I appreciate that attitude, it’s definitely a Christian one.
Still, I think there are problems with determinism.
As Leslie Weatherhead illustrated years ago (in his little book, The Will of God), if we found out that there was someone behind the person who committed an evil act or an injustice, someone who planned and orchestrated the whole affair, we would hold them responsible and blameworthy too!
Further, if God plans and orchestrates—determines—everything that happens, then even calling something evil, cruel, wrong, and unjust seems like nonsense. If God is good and also determines everything that happens, then we can’t call anything wrong. We would have to admit that it must also be good even if we can’t see how (since it occurs as a part of God’s will). But Scripture clearly teaches God’s hatred of evil and injustice, so this seems problematic.
A different approach says that God allows, though he does not orchestrate (or cause), everything that happens in our world. This approach embraces that God has created the universe with laws that govern it, but also embraces that God does intervene with revelation and with some miracles. But events are not predetermined, as the determinist believes.
I embrace this third option. I’ll take these thoughts further in the next post.