On The Nature of God
By S M Chen, March 20, 2017 “I love God’s shadow better than man’s light.” – Madame (Anne Sophie) Swetchine, Russian mystic (1782-1857) [Photo Pixabay; free use]
I read with interest the announcement that Adventist Today would live stream a talk from T. Richard Rice on 11 March 2017 at the Damazo Amphitheatre at LLU. Rice is an SDA theologian and proponent of “open theism,” a term he coined and wrote about in a 1980 book, The Openness of God – The Relationship of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will. [Ed. note: The link will take you to AT’s FB page. Then you have to scroll down to March 11, where you can still watch Dr. Rice now. DLK]
This matter is of more than passing interest. I decided to educate myself. After doing some reading, I have a few thoughts.
George H. Smith contends in his book, Atheism: The Case Against God, that omniscience and omnipotence, two agreed-upon classical attributes of the Almighty, are contradictory and mutually exclusive. Used together, they constitute an oxymoron, according to Smith. He writes: “If God knew the future with infallible certainty, He cannot change it – in which case He cannot be omnipotent. If God can change the future, however, He cannot have infallible knowledge of it.”
One does not have to be an atheist to see Smith’s point, but there may be a way around it.
Does God’s ability to see the end from the beginning, and His foreknowledge that certain individuals (such as Cain, Jezebel, Herod, and Judas, among many others) would choose the broad way, predestine them?
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Might it be plausible that the Almighty has potential foreknowledge that does not necessarily predetermine destiny?
He presumably knows my ultimate outcome – whether I will be among the sheep or the goats at the Judgment.
I do not know, however.
And because I do not know, it seems I maintain the ability to exercise choice. Were that not the case, I may as well eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow I die – or not. It is not up to me; it has been predetermined.
Will He be surprised to find me in one group rather than the other? I suspect not.
However, there will be surprises on the part of some – both ways (Matthew 25).
For at least the majority of us, there seems to be some purpose to existence. As one inscription goes: “The sole purpose of the lives of some is to be a warning to others.”
Some have stated that our purpose in life is to help others. Poet W. H. Auden queried, if that be true, what is the purpose of others? He didn’t supply an answer, but I think perhaps it is to be the ones we help.
The list of spiritual gifts enumerated by Paul in I Corinthians 12 may be incomplete.
The 1981 film Chariots of Fire depicted Scottish runner Eric Liddell, who won gold in the 1924 Paris Olympics before becoming a missionary to China. Liddell said this: “I believe God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
Of interest, Liddell refused to practice on Sunday (his Sabbath).
He described his technique for running the 400-meter race: “I run the first 200 meters as hard as I can. Then, for the second 200 meters, with God’s help, I run harder.”
Less well known, perhaps, are Liddell’s later years.
Tianjin, where he labored, fell under Japanese control during the war. Winston Churchill obtained his release in a prisoner exchange, but Liddell gave his place to a pregnant woman in the internment camp, thus potentially saving two lives. This despite the fact he had a wife and three daughters waiting for him beyond China.
Langdon Gilkey, a fellow camp inmate who survived the war, said this about Liddell: “It is rare indeed that a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known.”
A wealthy but miserly couple took a cab to a mystery whodunit play at a fashionable theater one evening. When paying the taxi fare, they failed to tip the cabbie, whereupon, upon their departing the car for the theater, he yelled after them: “The butler did it!”
Did their (presumed) foreknowledge influence the play’s dénouement?
Though it hardly carries the heft of the Decalogue, the Law of Unintended Consequences is ignored at one’s peril.
My understanding is that the universe was created. The Almighty, on the other hand, has always existed. So where did God dwell before the universe came along, some almost 14 billion years ago, according to scientists?
Since He is spirit, He presumably does not require the three dimensional space we humans occupy.
Does non-matter require space?
Time, for the Almighty, has no meaning. His coruscating gaze pierces with laser-like intensity the veil that enshrouds the future.
For humans, as John Archibald Wheeler (physicist, 1911-2008) put it, ‘Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.”
Perhaps space, for Him, lacks meaning, also, for we are told He can be (and is) everywhere at once.
Einstein purportedly posited time as the fourth dimension. But perhaps God isn’t constrained by any dimension.
He is the personification of love, a quality we imperfectly but perhaps best analogize as a parent’s care for a child.
One of the country songs Johnny Cash used to sing was: “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.” In it, the mother of a young man, Billy Joe, admonishes him to leave his guns at home when he goes to town. She fears – almost knows – the worst (which indeed, in the song, comes to pass). It seems only one step separates foretelling and foreknowledge.
Does she love him any less because he doesn’t listen to her?
Holy Writ is replete with examples of the apparent mutability of the Almighty. In truth, some prophecy, whether yin or yang, was conditional and contingent (what writer Herbert Douglass termed “controlled uncertainty”)
E. G. White, in Patriarchs and Prophets, indicates that, had they repented (as did the denizens of Nineveh, at a later time) during the roughly 120 years Noah preached while he built the Ark, antediluvians would have been spared the Great Deluge.
Had there been found ten righteous souls in Sodom, it would not, along with Gomorrah, have invoked the wrath of fire and brimstone. In which case we would not have had the cautionary tales of Lot’s wife becoming frozen in time as a pillar of salt and her two daughters becoming pregnant by incest.
One bad thing often leads to another. Again the Law of Unintended Consequence at work.
It is hard for me to believe that it was the original will of the Almighty that the children of Israel wander 40 years in the wilderness.
Or that the Hebrews be taken into Babylonian captivity.
Or that Samson, who started off with such promise, succumb to the wiles of a manipulative woman.
Going back further, neither was it His intention that the Fall occur, and that the fruit of the Tree of Life become forbidden, as the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil once was, to our first parents.
It’s been said that everything that happens is either caused, ordained or permitted by Him.
For some, as in the proverbial poem about six blind men and the elephant, their only perception of the divine may through us, their only introduction to the elephant necessarily incomplete.
I hope to be a trustworthy guide.
And, though the Almighty doubtless knows whether I will be or not, I like to think the choice is mine to make.
S M Chen lives and writes in California.