Home > Miscellaneous > An Emotionally and Intellectually Sensible and Comforting View of the World… part 1 I guess.

An Emotionally and Intellectually Sensible and Comforting View of the World… part 1 I guess.

I usually skip out on part 2. I’ll try not to this time.

I’ll be clear. I usually am I guess. This post is about open theism and a war-torn and war-ridden creation. But, it’s really more about me, my head, and how I make sense of the world, not only the World, but my world right now. So much that happens and doesn’t happen in this life is so confusing, hard, painful, and very sad. It’s a messy, messy world. And there are a lot of views out there that are very dissatisfying to the head, heart, and soul. I’ll outline them briefly. I’m not going to go through Scriptures and uncover the many misinterpretations of them because this is about me and my world. I hate gripes over words as well, and minute discussions of verses that succeed only in overshadowing the point of the larger passage. And I hope that truth will reveal itself to the one who hears it, and I pray that God will speak through me just as He spoke through the very writers of Scripture.

Also, I guess I need to say that I don’t think Scripture out and out supports any of the views, as all of them are primarily philosophically driven theologies that rely on themes of Scripture and the character of God. These ideas of God developed as answers to questions about God’s knowledge, control, and our free will and how the three interact. Evil is probably the most emotive resultant of the interaction of these three elements, and is likely a primary driving force of the development of these ideas. Personally, I don’t think that Scripture is all that concerned with a systematic doctrine of predestination. However, the big CHURCH still thinks and talks in these terms and these concepts are still pervasive and destructive, so I deal with what is. Although… perhaps my time would be better spent doing something completely different about God’s role in our free will… next month.

Three views of what God knows are important to talk about before we get to war. Two because of their prevalence, one because of its relevance. The first is the delightful Calvinistic perspective. Predetermination is a more fitting word, because modern versions of it certainly diverge from Calvin in their mass expansion of its implications. This worldview says that God knows everything that has occurred, is occurring, will occur. Not only that, but God has caused the occurrence of everything and is incessantly controlling it all in order to accomplish His purposes. It’s a very coherent view of God and His role in the world. With His massiveness, it makes complete sense.

To an extent, it’s nice to think that God is in constant total control and making everything happen. If we take a step back, however, it doesn’t make any sense at all. If God is controlling everything, if He has predetermined all events, then God predetermined sin. God controlled Satan’s rebellion. It was God’s desire for miscarriage. God wanted people to suffer murder, rape, heartbreak, losing a child, losing a husband, divorce, adultery, abuse, war, genocide, torture, and destructive parents. It’s all part of God’s plan. The world, as is, is precisely the way that our good and loving Father planned it to be. How does that sit with you? It doesn’t matter what a hard-line Calvinist says, how they interpret Scripture, how they play with words, the problem remains. God is the ultimate designer of this hellish world and evil itself. Indeed, He wanted it this way, otherwise, He would do things differently. If you have no problem with this perspective of God, congratulations, this worldview is in my estimation quite logically sound. It simply doesn’t allow for a truly good and loving God.

The next view is Arminianism. I’ve heard it called simple foreknowledge. This worldview says that God knows everything that has occurred, is occurring, and will occur but doesn’t place God as the cause of it. God knows all, but doesn’t control everything. He works within it, but He lets free beings do what they will and He knows exactly what they will do from the day they come into existence to the day they die. So, because God just knows what everyone will do and doesn’t control it, He can be thought of as inherently good because He’s not controlling people that do evil, He just knows and has always known about what that individual being will do.

It sounds nice. I’ve got a question, however. How can an infinitely powerful being who knew people and other creatures would be evil before He created them not be held responsible for the creation of evil? As designer of the world He knew would be hellish for people, how is He not to blame for the terrible situations that exist on earth? Couldn’t He have created a different world? How did He choose who to let have a horrible life and who to have a good one? Was it arbitrary? Additionally, if what we are going to do is already absolutely known and already present in an unchanging future, then is what we are to do really our choice? Do we really have an option if our actions are already decided? Surely what God knows to be true about the future, being GOD, is true already and we can’t really decide to change our future actions.

Propagators of this perspective make an appeal to the mystery of God here. You just have to trust God and His mystery. His ways are higher than our ways and we can’t understand how there can be free will and an already decided future. There simply is. You satisfied with this view that refuses to take the next logical step and instead appeals to God’s mystery? Me neither. If one were to work this out in a reasonable manner, Arminianism is tantamount to Calvinism. God is responsible for this mess… for the world, for my mess, for your mess.

There’s another view though. Some call it “open theism.” I call it “currently the only cogent explication of God’s foreknowledge” (actually, I usually call it open theism too).* In this perspective God knows everything that has occurred, is occurring, and everything that could possibly occur. Some accuse this view of having a God with limited knowledge, but this theology says that God knows everything, just as Calvinism and Arminianism purport. There is simply more for God to know in Open Theism than the other two perspectives because the future exists as an infinite set of possibilities. Calvinism and Arminianism think that there is a specifically set out future where every event will inevitably happen. In all perspectives, God completely knows the future as it is.

I was listening to some students debating a professor about Open Theism and he gave a critique of it that essentially, when following his crafty, authoritative, and faulty logic, made it seem that God would have to know everything that would for sure happen if he were to know anything that would happen. I want to address it simply because I’ve never heard it before, the students didn’t have an answer, and the rebuttal is simple. The argumentation was something like this… Everything that happens creates a ripple effect through time and place. Even a very small occurrence that God knew could change the lives of millions as the future moves on. If God were to know ahead of time that the Babylonian empire would fall at such and such a time and in such a way, then God would also have to know all of the effects that exuded from that. If that empire fell, it means another empire can rise up, or more chaos across the world which affects the lives of almost everyone in the known world. His argument was essentially that for God to know something would occur, He would also have to know every effect of that. Because there are many events God knew for sure would happen and scale of these events creates ripples that would seem to cover the whole of humanity, God would essentially have to know the future as a predetermined sequence of events. The students had no response. I did, but it’s ineffective to debate a podcast. Here’s the question… why do the ripple effects of events have to be set in stone? They don’t. Just because something big happens doesn’t mean it affects everything in a predetermined way. There are many ways a catastrophe can affect people and the world around, depending on the response of people. Knowing one event will occur does not mean one has to know a single resulting effect of that event, because there might be an infinite number of resulting effects. There is no rule that forces responses of events to be inevitable. If you shove me, I could do any number of things… fall, cry, punch you, shove you back, yell angrily, get my drug buddies to shoot you, or skip away merrily thanking God for the brick raining to the sky. The point is, there is no necessary response, but the future remains open even if I know that you will shove me. I hope you were able to suffer through this dreadful paragraph.

So, what does this perspective give us? You could start here. I’ll do a brief runthrough of how Open Theism comes through. Ha. God is good. He created the earth good. He created the best possible earth, designing it in such a way so that love was optional, for only without coercion can love be love. Because beings can choose not to love God, God being goodness itself, the beings can choose that which is “not-goodness”/evil. Because God has deemed that love is worth giving the power of choice to people, He also allows our decisions to have power. He doesn’t completely control the effects of our decisions. If we choose not to love Him, our evil decisions have destructive effects on ourselves and the world around us. So, we already have a simple and coherent explanation of the existence of evil without breaking a sweat. And when we feel the pain of the evil in the world, we don’t have to try to figure out why God did it, but know that God is good and trust Him to be able to get us through it.

Free will is not an illusion, but an actuality. Our choices are real ones and we aren’t fated to one choice or another. The sense that we all have that we can choose between multiple options is not a false sense, but real. We can and might choose any of those options and we aren’t obligated or destined to any of those choices. We have the inherent ability to make arbitrary decisions.

Because the future isn’t already determined, it’s much easier to see how our prayers and petitions have real power before the throne of God. Whether or not we decide to pray about something or ask God for something could very well be the determining factor in whether that result occurs. Prayer has real power to affect what happens. That’s cool.

Just as we are given power by God to create evil in the world, our choices also have the power to do great good. And because the future is not predetermined or predecided, what we do that is good is not what would inevitably doing anyway, but we will be doing good that might never happen if we did not make the right decision. Having real power is pretty awesome if we use it right.

Still, despite the idea that God is good and created a good world, it’s sometimes really difficult to see how there can be so much evil in the world, so much pain, so much suffering, so much difficulty. It doesn’t seem like people are the cause of all this evil. It’s my contention that they aren’t. I’ll get to it next time…

*You know what though? The way that I talk about this it would make more sense for it to be renamed to something that actually describes it a little better. Perhaps: “Open Future,” “Doctrine of Possibilities,” “Infinite Futures”… or maybe something like “Guess what?!?! God’s actually good!” or “Woah! We can make choices?” or “Holy cow! Our actions have effects!” Heh.

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