Thursday, June 15, 2017

Divine Sovereignty and the Multiverse



The concept of predestination exists for a reason.  As a doctrine, as a theological construct, and as a way of understanding creation, it exists for the sole purpose of affirming divine sovereignty.

God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Creator of the Universe, the Almighty and Eternal?  God is in charge.  Nothing happens, but that the I Am That I Am wills it.  From the start of time and space to its conclusion, every last little thing that happens is under the authority of the One that makes Heaven and Earth.

If this is not true, then God is not God, and God is not worthy of worship.

That's pretty much the classically orthodox Christian position, as laid out by Brother Augustine and John Calvin, Esquire.

I am completely down with that, with a rather notable exception.

I don't think it means precisely what Calvin and Augustine thought it meant, because I don't understand creation in the same way.   I live in neither the year 420 nor the year 1550, and have the advantage of centuries of human knowledge.

Along with many cosmologists and a surprisingly large number of physicists, I view creation as multiversal.  There is not one time and space, but rather all times and spaces.  Everything that can exists does exist, and what we experience in the vastness of our time and space is just an infinitesimal slice of being.

I believe this for a range of reasons, some of which lie in mystic experiences that make me sound a bit crazy.  But those encounters resonate with what science seems to be discovering, which is why I don't just write them off as me being a little wackadoodle.

More importantly, my understanding of creation as multiversal is the only way...as I see it...to integrate the statement that God is Sovereign with the statement that God is Love.

Classical predestination...meaning, God is the Author of the single linear timeline that we together are experiencing...has two primary theological flaws.

First, it asserts that this is the best of all possible universes.  Calvinists will argue this with a straight face, trying to assert that the bloody mess of human history is just God being a little coy about God's goodness.  "Really, it'll be the best!  The very best," says the classical Calvinist YHWH.  "I'll tell you the reason for all of this chaos and horror soon. Very soon, and it'll be good. So good!  And you'll be amazed.  Believe me."

We get enough of that kind of [bovine excrement] from the fools we have chosen to lead us.

I don't believe that for a moment, because believing that impinges on God's sovereign power.  Asserting that God is only capable of creating a single nonvariant thing imprisons God's will within our time and space.  But my God, to sound a bit like a praise song, is a mighty God.  My God can do more than that.  My God can do everything that can possibly be done.

Sure, you can argue that God is limited, that God must do only one thing because that one thing is God's will.  But then your god with a small "g" is smaller than mine.  Weaker.  Not actually omnipotent at all, unless you define down omnipotence to less than we can imagine.

The second flaw with classical predestination is that it eliminates moral agency.  If there is just one way everything can happen, and the Creator of the Universe has absolute control down to the subatomic level, then we are not empowered to make any meaningful choices.  Everything that is done is done because God is doing it.  Period.

And if that is so, then we choose nothing.  And if we do not have the power to choose, then we are not culpable for our actions.  If you have only one option, then you have no options.  We become objects, meat machines whose Free Will is simply an illusion, a mirage cast by the shimmering heat of Divine Authority.

As a cosmology, I suppose I could see where that might have some purchase.  The problem with that?

Jesus.

I mean, not "Jesus" as an appropriately blasphemous epithet cast at a monstrous, soulless clockwork, but "Jesus" as the one who manifests and embodies God's Love.

At the heart of the Gospel lies the assumption that change is possible.  "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand," says the Nazarene.  To authentically repent, one must have the power to choose, to select one path rather than another.

Without that capacity for choice...real and fraught with mortal peril...we are not moral creatures.  Neither would we be made in the image of God, or at least, not any god worth turning to in hope.  We, like the "god" of a single mechanistic way of being, would be functionally helpless, trapped, unable to create, unable to shape reality.

For God to be God, the divine power to create must infinitely transcend the creation we perceive.

And for God to be love, we must be free to choose...really, truly choose...to love God back.

Which is why, quite frankly, a multiverse is necessary, if the sovereignty of the God we Jesus-folk know in Christ is to be preserved.  

2 comments:

  1. Not sure if this will make it to you here, or capture your attention, but I wanted to drop by and thank you for your novel, When the English Fall, which I just finished reading.

    This post is as good a place as any, as you explore a tiny bit this idea of God's Sovereignty via the idea of an exhaustive multiverse of whatever is possible. I especially like your description here, "Everything that can exists does exist, and what we experience in the vastness of our time and space is just an infinitesimal slice of being." This idea quite neatly weds the moral freedom of our agency to the counterintuitive notion that God controls everything and is never surprised.

    Even moreso than this was your excellent treatment of Job. This was a breath of fresh air to me. I cannot count the times people would reference the story of Job and simultaneously assert that bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people because that's how a just world works and everyone gets what they "deserve" in the end. They focus on the end of the Job story and ignore the irony of parroting the false ideas of Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz.

    Also I like where you ended the book, open-ended and leaving me wondering if they made it safely to the midwest or if they were slaughtered on the way by a bunch of desperate people with too many guns and not enough food. Because of where you ended this story, I'm wondering if you agree with me in this aspect of Job: the story ends properly at 42:6 and everything after that was added by people who missed the point entirely. Any truth to that?

    Anyway, thank you for a wonderful book. The format (diary) threw me for a bit but I recognize it as a challenge, against which you performed admirably. About the only thing I could think to criticize was the pacing, since too much seemed to happen in the span of a little over 2 months' time, but perhaps that's just my calibration error of how long it would take these things to play out, and also you needed to control the length of a book that was predicated upon near-daily diary entries as chapters. In any case, today is only 4 days after the first diary entry, so I hope your book is just good solid metaphor and not accurate prophecy! ;-)

    Take care,
    Bruce

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    1. Bruce:

      You're welcome! And yes, it was a challenge to stick with a single POV, in a voice that is, as the New York Times Book Review put it "Almanac-like." I did come to love Jacob and his solidity, which helps when you're stuck on a journey with just one companion.

      As for Job, yeah, most folks just know the outer story, the simple fable that got wrapped around a more potent wisdom teaching. Meaning, they read the prologue and the epilogue (likely a freestanding tale at one point), and miss the power and complexity of the deeper wisdom tradition within. One wishes that ancient scribe had just said, eh, let's go with the good one only. But so it goes.

      Again, thanks for your kind words and reflections!

      Peace and Blessings,

      David

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