Hand on the Wheel

August 27, 2008

We’re discussing the presence of evil in a world presided over by a good God. In the previous post I made the assertion that a man cannot account for this while maintaining both the fundamental pillars of restoration theology and the biblical attributes of God. I want to explore this in detail here.

Staying with the hypothetical scenario in the previous post, a drunk driver blows through a red light and t-bones another car, killing the baby girl in the back seat. Now several things must be observed by us on the front side, especially these two: First, evil has actually occurred. The man in question had been drinking to the point of irresponsible excess, which is clearly sinful; he was driving while drunk, which is against the law, and this willful disobedience compounds his sin; and these sinful acts directly caused the death of another human being, which is murder by God’s standards; and, looking at it from Mamma’s point of view, an innocent child has been killed, a family has been devastated, etc. Evil has occurred, and on that point there should be agreement all around. And second, God was somewhere when this evil occurred. God is not a concept, He is a being. The incarnation is real, the resurrection is real, we’re not Gnostics, and we’re not atheists — God was somewhere when this evil occurred. The question before us now is where was He.

Now if we’re going to affirm with scripture that God is omnipresent, then we must answer by saying that God was right in the middle of it. He wasn’t a distant bystander, a sideline hand-wringer, a horrified spectator in the nosebleed cheap-seats — no, He was right there. This means He wasn’t just in the car with the little girl (like the sappy evangelical platitudes remind us), He was also in the other car sitting next to the drunk. And a half hour earlier He was both at the bar and in the garage watching Mamma buckle her baby into the car seat. That’s what omnipresent means.

If we’re going to affirm with scripture that God is also omniscient, then we must also conclude that God knew what was going to happen before it happened. As He watched the two cars leave the respective driveways, the rest of the evening was already known to Him. There was no mystery there, from God’s point of view. He knew this would happen.

Before we account for God’s omnipotence, let me turn aside into an anecdotal cul de sac. In one of my wife’s classes at the aforementioned Christian college, the professor was discussing the problem of evil, and in order to defend God against liability He used an illustration that went something like this. Imagine you’re standing on a street corner, and you see two cars approaching the intersection. You can see that, based on their speed and orientation, they will collide in the intersection. You can see this ahead of time, and in this way your situation roughly mimics God’s foreknowledge; yet, you cannot be held responsible for the cars colliding. Likewise, the argument goes, God cannot be held responsible for evil, even though He knows exactly how and when it is going to happen.

But this illustration is fatally flawed for one fundamental reason: it completely fails to take into account the omnipotence of God. As my wife pointed out to her professor, the person standing on the corner is free from liability in spite of foreknowledge precisely because he did not set the cars in motion, and anyway he has no power to stop the cars once they’ve started. Yet we can hardly say that about God, so the professor’s argument doesn’t work.

So if we’re going to affirm with scripture that God is omnipotent, we must face the fact that God, at the very least, had the power to stop the evil from happening, but chose not to. Chose, you say? Yes, chose. If God is all powerful, this means that when He was omnipresently with the drunk in the car which He omnisciently knew would kill the little girl, He omnipotently had His hand on the wheel. Now just forget about foreordination for a moment — the kicker is that God didn’t turn the wheel, even though He had the power to do so. This is the big white elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about, and when I finally admitted to noticing it, I found myself to be Calvinist.

Of course there are several retorts to this from the restorationist side of the isle (I know, I used to argue them), and I plan to discuss some of them in the next post. For now I’ll leave you with this spoiler. The retorts fall into three categories: 1) Functional denials of the biblical attributes of God, 2) Explicit denials of the basic tenets of restoration theology, 3) Accidental arguments for other elements of Calvinism.

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