Saturday, March 19, 2005

God's Will or the Gift of Choice?

CD’s in play: Assorted ska, rocksteady, dub and reggae sampler – The Pixies, Debaser single – King Crimson, Red.

***This post won’t mean much to a person who has never been involved in a formal or institutionalised religion. This post is more for those monotheists who still are or, like me, no longer active in a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, etc. More to the point, I am not entering into a dialogue with anyone on the existence of God. I can’t prove He exists, you can’t prove he doesn’t.***

Last week I needed caffeine. I was getting the headache and feeling twitchy. My immediate, local area is suburban hell, totally lacking in colour and personality. It is a jumble of single family dwellings, high density housing, busy streets and two ugly strip malls. My only nearby choice is Starbucks. I like the staff, however, and they treat me well. I was sitting at the table trying to delve into a book about tank warfare during the Battle of Kursk in WWII. The women at the table next to me kept distracting me. They were the typical suburban, semi-professional moms in their late thirties and early forties dressed in business casual, sipping on lattes. They weren’t loud, but they were intensely involved in their discussion. All throughout they kept repeating “if it is God’s will”, “God willing”, you just have to follow God’s will”, “it mustn’t have been God’s will” and so on. I don’t know about you, but that has always driven me up the wall, back down and back up the wall again.
I have always held that humans were created with the capacity to choose their own way, for better or for worse. But there is a real strong determinist current that runs through Evangelical Christianity, where every single thing that occurs in one’s life is a direct result of God’s direct intervention. I just can’t buy into that, especially how trivial God’s will seems to become. A sample of what can remember from the Starbuck’s conversation:
“I was really hoping Anthony would be able get into that programme this summer, but I guess it wasn’t in God’s will.”
“Yes, if God had really wanted it happen it would have.”
“It is so true, we can only do what God will allow.”
Hey ladies, what if Anthony didn’t get in because he was just not good enough to get in? What if Anthony had worked his ass off a little bit harder? Maybe Anthony should have registered earlier? Maybe, and this is just a thought, maybe shit just bloody well happens and Anthony didn’t get into the programme because… shit happens. What is this all about really? I was talking with a friend last year about someone we both knew from school. Said someone was struggling to get through his Masters programme and was contemplating quitting because “maybe it wasn’t God’s will” for him to be pursuing the path he was pursuing. Translation? Things were getting tough and he was looking for an excuse. Things get difficult and it is God’s will trying to deflect them elsewhere. (or it is the devil trying to interfere when it something they really want) It isn’t always an excuse for quitting and said someone did stick with it from what I hear. However, God’s will is just used to often as an excuse or a comforting device in tough times and in times of Failure. Hell, failure and I are on a first name basis but I accept that most of the time when things do not go my way – I am the cause. Sometimes shit does happen and nothing can be done about that, but I can’t attribute my failures to God, the devil, my parents, luck, etc.
I am a theist, and I believe that God cares and is involved in the lives of His creations on many levels. There have been a few of moments in my life where I believe God did intervene, and I am grateful because things ended up better for me and/or others in the long run. I do not believe that God is a micromanager, charting out every last moment of our lives in detail. Our life is a gift to live as we see fit, for good or ill. We are allowed to make our own decisions and we have to accept responsibility for the consequences: something I think the myths of Adam and Eve and the Israelites in exile make abundantly clear.
It just comes down to two things, in my not-so-humble-yet-not-entirely-arrogant opinion, either fear or laziness. Fear to take responsibility for oneself, in both success and in failure. The lack of will to take upon oneself the responsibility to make things work or to deal with the discomforting feeling that failure always leaves us with. Freedom is a frightening thing when you come right down to it. There is quote from the new Battlestar Galactica (edited) that really fits here, "We refuse to accept the responsibility for anything we've done... Sooner or later, the day comes when you can't hide from the things that you've done anymore. " We make the choices and we have to accept the consequences. Pushing off what happens in our lives and in the world on God's will is as unacceptable as blaming God for what has happened in our lives and in the world at large.
In the myth of Adam and Eve, (read Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-Stories" to get an idea of how I regard myth) God does not force Eve to eat the fruit nor does he force Adam's hand. In fact, Adam proves himself to spineless and tries to evade responsibility for his actions. It has been put that God willed the Fall to happen, but that is incongruous with what most Christians hold to be true, that God cannot abide sin. If God wanted them to fall He betrays Himself, His very essence. But if we accept that God allowed Adam and Eve to make the decisions for themselves, that he allows them the freedom to choose it makes much more sense. The angels and animals are not afforded the freedom of choice, only human beings. And maybe God's Will is sovereign in the overall workings of the universe and not so much in the specifics of the day to day aspects. Perhaps it is best to view the freedom to choose as a gift in as much as our very lives are a gift?

***I deleted about a page and half worth of material, because I was just rambling and making the same points over and over. Agree or disagree my theologically inclined friends? Is the will of God just a security blanket or am I way off base here?***


Anonymous trent said...

Well, you obviously aren't a Calvinist...

20 March, 2005 14:07  
Anonymous trent said...

Seriously, though. Lay off the caffine. You're becoming addicted.

20 March, 2005 14:11  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey magnus,
at least you aren't having to take effexor every day like I am.

on an even more earnest note, though, what is scary is that all these predestination freaks, these apocalypse hunters (or humpers), many of whom want to give money to Israel with the one requirement that they jumpstart Armageddon...the scary thing is, these people are in power, have positions in businesses. Now I can understand certain banal levels of politics, like congress, sheriff, but these people are powerful in business, in investment, etc. How did this happen. Cause if we go by the people you're talking about Magnus, they aren't smart. And I wouldn't say Bush is smart. But is Rice smart? Well to a certain level, and it's debatable. I don't know. Why should such people have the drive. "guess it's god's will, to quote some people." No wonder many left wingers are lame, don't have charisma, don't bother with the spice, because they don't realize you have to pump it up, like Schwarzenegger says.

That's my little retort to you, Magnus!

Keep it up!

(by the way, it's beginning to really be spring here in Montreal, although I wouldn't know with my getting up at 2 p.m.)

20 March, 2005 17:06  
Anonymous Akhnotep said...

One possibility are the views of Luis de Molina, an obscure Jesuit philosopher who had a theory called "Middle Knowledge".

Here's how hit works. God knows how things are going to be - His knowledge of actualities. God knows how things must be, like that E = MC2 or that the square on the hypontenuse is equal to the sums of the squares on the obtuse and opposite sides of a right angle triangle - His knowledge of necessities.
But inbetween is His knowledge of how things might have been, hence the name "Middle Knowledge". Both God's acutal and middle knowledge are contingent, which that they are knowledge of things that don't necessarily have to be.

The upshot of this is that there is room for human free-will. For, seeing that God knows how we might act, and how we will act, what we do is not guaranteed to be His will.

Besides, God will is for us to love another, anyway.

Final note on Molina. His views never became official Catholic doctrine. There is a rumour to the effect that his theory of Middle Knowledge was condemned as heresy, but it wasn't. Ironically, many Evangelical theologians have gotten interested in Molinism (as it's called), but it doesn't seem to have altered Evangelical thinking much.

21 March, 2005 14:43  
Anonymous Akhnotept said...

Another possibility is the doctrine of synergy, which is essential to Orthodox Christian doctrine.
The doctrine is the simple belief that human salvation requires the co-operation, or synergy, between human free-will and Divine Grace. The famous formula is 'without God's Grace we can do nothing, but without human will, God will do nothing."
In which case doing God's will is not a matter of a greater power over-riding our wills, but a matter of us forcing ourselves to do what God wills. What God wills is for us to love one another and love Him, which we rarely do.

Still, as long as we strive to love another and love God, we're doing all right.

21 March, 2005 19:51  
Anonymous Akhnotep said...

Hey! It's Akhnotep! Not Akhnotept! May the wrath of Ra visit the . . . oops, the typo was my mistake. May Ra be appeased!

Nice Ra! Really Ra! I mean it!
No! not that again! AAHHH!

21 March, 2005 19:54  
Blogger Magnus said...

I am not sure what my blog says about me yet, but it does lay out perfectly just how cracked my friends are.

22 March, 2005 00:17  
Anonymous Y.L. Kozak said...

"What God wills is for us to love one another and love Him, which we rarely do."

Is this to say that to love God and each other is the only aspect of God's will meant to be known to human beings?

22 March, 2005 03:19  
Anonymous Akhnotep said...

I thought about it for some time, and have concluded that, yes, love of one another, love of God, and God's love for us should really be all there is knowing God's will. After, all St. John says "God is Love" (I John 4:8).

That isn't to say that God might not reveal something to His creatures that He specifically wants them to do, or not to do. But even then, God loves us and if He wants to do or not to do something, it is because He intends good outcomes - He intends love.

The difficult question is, what does God specifically want (if anything). Love is the standard by which we can discern this.

So Akhnotep invokes loves upon all living things!

22 March, 2005 13:36  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God is for babies!

23 March, 2005 16:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Religion is for the weak!

23 March, 2005 16:02  

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