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August 09, 2010


Kevin Powell

I've always HATED the "God is in control" crap that I hear from other Christians. If that's true then God is not controlling the world in any way that any good deity could pass off as the Kingdom of God. Strict Calvinists would assert that, yes, God is still in control despite evidence to the contrary. But I don't find that helpful.

re: Free will. As a Lutheran, I confess the will is in bondage to sin and cannot free itself. We sin: i.e., hurt each other, ourselves, creation, and God because that's who we are. Our so-called "free will" leads us only to greater harm. That's why we need a saviour to "interfere" in our "free will."

But the statement itself is absurd. "God is in control." What could that possibly mean concretely - in the world? To me, it sounds like something Christians say to shut down any argument about God and suffering because most Christians would feel compelled to affirm that God is in control because to say otherwise would sound unfaithful.

These sorts of statements often serve to re-assert institutional power over people who ask questions that church leaders can't answer.


Trevor Palen

Before even mentioning anything about God, I am unsure as to your understanding of free-will/choice? What is "to choose"? Why do we choose, and more importantly HOW do we choose? I would be interested to know your thoughts on that.

For me, I think if one considers "choice" from a purely behavioral stance, one realizes that choice is made out of an individual's personality/preferences. Well how does that person get that personality/preferences? Was there a point at which that person was exactly neutral on all things and in all ways in the world and chose what seemed best to them? I hope we can all see the impossibility of complete and utter objectivity.

It seems to me that you're dismissing the raw natural existence of a human being, and how exactly that plays into the argument. At some basic level, personality and preference were not arrived at, but rather a starting point for the a person's will. Because all choices stem out of that, there is a level to which, even without the existence of god, that our choices are not fully and wholly ours, but rather determined by the nature that was bestowed upon us...whether that's genetics or good ole fashioned nurture.

I think without acknowledging our disposition, understanding the ability for God to be of the character that theist's generally praise Him for in the face of theodicy is impossible.

It is not unreasonable to imagine that if there is a God in the theistic sense (omni-god?) then the way that we perceive reality and what is actually reality are two very different things. Whether or not God is in control, as humans, we have to accept that we're "choice making beings". It is inherent. However, just because we make what feels like real choices, doesn't preclude God's providence/authority from being the impetus for that choice being made. So if you break it down on His level, then yes, He is truly the one who had the final say, so it was His choice. However, He also created us to be inherently responsible for the choices that we make, most notably, in terms of "real-time" (to us) consequences of our actions, be they good or bad.


I think if you try to parse "God is in control," it breaks down almost immediately into either incoherence, or theory beyond what anyone would find helpful in a crisis. If you look at the pragmatics of "God is in control" utterances, they're usually meant as "There, there, it will be all right" rather than any kind of assertion that "There is this being God, right, and these things called choices, and they interact in this complicated causal web, etc." Or in plain English, the utterance serves not to answer a question so much as to stop it from being asked. Especially when you consider similar repetitions in many churches' liturgy, it's almost like the stop-thought process that therapists teach OCD patients to use to keep their thoughts from going in a certain direction. That's a more interesting phenomenon to me than anything the statement could allegedly mean on the semantic level.

Greg Horton

Kevin, I always liked Luther's idea of the will's bondage; it made more sense, and it still does to me when viewed through a psychological or sociological lens. Many of our choices are influenced beyond what we understand. Many aren't truly free in any sense of the word.

Trevor, that sort of answers your question too about choice. I believe in limited free will, mainly because I have a strong sense of justice. If someone hurts a child, I care little for talk of preference and personality; we believe truly that he should be punished, because we believe it's possible not to hurt the child by means of good, moral choices.

As to your omni-scenario, if they only feel like real choices, they aren't, and the whole thing is a sham. It's the Calvinist position put more eloquently. It is in fact not reasonable from a strictly logical perspective to assume what you assert because it goes completely against the principle of non-contradiction; however, it makes perfect logical sense in the closed system of Calvinism. Unfortunately, every word about God in every language has to be redefined in Calvinism because they simply don't mean the same thing in this world we must live in and the world the Calvinists imagine. For example, god is good. For the non-Calvinist, there must be a theodic answer in which god doesn't really murder babies in a flood. For the Calvinist, it's not a problem. God did it; God is good; the act is good because it is the will of God. Nice. God as serial killer. Not a problem for Calvinists, but a problem if you like good to at least mean "someone who doesn't drown babies."

Leighton, pretty sure you're right. It's more mantra than theological assertion; however, I've found that if you push people on it, they will defend it. The exercise wasn't to show how wrong the idea is; rather, I was making the point that we say all sorts of things with no regard to what they actually mean.


Yeah, defending it is interesting, especially since the defense comes before or without an understanding of what it means. Some Pagans I've talked to who say "Things happen for a reason" have "defended" it with "I don't know, it's just a saying," so there's at least some awareness in some areas that things aren't meant to have meaning so much as to convey nonverbal messages like "I feel your pain" or somesuch.

I didn't mean to be obtuse about the point of the post, but I'm not the most careful reader after I've gotten up for shift at 4:30 a.m. Seems like a good example of constrained and free choices--I couldn't have chosen to be more alert at the time, but I could have chosen to wait to post until I'd read it with my brain actually working.

Greg Horton

Oh, I didn't think you were begin obtuse. I'm just clarifying. In another example of choice, I could have gone to bed after the sixth glass of wine last night; instead, I chose to write a semi-coherent blog post with insufficient background info. BTW, I still haven't mailed the damn book. I will do it today or tomorrow. Swear to Shiva.


Sounds like a plan. If it's here by the 20th, I'll read it over vacation. Otherwise it's Cryptonomicon again, and I'll get to it the first week of September.


Am I stuck with the just three choices when it comes to God being in control? I feel like there should be a fourth and I feel like I should reread my Philosophy and Religion books and Batman and Philosophy book.

If I have to operate within the choices you mention at the end of the post then I am going to say that God is not in control. But I'm not going to go as far as saying God is absent because I can't. To me the test you gave and the phrase God is in control forces us to have either say God is in control of everything or God is not in control therefore God does not exist.

The concept of free will and choice are ways we Christians attempt to explain the evil in the world and God is in control is our way of comforting ourselves when shit happens to us like when a four year old is having chemo done to kill a tumor wrapped around her aorta(sp?).

I am going to have reread up on this again but my education and experience tells me that God is not in control and that God doesn't have a plan but that doesn't mean God is not real or that God isn't present. It means that I am desperately trying to look for a rational argument for something (evil) that doesn't have a rational response.

Greg Horton

Joe, I happily confess to leaving out the panentheist option. Primarily because it solves nothing. God is present and suffers with creation. In fact, creation is contained within god, so he can't help but suffer with us. My concern is to respond to the theists who believe in some form of God's sovereignty. I just want to know what that looks like. No traditional answer seems to suffice.

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