Re: choking on RFEP -- prearrangement

From: Don Winterstein <dfwinterstein@msn.com>
Date: Sun Apr 04 2004 - 05:24:22 EDT

Re: choking on RFEP -- prearrangementHoward Van Till wrote:

"Whether in full detail or only for selected details, the idea of divine prearrangement (a form of coercive divine action, as I see it) strikes me as extremely problematic. In essence, it is the problem of divine culpability for failure to prevent senseless & horrific pain and suffering. If God is both able and willing to prearrange certain events in a person's life, then is God not responsible for failing to prevent the host of human tragedies that occur daily? Why, for instance, did God not prearrange that the four members of the civilian security company be spared from being slaughtered and their bodies dragged through the streets of Falujah? Talk of divine prearrangement of event strings that turn out good for us is easy, too easy. We like to give God credit for good things, don't we? But the unavoidable flip side of the coin is that we must then hold God equally responsible for things that are irredeemably evil."

The Joseph story, as Wayne pointed out, is a most apropos illustration of divine prearrangement. (Why didn't I think of that?! --Too focused on myself.) The culmination of Israel's history in Christ would be another good illustration. Hence the Bible and tradition already teach that God prearranges--as you are probably well aware. It is appropriate for us to try to understand why he does so and to keep our mouths shut if we see him going in directions that cause us discomfort. (On the other hand, asking "why" is not inappropriate either.)

There's this old "problem of evil" that refuses to keep its head down no matter how often I say it's not worth discussing. : - )

From the human perspective, death is the ultimate evil. From God's perspective, death and lots of other things people call evil rank way down the scale. God has different priorities than humans.

Everyone dies, some sooner than others, some more violently than others. So it's a matter of when, not if. Is it more tragic that a child die violently when young than that an old person die peacefully in his sleep? This is how people think, but it's not always how God thinks.

God has objectives other than preserving all humans into a ripe old age. It's easy for me to believe that, in order to satisfy human criteria for what is good, God would be unable to satisfy his own objectives. Different objectives can require mutually exclusive outcomes.

While God loves individuals, his overriding objectives have to do with achieving certain goals over the broad sweep of history. Fates of individuals almost invariably have lower priorities than meeting the overriding objectives. To view the world aright we need to stop looking at it one individual at a time and try to discern where God is headed with the thing as a whole.

The exception is when an individual coincides with the fulfillment of God's objectives (as Christ). The Bible clearly indicates that not everyone is equal (e.g., Romans 9-12). He gives special attention to those who best further his objectives. (His special attention does not necessarily confer wealth or long and healthy life! But in some cases it does.)

So yes, I see the whole thing as prearranged in the sense that God is goal-directed; he knows where he is headed and likely will get there someday. And the "problem of evil" is not a problem.

Don

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Howard J. Van Till<mailto:hvantill@sbcglobal.net>
  To: Don Winterstein<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com> ; asa<mailto:asa@calvin.edu>
  Sent: Friday, April 02, 2004 6:27 AM
  Subject: Re: choking on RFEP -- prearrangement

  Don,

  Thanks for the conversation. I'd like to follow up on selected portions (on the issue of divine prearrangement) of your last 2 postings.

    DW: It may be useful to consider why I'm wrong for RFEP. In a nutshell, with respect to the totality of my experience, I see God as the great choreographer.

    HVT: Here is one place in which I would process experiences, ideas, and options differently. In the totality of my experience I do not see God as "the great Choreographer" -- as if God prearranged any of the details in my life experience, but I experience God as the Sacred One who makes possible all life-enriching experiences (whether those are pleasant or not).

    DW: My life has been meaningful in fine detail, and all this meaningfulness had little to do with my own planning.

    HVT: Agreed. But why should we think that meaningfulness requires any detail planning at all? Cannot meaningfulness be a God-enriched response to whatever happens?

    DW: It is as if God prearranged in meticulous detail well before I was born to have the components of the world come together in just the right way to make my life as meaningful as possible. (NB: "meaningful" is not "pain-free.")

    HVT: Here's a point of disagreement. I see no reason for thinking that meaningfulness is in any way dependent on prearrangement. Tying meaningfulness to divine prearrangement strikes me as a non sequitur of major proportions.

    DW: I might agree in some cases, especially for isolated instances. But what I was thinking of here instead was long sequences of events where the meaning of one event depends on preceding events. The meaning of an individual event is enhanced by its relation to the whole. It is the achievement of the whole, consisting of many events but greater than the sum of them, that I'm constrained to believe required a certain amount of prearrangement. Perhaps I can't make clear what I mean without going into detail. Maybe someday.

  HVT: Whether in full detail or only for selected details, the idea of divine prearrangement (a form of coercive divine action, as I see it) strikes me as extremely problematic. In essence, it is the problem of divine culpability for failure to prevent senseless & horrific pain and suffering. If God is both able and willing to prearrange certain events in a person's life, then is God not responsible for failing to prevent the host of human tragedies that occur daily? Why, for instance, did God not prearrange that the four members of the civilian security company be spared from being slaughtered and their bodies dragged through the streets of Falujah? Talk of divine prearrangement of event strings that turn out good for us is easy, too easy. We like to give God credit for good things, don't we? But the unavoidable flip side of the coin is that we must then hold God equally responsible for things that are irredeemably evil.

  Howard Van Till
Received on Sun, 4 Apr 2004 01:24:22 -0800

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