Taking the Name of the Lord in Vain: the dangers of simple cause and effect logic

A theological pet peeve of mine is the easy indictment. By this I mean that causation is assigned to either God or Satan with a bare reading of the circumstance. Children get killed in a Connecticut school and easy assertions are made about spiritual causes. This happened because we “kicked God out of the public schools” or due to Satan’s evil purposes. A bad things happens, so there must be an immediate cause. It’s an easy indictment.

It happens on a much smaller scale as well with our individual lives. Something good happens, God must be blessing us. A challenge comes our way, there must be some action of “the enemy” causing us harm.

Now, I believe that spiritual forces are in play in our world. I am particularly drawn to notions of principalities and powers that mold and shape our lives in a myriad of ways. My pet peeve is the straight line reasoning with which many people make assertions about God. In other words, just by looking at outcomes we can assign a spiritual cause. This is a direct cause and effect logic that I think is a poor explanation of most phenomenon which are usually very complex and best accounted for with a logic other than simple causation. It usually reveals a poor view of God and how God relates to the world. Namely, it confuses God’s sovereignty with control, God’s reign as being principally about “control over” rather than an ordering that comes from a God who is love. All of this can result in pastoral care that is disastrous and is prone to spiritual malpractice.

I’m very careful about my language about God’s involvement in the world. I agree with the wisdom of the old hymn, “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.” (though not with some of the later lines in the song). And I take seriously the command not to take God’s name in vain, which I think is less about cursing and more about besmirching God’s reputation in the world. Not to mention the dire warning about blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

I have often said there are two kinds of unhealthy churches. The first has no idea that God is doing anything in its midst. The second can tell you at any given moment exactly what it is that God is doing. I’m trying to walk the the space in between those two realities. To practice what Luke Johnson calls a “modesty before the mystery.”

So, over the next few posts. I want to give you some theological reasons why straight line logic won’t work in most cases in assigning spiritual causation. And I want to affirm a different view of God’s sovereignty in the world than one rooted in notions of control.

About Mark Love

I am the Dean for the School of Theology and Ministry and Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who is a practicing new monastic in Abilene, TX. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and two amazing granddaughters.
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9 Responses to Taking the Name of the Lord in Vain: the dangers of simple cause and effect logic

  1. Norman Bales says:

    Mark, I had never thought of the obvious fact that we take the Lord’s name in vain, when we attribute things to him that he did not do. thank you for your comment.

  2. iampressing2 says:

    I don’t believe there is a “demon behind every bush” or that everything involves spiritual warfare. Many times trials and hardships come from the fallen state of man and sin within his own flesh.

  3. Mark Henderson says:

    Good thoughts, as usual, but I am left with a question. “Master, who sinned, this man or his parents, that his head should be stapled?”

  4. Jeff says:

    Great thoughts, as usual Mark.

    One of the related core problems, I think, are the criteria we use to evaluate how we see God working in the world. In my experience, most people seem to use the phrase, “I see God working in the world” as a cypher for, “God seems to be doing what I think he should be doing” – which is obviously problematic.

    A couple of years ago, a FB post spurred me to write a post about this, loosely (http://blog.wisch.org/random-thoughts/on-how-we-see-god-working/). I would certainly be interested in your thoughts about how off base I was at the time :).

    • Mark Love says:

      Jeff, I think its excellent, especially the way you reverse the analogy from us to God to from God to us. And I like the insistence on discernment. Good stuff.

  5. Cathy Hooper says:

    This is interesting. I have had some of the same feelings/thoughts but was not able to articulate them this well, even to myself. I look forward to reading more.

  6. Doug Hall says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post Mark. In the church I serve we suffered terrific losses to disease and death. Five percent of our folks died in one year. Funeral every month, sometimes twice. Incredible grief. Among the stricken, an elder, three ministry leaders, a forty year old woman with four young children. In all, 18 people passed away in 18 months in a church of 200. Folks were questioning God for certain, but they were also claiming that we were under direct attack from Satan. No easy answers. No answers at all.Mystery is a very uncomfortable place to live sometimes. I am happy that you are better Mark. Keep the faith.

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