Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Did God Do That?

That ominous yellow ticket under your windshield wiper: did God do that?

Just curious.

Some Christians are determinists. They think everything that happens, no matter how minuscule or insignificant, is a product of God’s deliberate calculations; in effect, that God micromanages the universe. In believing this, they feel they are glorifying God, because they are acknowledging his sovereign rule.

In their view, yes, God gave you that ticket. You will thank him later.

The Principle of Delegated Authority

I have my doubts. Not about the thanks, but about the ticket’s origin. The God I read about in scripture is a God firmly committed to the principle of delegated authority. For delegation to be meaningful — rather than simply an empty gesture — necessitates that most of the time God allows things to carry on subject to the authorities he has established rather than getting personally involved.

And in fact this is what we observe. It is why genuine biblical miracles are, well, miraculous ... and exceedingly rare. Delegated authority is the principle on which God’s creation operates.

Even what we call natural laws are, in fact, a form of delegation. They do not require trillions of individual acts of God’s will; rather, they are upheld by the merest powerful word of his Son.

Thus when I drop my pen I know that, all things being equal, it will fall down and not rise up. I know that, absent a willful act from some created being, the things in my environment that are presently organized will tend toward disorganization over time, and not the other way around. I know that snow will be cold and water will be wet. Good thing too!

My own self-awareness is a form of delegation. I am conscious of a “me” that can choose X and reject Y, and thus I exercise a measure of delegated authority over my own body and mind; in theory, the more the better.

Further, God has been granting to some of his created beings power over other creatures ever since he began creating. Heavenly authorities existed long before mankind was ever on the scene. Some will disagree, but I believe they operated (and continue to operate) without God leaning over their shoulders 100% of the time.

All Kinds of Possibilities

If I am correct and we live in a universe full of God-given delegated authority, that ticket on your windshield may have come from many different places.

First and foremost, it may have arrived there because you woke up after 9:00 a.m. on the sixteenth of the month, by which time your car was supposed to be moved to the other side of your street. While you were rubbing your eyes, groaning and brewing coffee, some lovely young lady in a blue uniform was outside writing you up.

That’s on you, bub. Own it, and pay up.

Alternatively, the ticket may be on your windshield because you have a Donald Trump sticker on your bumper, and the lovely young lady in the blue uniform is a dyed-in-the-wool progressive with a major hate-on for Republicans.

Take that, you filthy racist patriarchal scum!

Or again, the ticket may be on your windshield because of City budget constraints. Blue Uniform Lady has been given very high quota to meet this month, and you’re very slightly more than six inches from the curb, something she has hitherto overlooked.

Perhaps next month you’ll catch a break.

Perhaps the ticket is on your windshield because your son borrowed the car late last night after you went to bed, had a few pints at the corner pub, and accidentally parked your vehicle backward before falling into bed.

We hope not.

The Spiritual Realm

Getting into the spiritual realm, it is not entirely impossible that, as a servant of God, you have drawn the ire of the god of this world or, more likely, one of his minions, who is hoping that when you see that yellow ticket on your windshield, a curse will escape your lips or at least momentarily flash through your mind, disturbing your fellowship with your Heavenly Father.

You’re not Job, or even a character in The Screwtape Letters, so maybe not. But we can’t completely rule it out, can we?

And yes, there’s even (what I think is) a small chance that the Creator of the universe, the Sovereign God himself, determined to make you over in the image of his Son, has nudged one or another of his millions upon millions of delegated authorities out of their normal routine to test you to see (or, really, to enable you and the rest of his creation to see) just how well that transformation is coming along.

The Only Thing That Matters

Morally, of course, none of this is on you. You didn’t deliberately oversleep. You didn’t intentionally tick off the Blue Uniform Lady with your political leanings. You didn’t suggest to your son that having a few and driving home was a brilliant idea. You definitely have nothing to do with the machinations at City Hall.

In the moral realm, it is irrelevant whether the ticket is the product of your own exhaustion, your son’s bad habits, the parking attendant’s malice, governmental wheeling and dealing, the connivances of spiritual enemies or even the loving hand of your God. It doesn’t matter if you know where the ticket came from. Knowing wouldn’t help; the fact is, it’s still sitting there on your windshield, and it still has to be paid.

Where the kingdom of God is concerned, the ONLY thing that matters right now is what you think, do and say as you pull that ticket out from under your wiper, and whether or not those things please or displease your Heavenly Father.

So did God do that? Who cares! This side of heaven, as with most things that happen in our lives, good and bad, we can rarely be 100% sure. And even if we knew, whether it happens is almost entirely out of our control.

What we can control is what we do next.

1 comment :

  1. Great thoughts, Tom.

    There's an additional reason why it is a mercy that consistency is the rule in our action with the material world, rather than, say, a plethora of sudden, unexpected miracles. It's the only way human beings can learn.

    Only if I get consistent feedback to my brain on how things "normally" work, can I discover how to use my agency as a human being so as to create outcomes I can predict and expect -- and only if I can do that can I be a good steward of what God has given me.

    We see this in the parable of the stewards. If I put the money given to me by the "Lord" out to the money lenders, I must be able to be reasonably certain that ordinarily it increases. If my experience tells me nothing about what to predict, I cannot be faithful in my disposition of the funds. I could well be flushing them down a hole, for all I know.

    If the Lord calls us to be faithful, then it is in his mercy that He places us in a world that operates by generally predictable natural laws. Were it not so, we could not only learn nothing ourselves, but could do nothing for Him as His stewards.