|Wednesday, July 15, 2009
This posting is in reply to the following column in the News-Leader: Religion Requires Faith
Does God Control Anything?
In his essay (“Religion essentially requires faith…,” Springfield News-Leader July 13, 2009) Mark Thieme asks a provocative question: “If man’s free will comes from God, does that preclude God’s free will in allowing consequences?” Thieme assumes that human beings have free will. Traditional believers can only explain human-on-human evil in the world by affirming free will—God allows us do whatever we want, even if it means harming ourselves and others—a fairly obvious conclusion, it seems to me. God, on the other hand, must accept the blame for “natural” evil (hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, etc.). At least traditional believers think God can control the weather; were it otherwise they would not pray for good weather. Thieme also insists that even God has free will, and therefore does not have to protect us from ourselves; hence we suffer from our own wickedness. That is the nature of our human condition.
My question is a little different: if God lets us do what we want, how can anyone affirm that God is in charge of anything? Even the weather appears to have free will, if one judges by “natural” disasters and the general unpredictability of the weather. Traditional believers accommodate natural disaster by appealing to “God’s permissive will”—God did not cause the hurricane that destroyed New Orleans, rather God just let it happen (for undisclosed reasons). Apparently Mother Nature does what she wants within some very broad guidelines! Darwin’s evolution theory fits this situation quite well, since its only logic is survival of the fittest. The forces of nature are not benign, but threaten our very survival. Indeed, all earth creatures must daily accommodate Mother Nature’s erratic “moods” (and prayer seems to have little influence) or perish—and that is the nature of our human condition as well.
God did much better manipulating nature in Bible times. Since the Enlightenment of the 18th century, however, God has not done as well with nature—perhaps, because the Enlightenment was marked by the rise of science and reliance on human reason. So Thieme and I are at least partially agreed: God does not manipulate us (perhaps with the exception of the “Holy Spirit,” as some believe), and God does not usually interfere with Mother Nature. So what is it that God controls?
Traditional believers, however, think that God is “in absolute control,” and there is no end of praying about personal health problems, economic difficulties, the weather, etc.! Maybe traditional believers are correct and God, responding to prayers, occasionally does intrude and manipulate, for the better, our wayward sons and daughters, famines, disease, tidal waves, ice storms, etc. But every one of us, in honest moments, recognizes such responses are rare, if at all—although a million stories about the answered prayers of others exist. If true, however, God’s management style must be described as management by benign neglect, marked by rare periods of selective crisis intervention—or perhaps God is, after all, only a spectator.
Charles W. Hedrick
Posted by Charles Hedrick at 8:02pm
Hi Dr. Hedrick: