In my last few posts, I’ve been trying to drive some kinks into a simplistic bit of straight-line reasoning that too easily implicates God in the cause of events like hurricanes or mass shootings or even finding jobs, etc. In the last post, I noted Jesus’ own reticence to go there at least in part because of his view of God’s love, particularly the way he loves enemies. In this post, I want to talk about two theological assumptions I have that make that simple causation difficult to do. Both have to do with how God relates to creation. And each has multiple implications.
First, the creation has been subjected to futility, to use Paul’s language. Placed under a curse. It no longer moves simply to God’s life-giving purposes. In this sense, creation is somewhat independent of God. In Romans, Paul talks about the wrath of God as God’s giving us up to our own devices. I think the curse placed on creation can be thought of similarly. The creation no longer produces the tea-leaves that would let us read God into every event.
Put simply, we live in a fallen world. Stuff happens. God’s part in the world is obscured by the fall. It’s made more complex. For many things that happen to us in life, there is no need to assign a source or a reason or a plan. Stuff happens. And this kind of stuff is no respecter of persons.
I know this is not as comforting to some as thinking that everything happens for a reason or according to some kind of micro-managed plan. I think this is part of the appeal of the neo-Calvinism in vogue these days. It’s comforting until you encounter tragedy or loss, and now you have to assign agency or see some kind of plan in all of it. I’m not saying that God is not involved in things like this. I’m saying he’s involved, not necessarily as cause or control, but as love. Which I’ll talk more about in my next post.
But God is not only involved in the world as creator. God is also involved as redeemer or savior. And he has “hidden” his power to save in the weakness of the cross.
Part of the result of Sin’s entering the world, according to Paul, is that we traded the wisdom the creator for foolishness. Our “senseless minds” were darkened. We become dull to the ways of God. In that sense, the cross is counter-intuitive to us. It’s not the way we naturally think about things. We don’t see power and control in a self-sacrificing, non-violent act. So, we don’t recognize God when he makes himself known.
This is put fairly starkly in the Corinthian correspondence. God chose what is foolish and weak to shame the wise and the powerful. If the rulers and authorities had any idea that this is God’s saving way in the world, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. Once, Paul says in 2 Corinthians, we saw things from a human point of view. Even Christ. Now to be a Christian is to see things in a different way.
Seeing this way is not easy. It is all too easy to fall back into seeing the world in the ways of violence and controlling power. Alexandra Brown, a NT scholar, has noted the striking occurrence of discernment verbs in those places where Paul is talking about the realities created by the cross of Christ. God’s way, in order to save us, has to be a different way than the one we would pursue according to our nature. It can’t just be recognized. It has to be discerned. This should slow down any straight-line reasoning with respect to God’s agency.
One thing about the cross is that it says that God can be present in any life circumstance. This is different than saying God is the agent of all circumstances. It says, rather, that the potential for God’s loving presence is in all circumstances, because nothing can separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus. So, Paul’s approach to life is to learn to be content in any circumstance. And I think that would require that you not sweat the source or cause of each circumstance that comes your way.
So, in both the themes of creation and redemption there are things that get in the way of straight-line thinking with regard to God’s agency, that should slow us down, require discernment, and interject a little modesty into our claims. I’ve already indicated some ways in which viewing sovereignty as love rather than control would change the way we think about God’s agency. More on that in my next post.
I really love the way you write, my friend! The notion that “everything happens for a reason” drives me crazy sometimes. I look forward to the next installment.
I really enjoyed your 3 parter here. I’m wondering why God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden to begin with? I guess we could have lost perfection in some other manner eventually.
Thank you! This kind of summarizes what I’ve been feeling all along about this subject, but your words are much more beautiful: “This is different than saying God is the agent of all circumstances. It says…the potential for God’s loving presence is in all circumstances, because nothing can separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus.”
I never thought about the Fall and how it would affect creation in that way, but it makes sense. It is intriguing to think of what that world would look like without this disorder.