The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

29 October 2003

Part of the plan?

Michele wonders, as I have from time to time:

If you believe in God, do you believe he is an interventionist God? For instance, do you think that prayer can cure illnesses, help rescue people from burning buildings or bring a lost child home? Or do you believe that God is just an observer; he made the world and now just sitting back and watching what happens with his invention?

Michele herself doesn't believe in God — at least, she doesn't believe she believes in God — but it's a puzzle that has perplexed many of us over the years. She's getting good answers in her comment section, but I wanted to single out this one by Analog Mouse:

The best explanation I've heard, and the one that prevents me from being kept awake nights, is that all of creation is like a pointillist painting. We, being in the painting, see every dot as crucial and every change to those dots as a hugely significant event. But to God, the painter, he sees the whole picture. Changing a dot or two over here (answering prayers) may not be a big deal, but the placement of another dot may be completely crucial to the formation of the work of art ("allowing" 9-11 to happen). Then, factor in the fact that the dots can do whatever they want (free will), including destroying the other dots. In the end, the painting will be what God wants it to be, but there are a zillion ways it can happen.

I'm not entirely happy with this explanation — for one thing, it invites higher levels of mockery than usual from happy atheists — but as someone who has always tried to see a bigger picture than the one right in front of me, I find the concept appealing.

Posted at 7:49 AM to Immaterial Witness

Yeah, I liked Analog Mouse's er ... analogy, too. Who cares if atheists' mock it, eh? It's not like they get to decide.

Posted by: Troll King at 8:50 AM on 29 October 2003

Orson Scott Card, in his novel Wyrms, wrote that reality is the truest revelation of God's will. It's awfully hard to argue with that.

Along with that, we have another observation, from the mouth of the C. S. Lewis character in the movie Shadowlands, about why he prays: "It doesn't change God. It changes me!

Though we have been told to pray for Earthly benisons, such as our daily bread or the recovery of our sick, we have also been told that we may be denied what we ask. Christ Himself prescribed the following prayer:

"Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven."

It's the emphasized phrase that carries the charge. Thy will be done. How, after all, could it be any other way? In light of that, whatever we might "nominally" pray for, the crucial subtext of every prayer, without exception, is, "Whatever You decide, Lord, may I be strong enough to bear it."

"Who do atheists talk to during orgasms?" -- Beth Fiedelman

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at 4:31 PM on 29 October 2003

Yeah, my explanation was certainly not as elegant as the one presented to me years ago -- it gets the basic idea across but my wording doesn't quite do it justice. Troll King actually went where I would have eventually gone with it had I had the time, which is the idea that God is not going to suspend the laws of physics to save anyone, "won't stop the fires but works through the firemen," was it? The artist has to work within the rules of the chosen medium.

And really, any explanation you try to give to a question like Michele's, that *does* account for a belief in a higher being, is going to invite "higher levels of mockery" from happy atheists -- that is, after all, how they get to sleep at night. ;)

Posted by: Analog Mouse at 6:33 PM on 29 October 2003

"won't stop the fires but works through the firemen,"

I like that. My understanding of God is that he cares about our souls, and if this emphasis on spiritual growth means there might be suffering, well, aches, pains and scars, like money and property, are among those things you "can't take with you."

Posted by: McGehee at 8:06 AM on 30 October 2003

I'm a pantheist: I believe it'll all pan out in the end.

Posted by: jefferson park at 4:44 PM on 30 October 2003

Analog Mouse:
If He's an interventionist God at all (which I believe He is), he IS monkeying with the natural world. Otherwise he's a watchmaker. You can't have it both ways, right?

Posted by: Dan Lovejoy at 11:35 PM on 30 October 2003