Friday, July 29, 2011

Free Will and the Adjustment Bureau

Not the best film in the world but I felt it was trying to answer a serious question - theodicy. It is trying to explain why so many bad things happen in this world that is supposed to be created by a benevolent and loving God. Or put another way, it is trying to determine the relationship between an interventionist God and human free will. That said it would have been great if they had a theologian help out (if there was one they did a bad job) with the story. What it ends up doing is something I hear a lot from folks when they face trouble or set-backs in life: shouldn't God fix this?

The short answer is always no, and the film does try to go there. But the harder answer is what kind of God are you appealing to? It is a serious and tough question because how you answer it has far reaching implications on our lives of faith. For instance, if you believe that God is never interventionist then what is the purpose of praying? But if you believe God is interventionist (meaning God steps in at will and alters reality) then why does it seem that God only intervenes for rich white Westerners and is oblivious to the poorest of the poor? Conundrums like this are why theologians spend their whole lives on just this problem.

Spoiler Alert: If you want to enjoy the movie you should watch it before reading further - you have been warned.

What kind of God does this movie portray?

This is a God that writes and re-writes "the plan" at will.
This is a God who has angels micro-manage the execution of "the plan".
This is a God who seems to want human free will, but, if Thompson is to be believed, cannot really trust humanity with free will. At least not yet.
This is a God who values reason above emotion.
This is a God who buys into the Enlightenment error that reason alone can give us a perfect society (world).
This is a God swayed by enacted emotion.
This is a God who blames all the evil in the world on free will and all the (so-called) good on God's direct intervention via "the plan".
This is a God who is absent.
This is a God who is male (male angels and God referred to as the Chairman).

I'm not trying to wade through what of this is conflicting, rather what is presented through the film. There may be more you could add, but this gives us a place to start.

Does this sound like the Judeo-Christian God? What is scary is that it sounds a lot like the God that many of my Christian friends understand God to be. They want a God they can blame when things go bad and ignore when things go right. Such a God is about as useless as the Chairman in this film - Matt Damon was right to not respect this God or "his" plan. But in the film the main character is aided and praised for going against God's plan? Worse, to go against this plan for emotional reasons!

So where is God when it hurts? Do we have to fall back on the polarity of interventionist/non-interventionist? supernatural/non-supernatural? I don't think so. But I must admit that sometimes the only answer we get is the one God gives Job - "do you think you could do better?" If the writers of Job were writing this movie they'd be convinced that God wants us to say yes and do it. But that isn't the answer a righteous Job gives. In fact it is not the answer to theodicy any more than to make God some sort of bi-polar cosmic monster.

Personally, I prefer the approach of theologians like Moltmann who find God entering into our pain with us. That approach doesn't mean altering God to fit our expectations - rather it means we meet God as who God is and find the God who not only names our pain but works with us to right the wrongs (Job's tragic tale ends with a righteous Job making right his view of humanity, especially of women.) But that is not the God of the Adjustment Bureau.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Odd Blog Traffic

I just noticed that the top three referring sites this week have names that lead me to think they are pornographic (and spammy) in nature. I'll resist following up on these links, but for all of you who came here looking for penis extensions and naked people - I think you will be disappointed. On the up side you might find something to better occupy your time.

In the meanwhile I leave you with a comic my friend David aka the Naked Pastor did. Feel free to get up and do a little dance to the song in your head. Oh and David is metaphorically naked, in case you think I'm just trying to redirect you to what you came here looking for.

Thanks for dropping by.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why I'm a Lucky Guy

Blessed is probably a better word for it. However you put it, I have a lot to be thankful for. This shot is of my beautiful wife, taken at the cottage of some amazing friends on a vacation that was so good.

Ok enough boasting. I'm home from holidays now, time to buckle down and finish up some loose ends in terms of writing. Grabbed my missing Spirituality books from Matte in Montreal so I'm all set to tackle course prep. Sharon is taking our kids camping for a few days so I will have a few days to get my bearings.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What is Free about the Gospel?

Driving around I saw a church sign that said: "The gospel is free, you just need to receive it." Clearly free is not a good descriptor here. If it was free then you end up with a universalism which I'm sure is not the intent of the little Baptist church with that sign. So what is free about the gospel?

I actually think the opposite - the gospel is costly.

Not only does it cost receiving it - hardly a passive action. It involves investing your whole life into. Perhaps what bugs me about the free statement is that it promises something it cannot really deliver. What does it mean to receive the gospel? Does it mean some intellectual nod of the head at what God did with little following implications? That hardly fits with any evangelical doctrines of salvation I know about. I'm not advocating a works here - but rather a responsibility. The gospel isn't free, it will demand our whole lives. It is costly.

There is a cost that is paid for - at least in terms of substitutionary atonement - but that is not the part of the gospel that I think we are trying to get at. We are not trying to compare God's cost against ours and say that in comparison what we have to do is pretty much free. I doubt that. In fact if anything the command to take up our own crosses implies that the gospel has the same potential (cost-wise) as it did for Jesus. It could very well demand out lives.

Why do we want it to be stripped of this cost? Do we think that a costly gospel is less appealing? Maybe we sugar coat the gospel and tell people lies like "God has a wonderful plan for your life" in order to con them into the Kingdom. It doesn't work. A costless gospel is not a gospel at all. It is a fatalism, an easy believism, that is not good news at all. What I mean by this is that it is not good news because it has no ability to do anything in the world except lull individuals into a false sense of security. If the gospel is really good news it has to be good news for the whole of creation, anything less undersells God and turns the gospel into a farce.

I think we should drop the lame slogans and return to a costly gospel. That pearl of great price that once you find you are willing to give up everything for. A free gospel is really only worth the price you paid for it - nothing. I have a hard time believing that Jesus would be willing to lay down his life for something so meaningless as a so-called free gospel.

I think the only sense in which we might be able to talk about a free gospel is in terms of money - but even there the gospel makes huge demands on us. Sure I can offer it to you without charging you money. But what I'm offering, when I present the gospel, really demands your everything. And you can bet that will impact your pocketbook at some point. The gospel is costly. I'm actually quite ok with that. Only a costly gospel is worthy of the God who is willing to risk everything for us.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Wedding Prep

I'm not doing this one, but I am playing at it. My license does not extend beyond Ontario, but my half-aunt Sharon is a Lutheran minister down there. My niece Alex is getting married. I am going to be playing a couple songs in the service though. They wanted something to come down the aisle to and something to go back on. I chose two songs: I'm Yours (Jason Mraz) which is a great song with odd lyrics and Dancing through the Minefields (Andrew Peterson) which was suggested by my buddy Poulsen. I'm actually thinking of doing Dancing for them coming up - but I'll have to work out the timings for how long the walk is. I'm Yours is easy to vamp over so I'll just wing it as they leave. Probably do the two straighter verses and the chorus a few times (extended and simple). Should work fine.

When I started putting this together it made me realize how little I've been playing guitar. But the fingers are hardening up again.

Always busy. Kids are out of school now so it is catch as catch can to get my thesis work done. I need to start prepping classes too. I had loaned out a pile of spirituality books to my buddy Matte in Montreal, I'll have those back soon. Those are mostly the masters level books. I plan on doing quite a bit of reading over the next little while. I'll try to post as I go along though.