How Did I Get Here?

NoFatalism

I.

         How did you get to where you are today? Did you have anything to do with what got you here?  If not, did the fickle finger of fate force you here? Or more pointedly for our purposes today, if you had no choice in getting yourself to the point at which you find yourself in life today, was God controlling all the processes that got you here?

         There are certainly innumerable factors impinging on how I got where I am today over which I had absolutely no control. For example, I’m thinking about the family to whom I was born, the country and region of the country in which I was born and raised, the privilege of living in a land devoted to getting me the freedom of speech and the freedom to follow my religious leanings or toss the whole lot, crazy relatives I was told I had to love because they “wuz” kinfolk, and so on and so on ad infinitum.  I obviously had nothing to do with why those factors intertwined to shape my life, but someone was involved in making choices all along the way; and those combined with factors of biology and culture got me into this world and laid the foundations for how I might develop. 

         If God has been calling all the shots, I personally have to count myself fortunate, but the mother who went to bed hungry last night with a crying and also hungry baby at her side may justifiably not feel so lucky.  And in the big pictures of our times, many would conclude–if God has been calling all the shots solo, God has either botched badly or rather stopped caring altogether about the well-being of humanity and our habitat.  The love and care with  which the Creator intricately and creatively fashioned the land, the skies, the plant and animal kingdoms, and humanity itself eventually disappeared and that love and care were replaced by either disdain or oblivion. 

         Worst case scenario, which the writers of the book of Job dared to dramatize:  God is playing games with us by letting God’s pal do the worst to us to see how much we can take before we snap and curse God for allowing such horrors.  Fun huh?  If God is getting divine jollies by seeing how long it takes someone to sizzle, having caught on fire because of a dangerous, makeshift, poor-people heating device in the dead of winter, then let me join in the long line of people who want to curse that god or more, like the Holocaust survivor who having had time to reflect on what had actually happened to him in those living hells called “work camps,” found an automatic weapon, pointed it upward to where he thought God was, and fired and fired until ammunition was depleted. 

         If every evil event in this world were orchestrated by God, I’d long since have done as much as I possibly could have to separate myself, isolate myself from that god.  I sat stunned years ago, as one of my preaching students angry at the notion of such a deity quoted in a sermon the lyrics of a Depeche Mode song:

I don’t want to start a blasphemous rumor,

but I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor.

And when I die,

I expect to find God laughing.

To clarify, I was not stunned at the student’s use of those words; he will probably read the online version of the written sermon, but even if he does not, I was very impressed at his choice of a sermon illustration though not as enthused with the type of sermon into which he interjected this shocking image.  [Hello, Uwe!!!]  I was stunned into attentiveness that anybody had carried the picture of a god who must enjoy making humans suffer beyond comprehension to one of its logical conclusions.

         Let’s move a step or two away from the picture of a god who is control of everything and who happens to be demented, taking pleasure in the cruel punishments meted out to practically everyone over to a picture of a god who is just plain angry.  Here, I can’t help thinking about Jonathan Edwards and his infamous Puritan sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.” 

…God threatens vengeance upon the wicked unbelieving Israelites, who were God’s people and who lived under the means of grace. But, in spite of God’s wonderful works toward them, they remained, “…without sense, having no understanding of the blessings.”  Their works brought forth bitter and poisonous fruit. The expression I have chosen for my text—“…in due time their foot will slip…”, seems to imply that they will fall soon, but haven’t yet….The only reason they have not fallen already, and do not fall now, is that God’s appointed time has not yet come. The passage says “in due time,” that is, in God’s appointed time, they WILL slip.

 

II.

        When it comes to trying to figure out how much power any human being has to influence her or his destiny, the key touchstones for thinking this through are the self, naturally; one or more deities; one or more personal forces of evil; and impersonal powers of fate.  The truth is that when people feel helpless in the face of tragedies over which they could have had no control, whether natural disaster or critical illness, the power causing the attack–if one is trying to pinpoint that–isn’t necessarily well differentiated.  Was it God?  Was it the devil?  Was it karma?  Could it have been two of three?

         In the world of theology, some thinkers believe God is directly or indirectly responsible for everything that happens–from a lottery win to a tsunami.  Some preachers influenced by such thinkers enjoy nothing more than associating God with destructive events intended to punish someone or some community or nation for moral laxity interpreted as intentional rebellion against God.  Other thinkers believe God by God’s very nature can only be involved in what is loving, what promotes well-being.  Therefore, if God is involved in causing an event to occur, you can bet your bottom dollar that the effects of that event will be good for you.  In which of those two camps would you place me?  Don’t answer out loud!

         After the 2004 tsunami, Tina from Holy Love Ministries in Ohio posted this explanation on the internet to explain why the tsunami had occurred:

The world has suffered a great tragedy in loss of life and property in the recent earthquake and tsunami. But while everyone can agree on this event as tragic, most fail to see the greater tragedy–the greater loss of life through the sin of abortion. In the natural disaster the world sees the visible loss of life. In the sin of abortion the truth of the far greater loss of life lays hidden and concealed behind the curtain of lies and compromise. In truth the world should not be surprised by God’s Justice, but should expect it in any form as retribution for the grievous loss of life by abortion. Understand how fragile and vulnerable all life is and learn from the recent tragedy the world now focuses upon.

Well, that was one explanation.  I hope someone called the Weather Channel for their explanation too.

         Here’s another discovered by the folks at religioustolerance.org:

Sheik Fawzan Al-Fawzan said that the tsunami was sent by God to punish South Asian countries because they allowed tourists to engage in immoral sexual activity. Al-Fawzan is a member of the Senior Council of Clerics, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body, and a professor at the Al-Imam University. He is reported as saying: “These great tragedies and collective punishments that are wiping out villages, towns, cities and even entire countries, are Allah’s punishments of the people of these countries, even if they are Muslims. We know that at these resorts, which unfortunately exist in Islamic and other countries in South Asia, and especially at Christmas, fornication and sexual perversion of all kinds are rampant. The fact that it happened at this particular time is a sign from Allah. It happened at Christmas, when fornicators and corrupt people from all over the world come to commit fornication and sexual perversion. That’s when this tragedy took place, striking them all and destroyed everything.

So, there you go, a new way to celebrate the Christmas holiday.

As a kid growing up in Halls Crossroads, on the few occasions when country music wasn’t playing on a radio in earshot, I heard Doris Day singing “Que Sera, Sera.”  What will be, will be.  It was such a sweet way of suggesting that we have absolutely no influence on what ultimately happens to us.  Predestinarians surely were elated that her song was so popular for so long.

         My New Testament Theology professor at Southern Seminary, Dr. Wayne Ward, was not a predestinarian; therefore, when he boarded a plane once and noticed, after the plane was taxiing out for takeoff, that ice was building up on the wings–this was before jets–he raced up the aisle and began pounding on the door to the cockpit.  He demanded that the plane stop and he be allowed to exit.  Having been a military pilot, if I remember correctly, Dr. Ward believed that icy wings meant higher probability of a plane crash, so he was going to do everything he could not to have that happen.  Though he was in trouble with law enforcement later, he managed to have the flight crew let him deplane.  If a bone fide theologian believed that much in his ability to influence his destiny, I knew as he told that story in class that I was with him!

 

III.

         With reference to the compact little theological treatise from the Apostle Paul read by Dot a few minutes ago, I should say that while I admire Paul’s sincerity and his way with words much of the time, I do not agree with him if I understand where he is going with this collection of statements.  Quick refresh.

Those whom God foreknew God also predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s unique Child, in order that he–that is Jesus–might be the firstborn within a large family.  And those whom God predestined God also called; and those whom God called God also justified; and those whom God justified God also glorified.

         If God as Paul understood God was an all-knowing God, then wouldn’t God have to have known all people from the foundation of the earth—that is, from the moment of creation on?  If so, it was God’s will that all people become a part of the great big family in which Jesus is considered the firstborn.  All the fancy theological words used by Paul in this passage simply mean that in his view God gave every human in her or his birth basket shall we say credentials of full family affiliation. 

         Paul himself may not always have been sure about who was in and who was out of the family of God; certainly others after him, however, read his work, put 2 and 2 together and got 6.  They see in Paul an unquestionable limitation of God’s inclusive practices.  For these readers, “predestination” means predestination of a few to the joys of being fully embraced by God in the here and the hereafter. 

         It is possible that no theologian in history thought more about God as in control of everything including the predetermination, from the point of creation on, of the tiny group that would make it to heaven and of the masses that would spend eternity in a burning hell.  I don’t know how long the word “tulip”—totally the wrong visual image–has been used as the basis of an acrostic to summarize Calvin’s so called double-edged predestination, but it’s been a long it.  A cactus, no offense to that family of plants, may be more appropriate visually to helping us remember the basics of Calvanistic predestination and such.

         For now, we still have tulip.

T:  Total Depravity.  Human beings are overpoweringly sin-tainted and sin-controlled.

U:  Unconditional Election.  God decided at the point of creation, looking out into the future who would be in and who would be out.  Since all would be sin-dominated and thus underserving of anything better than hellfire, God’s decision was based unconditionally on God’s mercy.  What about God’s mercy to those not chosen?  Don’t ask!

L:  Limited Atonement. Whatever benefits there may have been to Jesus’ self-sacrifice, they only apply to those elected to heaven by God.  It doesn’t help the rest of us out at all.  By the way, I’ve never read, and I’m not saying it’s never been done, but I’ve never read anyone writing about who God “elected” who believed she or he had been left off the final draft.

I:  Irresistible Grace.  Those elected by God are incapable of saying, “I prefer to be a part of the Un-elect; thank you very much.  No offense, God, but so many of my friends are going to be in hell I’d just feel more content there despite the temperature issues.”  See if they had a choice, which Calvin insisted they did not, a lot of people would agree with Oscar Wilde:  “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.”

P:  Perseverance of the Saints. No one who is in, can for any reason or by any means fall away.

Awwww.  Now, every time you see a beautiful tulip, you can think of Brother Calvin.

         Thank goodness another theologian countered Calvinism, Arminius.  Here are his counterpoints to Calvinism. There’s no acrostic that I know about.

1.   Whatever sin is, if there is such a thing, human beings are not trapped in it.  If they find themselves caught in patterns of hurting themselves and others, there’s a way out.

2.   Those whom God elected at the foundation of the world were those whom God could see would give their lives to the good and not to the evil.

3.   Anyone and everyone has the chance to open up to reality of God’s love in the here and the hereafter.

4.   No one, however, is obligated to sign on.  Free will remains operative at all times.

5.   Once someone signs on, she or he is not obligated to stay in the family.  Someone once in may leave at will, and evidently many have.

If these two extremes can be applied to life in general and not just to matters of spirituality and faith, we can see what our options are.

    I’m going to come down on the side of free will.  I believe that I have great opportunity to shape my destiny.  The challenge of making that choice is that I must be responsible for much of what ensues in my life.  I am grateful for opportunities to learn.  I am grateful for the possibilities of change.  I’d hate being a puppet, even if the puppeteer were taking me to heaven.

    Amen.

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