[This is the final post on this topic of “Loving the unpredictable God.” I hope it’s given you not only food for thought but fuel for your journey. If it has, pass it on to a few friends who need the same.]
THE FRIGHTENING FREEDOM TO CHOOSE
After watching a football game with a bunch of guys I was leaving my friend’s house, when out of the blue I said to Dan, “I hate free will!” He wasn’t aware that I was going through a horrific breakup with my wife, and so he was pretty shocked to hear his friend and pastor speak in such terms. But I meant it. I hated what human choice yielded, at least in this case.
One of God’s choice mysteries is the mystery of choice. Whichever theological camp with which you identify, I think you’d have to admit that God did decide to take a radical risk in order to make relationship with us possible. It sure would’ve saved him (and us) a lot of trouble if he had made a bunch of robots programmed to love him, but it just wasn’t his idea of romance. In the human mechanism he installed the “free-will software.” He downloaded the power to choose or refuse a friendship with him. In order to create the possibility of a back-and-forth between us he made the dicey decision to gift us with choice. Otherwise, there could exist nothing that would even resemble genuine relationship. Unfortunately, we’ve sorely abused the gift and chosen our way over his.
At the same time that God gave us the ability to choose, he accepted a self-imposed limitation to his own control. Because he’s a Lover, and wanted to share himself with potential reciprocal lovers, he was willing to risk the negative consequences of limiting his control over the wills of said lovers. The consequences to which I refer include allowing us to have our own way and reject him altogether – to love ourselves and other things more than we love him. He lets us take the wheel, and even allows us to end up in a place where his love can’t reach us if we remain resolute in our choice to live independent of him. He gave us the frightening freedom to hurt one another (abuse our children, rape and oppress the weak, rob, enslave, and murder). Sometimes he steps in and prevents our atrocities, and sometimes he doesn’t.
But if I understand his ways at all, even when God doesn’t intervene to protect us or deliver us, he does identify with our pain and suffer with the sufferer. He doesn’t always deliver us from our misery, but joins us in it. “In all their distress he too was distressed” (Isaiah 63:9). Could it be that while he waits to alleviate our pain, his pain is worse than ours? Imagine what he must feel as he stands next to every bed in every hospital. With a word, he could cure every patient, but he doesn’t. Is it possible that it’s more difficult for him to wait to bless us than it is for us to wait to be blessed? There’s a mystery to his restrained passion.The mother suffers with her sick child. As she weeps while giving a painful injection to the baby in her arms, God holds us near while we hurt, and sheds a tear in the process.
I used to think that all suffering had a divine purpose, and that if God allowed a child’s fatal accident or cancer to ravage a young father, that he had some reason for his non-involvement. Though this may sometimes be true, I can’t say that this always explains God’s “hands-off” policy. There’s no doubt that God cares, as he is always “close to the broken-hearted.” I’m sure that it disgusts him when a man beats his wife or a tsunami kills 100,000 of his beloved, but he doesn’t always prevent such things from happening. When he doesn’t prevent a disaster or address an atrocity, I’m not inclined to believe that there is always some sovereign plan that he previously concocted. Maybe there is, maybe not. Evil in the world can best be explained by the presence of evil people and their demons. In general, bad things happen because we live in a fallen world that hasn’t gotten up yet.
It sure would’ve saved him (and us) a lot of trouble if he had made a bunch of robots programmed to love him, but it just wasn’t his idea of romance.
Because he chooses to persuade more than coerce people, in the short-run, God doesn’t always get his way. When he does get his way it’s usually because he has persuaded someone to make a good choice. His interaction with us is person-to-person, not puppeteer-to-puppet. Because he seldom (if ever) forces his will on us, it’s up to us whether or not to be persuaded.
Though God’s will is going to be done eventually (on a universal level), it is often not done immediately (on a person-to-person level). Everything that he desires will be accomplished — in the next world. But while we’re still in this world, all that God wants in the present world is not always done.
- Almost half of this world’s inhabitants (3 billion people) live on less than $2 a day…
- 30,000 children die every day due to poverty… 210,000 a week… Close to 11 million each year…
- 2.2 million of these children die simply because they aren’t immunized…
- Of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 1 billion of them live in poverty…
- There are an estimated 27 million sex and labor slaves in the world today…
- One in three females in the U.S. will be sexually assaulted sometime in their lives…
I’ll go out on a limb here and assert that none of this is God’s will! These things are not what God intended for the people he loves. He’s obviously not getting his way in every corner of the earth in the short-term. He will ultimately have his way when this world’s evil and suffering all will cease, when wars and tears and injustice are all alleviated. In the short-run though, within the parameters of this free-will experiment, his will isn’t always done. If it were, he wouldn’t have taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He isn’t “willing that any should perish,” and yet, because he gives us the option to, so many of us do perish. But help is on the way! Jesus is going to return to earth and return it to something better than it’s ever been. He will take back the wheel of this careening vehicle someday and get it completely under his control.
Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying that God is not “sovereign.” Some people fear for God’s honor if we claim that he doesn’t sovereignly exert control over everything. But it was his sovereign prerogative to create a world in which his control would be limited in such a way that his creatures could choose for themselves. Willing to risk being rejected by the majority, his is an adventurous sovereignty, the kind that chooses to restrict the exercise of his own omnipotence. That he made beings with the power to say “No” to him might have been the most sovereign thing that God ever did. Someone suggested that if God wanted a world where a Mother Theresa were possible, at the same time he had to be willing to accept the possibility of an Adolf Hitler! He made us “for better or for worse,” knowing that there would be a lot of temporary worse on the way to the eventual better.
In the meantime, he comforts those caught in the free-will whirlwind. When he doesn’t interrupt evil, and people are shattered, he stays around to pick up the pieces. And with those broken pieces, he often creates a whole new magnificent mosaic. I once lived intact, with no fractures. In general, things went well for me, the fissures were hardly visible. I was flawed to be sure, but my defects were hidden by my skin. Eventually the cracks reached the surface and my brokenness became obvious. When I fell apart my fragments were strewn about. That’s when God, who though he had previously stood aside instead of intervening, his own heart throbbing for my pain, got involved, and began retrieving the shards – cunningly inserting them in new places. The reconfigured wreckage was being reshaped as an art form. An Artist’s hand is putting me back together – but better!
2 Replies to “Loving the unpredictable God (part 5)”
This was an “awe” inspiring series, Barney. Thank you! I’m passing it along. . .
Thanks for your thought-provoking thoughts!