theological reflections at the intersection of (my) perception with reality
Monday, May 25, 2009
Does God Always Get What God Wants?
The question may sound odd. Jarring, even. Our default sensibilities react sternly against the idea. Doesn't God, the all-powerful, all-knowing one deserving of all superlatives, always get his way? For many, great comfort lies in the belief that nothing happens outside God's plan. Every fallen sparrow was scripted. Thus every war, disease, (seemingly) untimely death, job loss, divorce, is part of God's intended plan. But for some, this view of God and God's "will" is less than satisfying. Does God really "want" cancer, genocide, and rape? If He does not want it, but yet it exists, it seems God does not always get what God wants. We could imagine two scenarios: (1) God won't prevent (all) evil and suffering because he can't or (2) God can't prevent (all) evil and suffering because he won't. The first option emphasizes God's limitations in the face of the complexities in the universe he decided to create. His hands are tied. Nancy Eiseland, in her beautifully challenging book, The Disabled God, argues for something like this option. She cannot relate to a God who could prevent all physical disabilities, by a wave of the magic wand, as it were, but simply chooses not to. The second option emphasizes God's unwillingness to intervene at every point, because of some greater good that he wants to ultimately actualize. In this perspective, God could prevent any evil or instantiation of suffering, by a simple exercise of divine power. Either option one chooses, it seems that God doesn't always get what God wants, in a sense, because the world is not yet what it should be.
In another sense, however, we can say that God decided to create this particular kind of world--a world in which sentient beings (demonic and human) are free--free to love or free to hate. Free to be thankful or free to be miserly. Free to rejoice with and for others, or free to plot and scheme against them. It's also a world in which the natural world is free--thus humans are not protected against tragedy, disease and trouble. God decided to create this kind of world, knowing what the consequences would be. And yet, we can say in another sense that in particular instances of evil and suffering and tragedy, God does not always get what God wants.
One day, when Christ returns, the Kingdom arrives in full, and the "new heavens and the new earth" supervene human history, we trust that God will have what God wants. But even then it's not so simple, because if a dimension of existence remains eternally in mis-relation to God (Hell), will God have what God wants? Not according to 2 Peter 3:9, which tells us that God desires no one to perish, but for all to come to eternal life.
I'm a theology professor at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, MN. I teach about Kierkegaard and postmodernity, theology and contemporary culture, the doctrine of salvation, theological perspectives on evil and suffering, and contemporary issues in the person and work of Christ. I enjoying cracking the mysteries of "Lost" with my beautiful wife, Sara.