My wife and I have several theological debates we engage in on a fairly regular basis. One of those debates is over the degree to which God acts in the affairs of humans. We recently had an event which set off the debate again. My rowboat had a very old set of oars that had actually belonged to my father. One of the oars had split so that the blade consisted of two sections (see picture). My wife complained bitterly that the oar was an eye-sore and that we could afford a new one. I argued that the oar worked okay, that no one would steal the oar as it was, and there was no reason to buy a new one. My wife ended the argument by saying she was going to pray about it. I halfway thought the oar might disappear mysteriously sometime, but the debate ended — temporarily.

In early July of 2010 we had a severe weather incident that took down trees, caused the power to go off for five days, and generally created chaos in our lives. When the dust settled and things were getting back to normal, I went down to bail out the boat. I could not believe what I saw. A large tree limb had fallen across the boat. It landed across the oar in question and broke it into two sections (see picture). My wife maintains that this is proof that God answers all our prayers and cares about even such mundane things as a functionally challenged oar. “If God knows the number of hairs on your head (Matthew 10:30) He knows you need a new oar and He takes care of it,” she says. This is further followed by all the passages where Jesus tells us to seek, ask, etc., and that our requests will be given to us (see Luke 11:9 –10; John 15:7). My response to all of this is that it is not a question of what God knows, but how God functions. My response to the fact that the oar she prayed about was the one shattered is that it was a serendipitous accident and God does not micromanage our lives that way. I am fully aware, however, that my atheist friends answer my claims of answered prayers in the same way, and the broken oar continues to remind me that my wife’s faith in God’s action in our lives is far more spiritual in nature than are mine.

The reality of this discussion is that this is a very general question that has implications in all aspects of apologetics. Did God micromanage the creation process?

Genesis 1:1 simply states that God created the shamayim (heaven) and the erets (earth). That means God created everything — what you see when you look up and what you see when you look down. Nowhere in the Genesis account does it address the methods God used in doing this. Some will say “God spoke it into existence” but God’s sound waves did not do the creating and the description in Genesis indicates very specific creative acts.

Through quantum mechanics the scientific evidence continues to grow to support the fact that even quarks, neutrinos, mesons, and other subatomic particles were used in a method to produce the physical mass particles our classical physics laws describe — electrons, protons, neutrons, etc. Scientists are close to being able to duplicate some of these processes.

In a similar way, we can see the record of the creation of the natural resources we are dependent on in the rocks of the earth. God could miraculously “zap” oil, coal, and gas into the earth but the evidence is that He did not. He established a natural process that has, and still does produce these resources. Once again we are duplicating some of these methods to address our energy needs. The wisdom and intelligence involved in designing an ecosystem that could produce the resources needed to sustain human life and the environment humans would need for thousands of years is incredible. The fact that man has always had enough energy sources to move him to the next energy source is also remarkable. We have had just enough wood to allow us to move to fossil fuels, just enough fossil fuels to move us to nuclear fuels. We have not always done this smoothly, as greed and politics have muddied the transition, but the resources and their great quantities show God’s wisdom, power, and design.

The subject of evolution also reflects God’s technique of not micromanaging life itself. The physical world in which life exists is necessarily a world of constant change. Weather systems are necessary to bring water to widely divergent latitudes. Diastrophism (folding and faulting) in the earth’s crust must happen to recycle necessary elements and raise ground eroded by running water. Natural cycles occur in the sun and the sun and moon have celestial effects on the earth such as in tides in the ocean.

For living things to exist in this physical world of change, life itself must have the capacity to change. Our current experience with global warming is giving us a chance to see a relatively rapid change in the physical world and how life adapts to this change or does not adapt and becomes extinct. Global warming and cooling are a fact of the physical world (not solely caused by man), and the design of life shows us that God has created life with built-in abilities to change. God does not “zap” new life forms into existence each time such change is mandated by a new ecosystem.

The place where this discussion becomes difficult for most of us is in our own personal lives. Why do I have to deal with cancer, diabetes, birth defects, and natural disasters like earthquakes? Let us first of all point out that things like war, pollution, politics, slavery, murder, poverty, and religion are not included in this discussion for a reason. Man is a free moral agent and for sentient beings to inflict pain on their fellow sentient beings is a different issue, which we have discussed previously in this journal. God’s purpose in creating man is the fundamental issue in why sentient beings do these things and that is a separate concern we have addressed before.

While we are not dealing with mankind’s inhumanity to man in this discussion, that topic does necessarily get involved with God’s role in the issues we are discussing. If being a Christian absolved a person from cancer, birth defects, and other diseases, people would be flocking to Christ every time they had a crisis and leaving Christ every time the crisis was over. God never intended for obedience to Him to be an escape mechanism. God wants love to be the basis of our relationship to Him and each other. It is also important to understand that man has had a role in many of the things the media likes to refer to as “acts of God.” There is no question that much of cancer and birth defects has been caused by man-generated pollution. Much of the suffering associated with earthquakes and hurricanes is due to selfishness and greed on the part of contractors and politicians.

The purpose of this essay is to promote thinking about God’s role in a managerial way. My son was born blind, mentally challenged, afflicted with cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. God did not cause or instantly create these problems, nor did God pick my wife and me to be the parents of a child with multiple birth defects. My first wife was not an insulin-dependent diabetic for sixty years because God decided some divine purpose could be served by inflicting her with this difficult disease that radically affected our whole family and ultimately caused her death. God does not micromanage our lives or the difficulties that come upon us.

This does not mean that God has no plan for each of us, nor does it mean that God cannot be approached for whatever concerns we might have. Paul was identified as a “chosen vessel” in Acts 9:15. Peter was told by Jesus what would happen to him later in life in John 21:18, 19. Paul indicated that he could choose to reject the purpose God had for him and be lost (1 Corinthians 9:27). There are those times when God seems to be surprised by what man does. The story of Jonah and the king of Ninevah is a classic example, when God is surprised by the response of the king and his people and modifies what He was going to allow to happen (see Jonah 3:5 –10).

Some things happen in life because Satan is alive and well on planet Earth. There are times in the Bible when reference to this fact is made directly (see Job 1 – 2; Luke 4:1 –13; Acts 5:3). The physical world can bring needs upon us that are just a part of being in the physical world. Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” that impeded him and he even asked God repeatedly to get involved in removing it and God refused (2 Corinthians 12:7). Christians can be in the wrong place at the wrong time and suffer because of it (see Acts 17:5 – 9).

God has not created man to be in paradise now in this physical world. We are not mindless robots or puppets, nor do we float above the realities of the physical world aloof from all that happens.

If all of this is true, why do we pray? The first point that needs to be made here is that I am not saying God cannot act in a direct, miraculous way. God can do anything God wants to do, and I know from scripture that is true. When Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus in John 11 He wept (verse 35) at the pain He saw losing a loved one brings. Then He stepped in and restored life to Lazarus. That was a unique situation used for a specific purpose (see John 12:9 –11). My wife, friends, family, and I prayed fervently and repeatedly each time a new problem appeared to be possible for our newborn son, but none of the problems we prayed about were removed. What kind of a God is it that would fix an oar problem and ignore the huge physical needs of a baby? That is the question that causes me to reject the notion that God chose a branch, directed it to fall from the tree and land on the chosen oar. God does not micromanage the physical world to relieve physical distress for the selfish desires of human beings.

When my wife and I realized that our pointed specific prayers for the physical well being of our baby were not going to be answered as we desired, our choices about God narrowed. My parents, who did not believe in God, had an evolutionary solution to our dilemma. In their view this child was “not fit” and life is about survival of the fittest. We had the option of “putting this baby away,” and they even went so far as to try to start the machinery to force that to happen. My second choice was to accept the situation and to change my prayer life from one asking escape to one of asking help in dealing with the problem and making good come from it. John 9 tells the story of a man born blind and how it was used so that the power of God could be demonstrated in him. Romans 8:28 tells us concisely “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (NIV).

I will never forget the night when my wife and I came to that realization and conclusion together. We fell into each other’s arms feeling relief and believing that while God did not cause our son’s problems and would not bring us a miraculous cure, He would provide us with guidance and help and a way to bring good out of our personal pain. When our prayer life changed, the answers came. Our marriage was enriched and grew as we fought the many problems that blindness, retardation, and physical impairment brought. God brought people into our lives who blessed and enriched us for the past fifty years. Ultimately, our experience became a ministry that allowed us to reach out to others to whom we could uniquely relate. In each case where something good happened, there was prayer involved, and in each case there was a choice to be made as to whether we would do what the teachings of Christ called us to do, or not. God still did not micromanage our situation and we made some mistakes as we made choices for which we had to ask forgiveness. God does micromanage forgiveness — but that is another subject.

(For more on this topic see www.whypain.org and these books —  Timothy, My Son and Teacher; Living Successfully with Diabetes; A Whiner’s Guide to Chemotherapy; I’d Offer You My Seat … But It’s Taken; All He Needs for Heaven; The Empty Crib; The God of All Comfort; and Why I Left Atheism — available from Does Dod Exist? PO Box 2704; South Bend, IN 46680, the catalog on this website, or from doesgodexist.tv.)
--John N. Clayton

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