He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands

“It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his characters—and then he has two natures…History is a broken marriage and God puts it back together again.”  –Peter Kreeft

Every one of us loves to play the game of “what if?” whether we like to admit it or not. We have all thought back on choices we’ve made and thought about what our lives might be like had we made a different choice. Your life could be drastically different even from something as small as spending an extra five minutes brushing your teeth in the morning. Imagine the ripples through time our tiny minute decisions make. Then imagine millions upon billions of ripples throughout time and across the world touching and running into each other and creating waves moving and tossing in seemingly chaotic directions. God sees every ripple individually and can write his story of redemption from beginning to end threading it in and out of each our lives as he calls out to us to hear his voice and read his love letters of forgiveness. Movies like The Adjustment Bureau attempt to explain this phenomena; movies like Sliding Doors pose the question of “what if?” and make us consider the possibility of another fate; and countless science fiction works explore the idea of alternate time streams and parallel universes.

I absolutely love Sci Fi! When I was younger, the idea that there might be another me out there somewhere who didn’t completely screw up his life brought me comfort. Parallel universes, in a way, offer us second chances, or maybe even endless chances and possibilities: Maybe somewhere I am a famous rock star! But maybe somewhere some ancestor of mine made different choices and I don’t even exist. Parallel universes are fun to imagine, but if they do exist, am I truly an individual? Do my choices even matter? No, I believe this universe and this age is all we have to work with, but the concept of parallel universes can help us to understand how predestination might work.

We all know that our universe is multidimensional, but the average human is only aware of three dimensions. However, some scientist theorize there may be endless dimensions (which would result in the possibility of parallel universes), however most put the number somewhere between 7-11 (at least that was numbers the last time I read up on the issue). Most consider time to be the fourth dimension which is how we can imagine the possibility of time travel in science fiction. If time is simply a dimension of the created universe, then that would mean that God, the Creator, exists outside of time. This is why he calls himself the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. It something beyond our comprehension, but God has no beginning or ending. He just exists, that’s why he calls himself “I AM.” If God exists outside of time, that would mean when he looks down on his creation, he can see all points of time at the same time. When he looks at you, he can see the moments of your birth and your death at the same time. What does this have to do with parallel universes and predestination? I think this is one possibility of what God means when he speaks of individuals being predestined to do certain works, and how his prophecy continually comes to pass over thousands of years despite human free will. God, before he spoke the Word of creation, saw all the possible outcomes of the different realities of existence should he create beings with free will. In his wisdom, love, and mercy; he chose the one with the best possible outcome for his children to become reconciled to him after giving them the ability to freely rebel against him. We can still ask, why bother with existence if even one person ends up suffering? Alas, we must trust that God is good and knows what he is doing. While I’ve had my fair share of suffering, my personal experience leads me to believe he is just in his ways. Paul puts it this way:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
      How unsearchable his judgments,
      and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
      Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
      that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
      To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

The truth of God’s inherent goodness helps me to understand some of the more difficult passages that support predestination. Consider King David’s prayer to the Lord:

For you created my inmost being;
      you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
      your works are wonderful,
      I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
      when I was made in the secret place,
      when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
      all the days ordained for me were written in your book
      before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

And later the Lord himself says to the Prophet Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
      before you were born I set you apart;
      I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

We use these scriptures to expose the sin of abortion, and rightly so, but if we take them in the most literal sense of predestination, and apply them to all humanity, could we not conclude that God is really the one behind the abortions? In this sense, he created all the lives who were aborted and purposed them only to die. But why stop there? If he preordained every single moment of our lives doesn’t that mean he designed, created and purposed every evil thing that has ever happened? And if that’s true, doesn’t that mean God is ultimately the author of evil as well as good? It is no stretch to imagine from here that this God could create and purpose some to be saved and create others with no choice but to be bad and fated for eternal damnation, even though they had no choice in the matter whether or not to rebel!

I believe God uses and manipulates sin and evil for his purposes, consider the stories of Job and Joseph, and consider Paul’s famous statement in Romans 8:28, but he does not initiate or design it. That is against his nature. When God delivered the Law to Moses, he proclaimed of himself: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7). And later the Apostle John simply declares, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). You may ask why God would punish children for their parents’ sin? But I don’t think that he punishes anyone for anything they didn’t do. This is a proclamation of love. Think about how many times you said you would never turn out like your parents, but how often do you really act like them? The influence of our fathers is strong. I think it just takes three to four generations before the sin that gets passed down can really be rooted out once a man decides to follow God. God is also stating to us that while he forgives sin, he will not allow it to continue for very long. We humans confuse discipline and training with evil. We think that anytime we experience discomfort there are demons behind it, when usually we are simply paying the consequences of bad choices. There is a war in the heavens that we are caught in the middle of, but it is not until you truly begin to do good for the Kingdom of Heaven that Satan takes any notice of you, and we can ultimately trust that, like Job and Joseph, God will use the evil that others bring upon us “for the good of all those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

This brings us back to the concept of parallel universes. God had the option of creating a multitude of different realities before he chose ours and spoke it into existence. I believe he chose the one with the optimum amount of good for as many of his sons and daughters as possible. He knew creating beings with free will would inevitably cause pain and suffering once these beings began to rebel against his ways, yet he determined that having true relationship with his created beings was worth the risk of rebellion. He knew sin and rebellion would separate us from him, so he designed a way for us to be reconciled to him through his plan of the cross, and he gives us each the opportunity to accept his gift and enter into intimate relationship with him and allow him to develop our character into the true potential of our callings, or we have to choice to reject his gift and stay eternally separated from him, continue to live selfishly and pay the consequences of our actions.  Because he exists outside of time, he knows the end game, and he knows every choice we will make, and being a loving father, he is deeply and intimately involved in our lives, but all our choices are still our own to make.

It is much easier for me to believe that God lit the spark of creation aware of the suffering that rebellion against him would cause, and therefore designed a way out to be saved for those who would choose to seek him and follow him. I believe that God gives every human being ever conceived the opportunity to make the choice for salvation, because he deeply loves every one of us enough to experience death for us. Paul instructs his protégé, Timothy that “God our Savior…wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.”  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Peter L Richardson, 2010-2012

Something from the experts:

“Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God had not told what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”  -C.S. Lewis, “The Practical Conclusion,” Mere Christianity

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He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands

“It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his characters—and then he has two natures…History is a broken marriage and God puts it back together again.”  –Peter Kreeft

This whole series on Predestination came as a result of someone inviting me to his church. I met the Lord through a nondenominational congregation, and I’ve always been aware of the tension between the doctrines of predestination and free will, but I always chalked it up to another paradox beyond my comprehension. I had no idea that there have been church splits over this issue. This man called me a name I frankly never heard of before (Arminian), and challenged me to begin attending his church and Bible study to find out the truth of his Calvinism, so I did. Most of the people who attended the church obviously had a deep love for the Lord, and they even were very active with evangelism (a bit of a contradiction, it seems to me; why evangelize if God has every one who gets to be saved picked out already?). It is not my intention to criticize anyone who believes in predestination; most are my brothers and sisters who will be with me in heaven someday. However, when taken to its extreme, Calvin’s teaching on predestination is a doctrine I cannot accept. I essentially ended our debate with this statement: “If Calvin is correct in this matter then I stand with Satan!” In my defense, I was thinking of John Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost who claims his rebellion is a result of God’s tyranny.

I simply cannot worship a God who creates humans with supposed free will knowing they will rebel and sin and deserve punishment, and then he creates a way out, but only provides the way out to a randomly selected few. My problem is not that only a few can be saved, we all deserve death, but that God chooses the few by allowing them the revelation of salvation while the rest of mankind doesn’t even get the opportunity to really know and accept that way. This is a God who creates human beings who have no other destiny than to burn in hell for eternity. They are not even given the option to say yes or no to God’s salvation because he chooses who can and can’t believe. Was Christ’s sacrifice not sufficient to truly cover the sins of all mankind? No, the God I worship is not cruel, he is just and merciful. His justice demands payment for sin, but in his mercy he took the sins of all mankind upon him, not just a select few. The way to salvation has been paved by Jesus, but we make the choice to walk the path and take up our cross to follow him, or to walk the path of selfishness that leads to hell. If I am wrong and Calvin is right, what does it matter? I have no choice but to believe what I am destined to believe.

In Matthew’s Gospel, he testifies of Jesus rebuking those who refuse to believe in his message and warning them of the coming judgment. Jesus ends his rebuke with this statement:

               “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

                Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:27-30)

Jesus first says that no one can know the Father unless Jesus chooses to reveal Him to them (presumably in order to be saved from the coming judgment). This seems to support Calvin’s doctrine of Predestination, but the problem is Jesus immediately says: “Come to me ALL you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Does this not imply that if you choose to follow Christ, he will not reject you but rather “will give you rest” (i.e. salvation)? He doesn’t say come to me all you who are weary, and I’ll pick and choose who gets rest by some standard that I won’t tell anyone how to meet. No. These verses seem like a contradiction, but they are not so difficult to understand with an open mind, or more appropriately, an open heart. Is it so hard to believe that those whom Jesus chooses to reveal the Father to are simply the ones who choose to follow Jesus?

Later, in Matthew 13, Jesus gives us the Parable of the Weeds in which an enemy plants weeds among a “good” crop of wheat. When the crop comes in, the Master tells his workers to wait until the harvest to separate them because pulling the weeds might harm the growth of the wheat by pulling the good stalks up also. We learn this parable means there are many in the church who are hypocrites; those who claim to follow Jesus and know the Father, but in fact, only serve themselves and their own desires. We humans cannot know a man’s true heart, but God does.

I believe emphatically that God chooses those who choose him. He knows our hearts. He knows those who are truly committed to him, and he knows those who are only pretending to follow Christ for their own means. He knows those who are seeking for the Way, the Truth and the Life, and he knows those who are only seeking to please themselves. He knows those who follow his example of sacrificing their lives for even their enemies, and he knows those who commit murder every day in their hearts by taking as much as they can at cost of others in need. To those who commit to living righteously, he says “If you seek for me with all your heart, you will find me” (Deuteronomy 4:29, Proverbs 8:17, Jeremiah 29:13, Matthew 7:7). Those who do not truly know the Father are in danger of being thrown “into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13: 42). They are left in the dark, not because Jesus chose not to reveal himself, but because they choose not to seek after him. God leaves signs pointing his way all over our lives, it up to us to follow.

All humans have free will and can act in and therefore manipulate the march of time. We are each responsible for our choices, both good and bad, and we will pay the consequences for those choices unless God intervenes with grace and mercy and we accept his work in our lives. But there is also a danger of taking the doctrine of free will to extremes as well. Open Theism is a belief that God is not omniscient out of choice because He chooses not to know the decisions of free individuals ahead of time. This is not something I support or believe in. The next logical step from Open Theism is Agnosticism. If God doesn’t know our fate, even out of choice, how can he ensure our security in the end? Is this a God we can put our trust in? And if this God has no real understanding of our fate, how can we be sure he even cares? The next step from Agnosticism is Atheism. How then can we be sure that he even exists? But if you listen closely, you can hear his call to you, and if you answer his call and begin to seek after him, he will begin to work in such a way in your life that you cannot but help to bow before his omniscience, omnipotence and love.

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.”  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Peter L Richardson 2010-2012

Something from the experts:

“PROVIDENCE is the doctrine that God orders events in history so that His purposes are achieved. The challenge is doing this while respecting human freedom. Some theologians abridge God’s providence; some curtail human freedom. A better way is to say that God takes human free choices into account in His planning. He does this by knowing how every possible person would freely choose in whatever nondetermining  circumstances God might place him in. By creating certain persons in certain circumstances, God knows exactly how they will freely choose and can plan accordingly. On this view everything that happens is either directly willed by God or permitted by God, including where and when people are born.”  -William Lane Craig, “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” On Guard

 

He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands

“It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his characters—and then he has two natures…History is a broken marriage and God puts it back together again.”  –Peter Kreeft

“You can’t beat free!” Those used to be my favorite words. When I was younger, I used to love getting free stuff. I would take things I didn’t even need if they were being offered for free, but as I’ve grown older and wiser and more jaded, when someone is offering me something for free my first thought now is, “What’s the catch? There’s nothing in this world that’s free.” The more I interact with humans, the more I learn there are only a few I can really trust; however, there is one thing in this life I’ve discovered is truly free. So fully free; in fact, that we humans have trouble accepting it or even grasping it. In Galatians 5:1, Paul proclaims: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

The free gift of salvation is one of a kind. It is offered to anyone who desires it, and God freely gives it out at any time you make the request no matter who you are or what you’ve done. What happens after that seems to be another matter for many people. Make no mistake, if you were sincere in receiving and believing God’s grace, your place in heaven is secure, but the experiences of the Christian life has as much variety as the individuals living them out. Some may be called to torture and death as witnesses for the name of Jesus while somewhere around the world there are others, just as sincere, to whom God pours out riches so they can use the resources for his good will. Both are giving their lives to God, and both will receive honor from Him in the next age. The path for such honor and trust from the Father is never an easy one.

In Philippians 2:12-13 Paul exhorts us to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” This scripture tells us we have to work out our faith; we have to put effort into believing and trusting in God’s salvation. “With fear and trembling” implies that our faith is something that needs to be very well protected, to be in awe of, and something we need spend time developing and working on. However, immediately the scripture tells us that it is actually God doing the work. Some interpret this to mean we are left out of the equation—that we take no part in our salvation and the development of faith whatsoever. Even the act of believing in God can be made only if God decides to give the revelation of the truth and therefore let you in on the secret that Jesus is the way to salvation. They claim that if it is the individual who chooses to follow God after hearing the Truth, it would be works that saves him and not God’s grace. I do not believe it has to be so black and white.

Obviously, we are saved only by grace. There nothing more clear in the New Testament than that truth, and we find the same theme throughout the Old Testament: “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Even our ability to believe in God’s salvation is dependent on his grace. But the key word I use here is ability. Every human being from Adam to the last child conceived before the Lord’s Second Coming has the ability to believe. There comes a certain age, and I believe it is different for each person according to their genes and experiences, when we must make a choice: Follow God, or follow “Me” (the self). Once we reach this age of accountability and the choice is officially offered to us, we have every breathing moment after to decide to follow God’s path or follow our own way. There is a place in our journey where choosing to follow God leads to our salvation, but making that choice does not add anything to God’s work in our lives and in our hearts. We have not taken anything away from his sovereignty; for in his sovereignty he chose to give us free will. Before creation he already knew the consequences of our rebellion, yet he chose to do it anyway.

To be clear: The act of, the moment of, the birth of our salvation, of the new life being sealed in us is all done by the Lord and there is nothing we can do with it except to say, “Yes, Lord! I believe.” Working out our salvation simply means that after our first submission to God we continue to make the same choice over and over again to let God in and do his work in us. We cannot renew our minds without the Holy Spirit; we cannot become new creations or have our hearts washed clean by our own will; we are dependent on God to do it all. But we must make the choice to submit to God’s work in us by following the principles he teaches in his Word and spending intimate time in prayer and worship with him, so we can learn to hear his voice and follow his guidance and wisdom. God does not force salvation on anyone; neither does he turn away anyone who desires it. It is a free gift, but in order for the gift to take effect, the gift must be received. If a man comes to me and says, “Pete, I have prepared a great banquet in your honor! All the work is done: the food is prepared, the guests are invited; I have even booked all your favorite bands to play. All you have to do is show up.” I can choose to trust this man and come with him to the party. Or I can consider him a fool who is trying to play me and walk away in disbelief. Can’t you see that all the work has been done by him, but the choice is still mine to receive the gift? God’s free gift of salvation works the very same way.

When the Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt and presented his Law to them through Moses, he offered them a choice: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). The Law was brought to us to reveal two things: First, God’s expectation of righteousness with the promise that if we could manage to live up to it, we would have nothing but blessing flow into our lives. Secondly, we could never really live up to God’s expectations because we are too morally weak and frail. Bringing the Law set the stage for humanity to understand our need for salvation. Today God offers us the same choice; only instead of following a complicated and impossible law, we only have to commit to entering into relationship with Jesus and follow his principles by accepting his free gift of salvation through the cross and his resurrection.

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.”  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Peter L Richardson 2010-2012

Something from the experts:

“God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force. He can and will alter them—but only if the people will let Him. In that way He has really and truly limited His power. Sometimes we wonder why He has done so, or even wish that He hadn’t. But apparently He thinks it worth doing. He would rather have a world of free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else. The more we succeed in imagining what a world of perfect automatic beings would be like, the more, I think, we shall see His wisdom.” –C.S. Lewis, “The Trouble with ‘X’” God in the Dock

He's Got The Whole World In His Hands

“It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his characters—and then he has two natures…History is a broken marriage, and God puts it back together again.”  –Peter Kreeft

Andree Seu, writer for World Magazine, begins one of her columns with an anecdote from the Old Testament: “It just so happens that the unraveling of Haman’s plot began when the king could not sleep one night. This is the point at which things began to run in reverse—when the gallows erected for Mordecai were turned on his own neck, and the annihilation of the Jews became the annihilation of their enemies. Everything hinged on the reading of the records of the chronicles of the king on the occasion of a touch of insomnia.” She later declares “I can do nothing to direct my path or to ensure my own well-being or prosperity or happiness, because I cannot see around corners; therefore I will obey the Holy Spirit all my life” (World Mag, 2/25/12).

Many Christians like to quote the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28, which is often interpreted as, “If you love God, everything is going to work out okay!” But the question is how and when? If you keep on reading, this verse is set in the context of predestination, and some conclude that the “okay” really only happens after death in heaven and it is only for those select few God has randomly chosen to accept through Jesus. But is God really that limited?  Here is the verse with the next two that follow:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30)

The key word here is “foreknew.” At the moment God decided to create this existence we are a part of, he, being omniscient, knew the outcome of it all. He knew that Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit, he knew Cain would kill Able, and that much of mankind would reject him and choose to live wickedly. Therefore, he wrote into the story, into history: His Story, the plan of salvation through the Godhead person of the Son, Jesus. He predestined, or predetermined, a way out of judgment for the human creations he loves. He knew beforehand every human being who would reject or accept him, yet he still considered creation worth the trouble. Now, the scripture says those he foreknew he predestined–> those he predestined he called–> those he called he justified–> those he justified he glorified. I believe it works like this:

Predestined: God has a predetermined plan for every human being’s life. Before you are born he has laid out the blueprint of your life, and has called you to fulfill a plan and purpose. This plan and this purpose will be discovered when you begin to seek out truth, wisdom and love.

Called: As you grow, you discover your desires and your talents through nature and nurture. Some things are written into your DNA, while others are born out of life experiences. No matter what time and place you were born into, God has “written” in signs pointing to him and his plan for your life. All of it is a part God’s greater plan for the universe of this age; however, you make the choice of how closely you follow the plan. (I should mention that God’s plan may at times come with great risk and peril for your life; however in general, he will call you to do the very work that you find yourself passionate about and naturally skilled for. The trick is using your gifts and talents for the Kingdom of God in service to mankind instead of just for your own pleasure and means. This service comes in many forms and sizes.)

Justified: We all have the seed of rebellion planted in us. It is passed down from generation to generation, and it is only through the grace provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection that we are able to be made justified. If you choose to follow God and his principles; he will work on your behalf in order for you to do the work and follow the call he has set before you. When your will begins to line up with God’s will, he “levels your path” and answers your prayers. Salvation from eternal death is the free gift of God, but once that gift is accepted; your action of obedience is required for God to be able to complete the work of developing your character and leading you to discover your destiny.

Glorified: Beginning here on earth and continuing later in heaven, God will honor and reward you for choosing to be obedient to the plan he predetermined, or predestined, in your life. (This honor is often not as the world considers honor to be; most of God’s greatest saints pass through history without fame, but they are certainly written into God’s book of life and learn to live their time on earth with a joy and contentment few humans fully understand.) Some would say at this point that God is no longer sovereign if we can stray from the plan and that if we have such free will it diminishes his power. To quote Paul: “by no means!” In my opinion this is where the paradox that is beyond human comprehension comes to light. The fact that God is still accomplishing his plan and purpose despite the free will of billions of humans throughout time just proves how omnipotent and omniscient this God of ours truly is!

This concept also works in the negative. Paul continues to discuss in his letter to the Romans God’s sovereign choice of hardening the hearts of the Jews during Jesus time and the early church so that the gospel would be spread out among the entire world and offered to the Gentiles. Paul uses the example of Pharaoh’s standoff with Moses during the Exodus. Scripture says that God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart in order to display his might and power to the Israelites, and later to the world through scripture, in order to build up their faith in him. However, this does not mean that he blocked Pharaoh’s will at any time. God can look into the deepest areas of our souls, into the very essence of our being. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Consider the analogy of a parent who has a good relationship with his child. I know my son pretty well, I know what to say to calm him down when he’s upset, and I also know how to get him excited when he’s feeling down. I could also use that knowledge to push his buttons and provoke a negative reaction in him. True, that is manipulation, but I ask, is manipulation wrong if a greater good will come of it? Perhaps so, considering we are limited to a human perspective, but when it comes to God, who defines himself as love, who claims to be good, can we trust him to manipulate “the clay” at his disposal for the greater good of mankind? Your answer depends on whether or not you believe he is really good.

That is a matter we all need to settle in our own individual hearts. What’s important for this argument is to understand that God did not possess Pharaoh’s heart or use mind control on him for the Exodus. He just knew how to push his buttons. God simply (fore)knew that if he called Moses to stand up to Pharaoh, his pride (and perhaps the threat of losing his cheap labor) would cause him to say “No; absolutely not!” God could have broken the Israelites free right then and there with his power and glory, but the Israelites probably weren’t quite ready for freedom at that point. God knew a hard response from Pharaoh would serve to develop their character and faith, both as individuals and as a people. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” Consider how a watercourse is directed and manipulated by men. We cannot actually cause the water to flow, but we can manipulate where and how it flows by putting up barriers and dams and obstacles and digging ditches. In the simile here, the water is the desires and fears flowing from the heart of the king, and God puts up barriers and dams and obstacles and digs ditches to get the king’s heart to flow in one direction or another.

If God needs to put up obstacles and/or level our paths to develop our character and bring us blessing, doesn’t that mean that our minds and hearts are still our own to make choices and respond how we want? Wouldn’t it be easier for him to just use mind control and force us to go one way or the other? God knows our hearts through and through and he knows our thoughts before we even make them; however, it is still our own will and mind that makes the thoughts that make choices as we respond and react to the world we live in. This is just one example of how God is able to work around and despite our free will. This is how he is still sovereign, yet we are still responsible for our choices and the consequences we bear for them whether good or bad.

God used the 10 plagues of the Exodus to harden Pharaoh’s heart and to reveal his power to the Israelites, but Paul uses this story to explain why God might harden the hearts of the Jews in order to bring salvation to all mankind. He also tells us that God desires for all men to be saved, and this includes the Jews. He almost rebukes his Gentile audience as he explains that God will eventually “graft” the Jews back into his kingdom. We see today more and more Jews coming to salvation as they realize the messiah they have been longing for was Jesus, and the promised kingdom is a spiritual kingdom that includes all peoples. Not even Judas, who was so important to God’s plan of salvation, acted outside of his own free will; yet it was God’s sovereignty that caused all things to fall into place at the chosen time in order that we who would choose to follow God’s way would be saved. Andree Seu ends her column with this thought: “Line up your ducks in a row, if you please. But God sees beyond your row, and it will be better in the end, every time, for the person who yields to the still, small voice of the Spirit. For God is the Lord of the ‘just so happens.’”

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.”  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Peter L Richardson 2010-2012

Something from the experts:

“It is logically impossible to make someone do something freely. That is as logically impossible as making a round square or a married bachelor. God’s being all-powerful does not mean that He can bring about the logically impossible…Some goods, for example, moral virtues, can be achieved only through the free cooperation of people…The idea here is that given human freedom, God’s options are restricted.”

–William Lane Craig, “What About Suffering,” On Guard

He's Got The Whole World In His Hands

He's Got The Whole World In His Hands

“It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his characters—and then he has two natures…History is a broken marriage and God puts it back together again.”  –Peter Kreeft

Just yesterday I got to participate in God telling one of his daughters that he still loves her, despite the overwhelming pain in her life. Earlier in the day my mom e-mailed me and invited me to dinner with her, my father and my brother’s family: fresh caught home fried beer battered fish. Trouble was, they were eating at 4:15. I’m not accustomed to eating so early, usually I’m just getting around to leaving work at that time, but who can resist home fried beer battered fish? I decided to rush through my afternoon duties and go straight to their house. In the meantime, my son called me from his mom’s house and asked for a ride to take his girlfriend out to dinner, and her parents would pick them up. They wanted to catch the early bird special, so they needed to get there before 6pm. My parents are not offended when I eat and run, so I told him I’d take care of him. On my way out of my parents’ neighborhood, there was a woman pulled over with front end damage and a flat tire. As I slowed down, I noticed she had her head down on her steering wheel. I pulled over and knocked on the window. Startled, she looked up with tears streaming down her face. I asked if she was okay, and she blurted out: “I don’t know how to change a tire!!”

She was physically fine, but her day started off bad and seemed to only get worse. Turns out her husband of 21 years had left her that morning, and the day was now ending with an accident. I let my son know I was going to be late, and began to work on her tire. I didn’t have the right kind of jack, so I called my father, and he came down to help. We got her set up to drive home, but advised her to get her car to a mechanic as soon as she could. My son gave up on me, and had to find a ride with someone else. As I drove home disappointed that I had let him down, I realized something. I would not have been there to help her if he had not asked for the ride in the first place, I would not have even been in the area if my mom had not invited me to dinner. Here was this woman, distraught and depressed, really in need of something positive to happen, and it just so happened that I came riding by and felt guilty enough to stop and help her. I’ve been in her shoes before, and I know what a little kindness does. Did God move time and the universe in such a way that I would be there and be willing to help her out? Not that I did anything to really be applauded for, a better man would probably have done more, but how much worse would her day have been if I had just decided to drive past? Because I almost did.

These are the moments when God’s sovereignty and our free will come into contact. I have to admit with shame that more often I choose to take care of my business and find ways to justify. Does God bring others to help when I choose not to? How much control do we have in our own fate? Does God allow us to blow it for others when our free will mostly leads to selfishness? But then, how does he seem to control the pulse of the universe despite us running around screwing things up? The Bible makes it clear that God is all powerful and sovereign, yet it is also clear that we human beings, from the very beginning of creation, have the freedom to make our own choices by which we are judged. The Bible teaches both predestination and free will. Some look at this as a contradiction, and proof that Christianity is a false religion, but there are many other paradoxes in the universe that science cannot explain.  If you choose to believe the Bible, then you have no choice but to believe that both predestination and human free will are true. But how? I am no expert, but these are some of my thoughts on the matter.

In Ephesians 1:3-14, the Apostle Paul states: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

There are those in the church who teach that the predestined in this passage are those humans that God has decided to hand pick for salvation. There is nothing in them that deserves this honor, apparently God in his mercy just randomly chooses who gets to go to heaven and the rest of us get the punishment we deserve. According to this philosophy, if humans make a choice to follow God on their own, that is a work, and we are only saved by grace. I believe the “we” who are predestined here is the collective church, not individuals. In this scripture, Paul says “And you [speaking to individual believers] were also included…When you believed, you were marked…with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” Thus, we can conclude that these predestined were not chosen by God until they made the choice to believe in Christ and therefore bear the mark of the Holy Spirit.

When God created the universe and decided to create beings that could think for themselves, he wasn’t surprised when our ancestors decided to do just that and rebel against him by not following the laws he set up in the universe. These laws were created out of love for our protection. It is not like God is up in heaven with a stick waiting to beat anyone who screws up; God’s moral laws are more like his laws of physics. If you walk off a cliff there will be consequences for trying to defy the law of gravity. God knows the boundaries of his creation, and if we are obedient to his principles, we will live happier and more fulfilling lives. However, just as God knew free will would allow individuals to reject him, he also knew many of us would choose to seek obedience to him and return the love that he offers to all humanity. It is when the individual chooses to “believe” that he joins the ranks of God’s people who are “predestined.” Therefore, it is not the individual who is predestined—or predetermined by God to be saved or not saved—but rather it is the way to salvation that was predestined from God’s first thought of the creation of our universe and age. And that way is Jesus.

I tell the story of the woman with the flat tire because this is the proof for me that not only is God  sovereign, but he rules his creation in and through love. I have been that woman more often than I have been the one being used for the rescue. This is why I know that I have free will also. Rebellion is in my heart even though I know following God’s will is better. I know I have a choice because I frequently make the wrong choice, yet I know that God is in control because when I call out to him, he is always there to catch me in my fall and lift me back up again.

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.”  –Dr. Charles Stanley

-Peter L Richardson 2011-2012

Something from the experts:

“We know that we can act and that our actions produce results. Everyone who believes in God must therefore admit…that God has not chosen to write the whole of history with his own hand. Most of the events that go on in the universe are indeed out of our control, but not all. It is like a play in which the scene and the general outline of the story is fixed by the author, but certain minor details are left for the actors to improvise.”  -C.S. Lewis, “Work and Prayer,” God in the Dock

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”  The Gospel of John 6:51-56

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Gospel of John 1:1

A while back my son woke up earlier than usual and he caught me reading my Bible in the early hours of the morning.

“Dad, I know the Bible is important, but why do you read it everyday?” he asked. “I mean, seriously, you should have a pretty good idea of what’s in it by now!”

I was glad he asked, but he took me off guard and I found myself giving him a knee jerk answer that was more religious doctrine than truth, “Well, son,” I began, “the Bible itself teaches us to. In the Old Testament, God says that ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ The Bible is God’s Word, so we literally need it to survive spiritually, just like our physical bodies need food on a regular basis to survive.”

“But why everyday?”  He replied, “Don’t you learn enough from church every week?”

“It’s like this,” I said, “church is more like a weekend feast or party. We can go more than a day without food, but we are weaker without it. It is the same thing with what God teaches in his Word. If we only fill up once a week, we lose strength throughout the week. We need a daily reminder of the right way to live, and the more you read, the better you’ll be able to understand Sunday sermons, or witness to friends who are seeking or challenging your faith, and even to judge false teachings. When Jesus told us to pray for ‘daily bread,’ I think he meant more than just food.”

“Oh,” he pondered for a moment, “Well, speaking of food, I’m pretty hungry, can I get some pancakes?”

And that was the end of that conversation. I’m not saying I told him anything wrong, but I stopped short of the genuine reason why I read my Bible everyday, and why it’s the first thing I do after I get out of bed. 

Many people see the Bible only as a book of rules to live by, full of stories about people who are just examples of what we should or shouldn’t live like. They consider the Bible to be a blueprint of how you are supposed to live your life: If you just follow these rules then you should get good results and end up generally happy. I agree to an extent, but if you stop there, it really doesn’t matter what religion you follow. If your goal with Christianity is simply to live a good life and follow the rules the best you can, then you really don’t know what the Bible teaches, and your faith is stagnant, dead and useless.

Consider this. Think about a historical figure you admire and respect for whatever reason. He could be a fierce warrior, she could be a gallant queen, or maybe a simple person of good character who was in the right place at the right time and changed the course of history. Many of these people have written their thoughts down and published them; many witnesses of their time have written their testimony of when they met so and so. The more we admire a person, the more we seek to read about them and want to get to know them. The Bible, at its simplest level, is a document about a Triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is His proof of existence. It is His thoughts about philosophy, psychology, government, love, and life in general. It tells the story of how he interacted with the world in the 6,000 or so years of history it covers. In it, this God claims to be Creator, and he tells us how he expects us to act and teaches us things about faith and forgiveness. How is this book proof he exists? How do you know Julius Caesar existed? Or Plato? Or Homer? The further we go back the less reliable the witness, right? But let’s take this analogy a bit further. Let’s say one day an ancient library is uncovered, and someone finds letters from your favorite historical figure. Amazingly, these letters are addressed to you! How could this person know about you before you were born? This is what the Bible is in addition to a Rule Book, or a collection of stories and poems; it is a letter from the God of the Universe to you. It is a letter He has written to all of his children. He wants you to know who you are and what your heritage is. He wants you to discover what the meaning of life is and what your individual purpose in all of it is. You may ask, aren’t these letters still just rules to live by? What makes them so personal?

Consider this. Think about a woman who loses her husband in war. What do you think her greatest treasure will be? It will be his love letters to her, the things he left behind that reminds her of the bond and connection they once shared, and even still share. Jesus gives us the metaphor that he is the groom and the church is his bride. It is a classic love story of the knight in shining armor riding on a white horse to save the damsel in distress from the evil dragon, except in this case the dragon thought he killed the knight. But our Savior is not just a great man who died for his beliefs or a cause that was greater than him. No, our Savior’s death was the cause he came to fulfill, because he was the only one worthy to take it on, and the only one who could defeat the very death he allowed himself to endure. Our Savior has risen from the grave and is alive and well and longing for the day he can be reconnected with the bride he loves so deeply. When you open your heart to it, the Bible is a collection of love letters God has written to humanity, to his children. When you study the words of God, it is like studying the desires and thoughts and words of your lover. A man in love will do anything to please his woman; he knows what kind of flowers she likes, he knows the way she takes her coffee, he knows her pet peeves and seeks to avoid them. It just the same with God. He already knows us with an intimacy to the core; he longs for us to know him. The more we read his Word, the more we learn of him. Just like a woman falls deeper in love with a man who proves to know her, and seeks to please her, when we actually follow God’s word and trust him and seek to live righteously, it brings us to a deeper intimacy with him. But this is still not the deepest level the Bible offers us. Letters are good, but without experiencing the man behind the letters, you can’t really get to know him. You can’t have true intimacy with a book. There is more God’s Word has to offer.

Consider this. The Bible is more like instant messaging than letters from a distance. The Bible is the Living Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” This means that we can interact with scripture: we can question it, seek deeper understanding, and ask for greater wisdom. How is this possible? You cannot talk to a book. But this very book teaches us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Gospels teach that Jesus Christ is the very Word of God that spoke creation into existence, that raised Lazarus from the dead, and raised himself up, and yes, that inspired the prophets, priests, poets and apostles that physically wrote down the books of the Bible. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

When you read the Bible, you are actually interacting with a Person. It is a two-way conversation. The words you read are coming straight from the Lord; they are his thoughts, desires and hopes he longs to share with you. And your response is instantly known by him. If you scoff at him, he will draw back, not in fear, but out of respect for your individuality and free choice to do so. You will not be privy to deeper revelation. If you seek to follow his advice, he will strengthen your spirit and resolve; if you seek more revelation he will quietly speak to you. When you sit with the Word of God open, and read the words on the page, you are literally sitting with God. It is a relationship as much as the one you have with your wife, your kids, and your best friend. You can speak to God just the same. Consider when you spend time with others; does everything you say have to be a request? Don’t you tell your wife things about yourself that no one else knows, simply to share your heart with her? Don’t you ever sit quietly with your kids, or better yet, play with them, and there need not be words, just the sharing of experience? Don’t you ever just joke around with your best friend, just for the fun of it? God longs for you to share yourself with him and for you to let him inside of you. Sometimes reading the Word will result in more wisdom and maybe even inspire a teaching or word for someone else. Sometimes we will get comfort in tragedy; a word of encouragement can literally feel like a hug from God. Sometimes he will give us direction for a certain circumstance or situation. Sometimes, and more often than not, it’s just a simple conversation that can be full of joy and laughter; it is about spending time with each other and getting to know one another. As Creator, He knows all humans beings inside and out, but he does not force us to know him; he gives us free will. The depth of intimacy between you and God Almighty depends on your desire to know him. He calls us to seek for him. He created us to long for truth, and only he can provide that truth, because he is the Truth. The revelation of the great mystery of the ages is simple: God loves you and wants you to love him back. Now the response to that should radically change your life, but the Truth itself is simple to grasp. That is why many men and women who consider themselves wise by the world’s standards never find him, they can’t accept a Truth so plain, and likewise, why many more simple men and women have discovered the profound mystery of life, and sleep in peace at night.

This why Christianity has been called: “a relationship, not a religion.” Instead of just following a group of rules and doctrines that have been passed down over the centuries, a true Christian has a genuine interactive relationship with his God. The Bible is a key part of that relationship. It is through the Bible that we learn the language and character of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27).This takes time, but just as with any other relationship, the more time you spend with a person, the more intimately you know his/her mannerisms, patterns of speech, type of character, etc. Having knowledge of the Bible will guard you from being deceived by other voices disguising themselves as God (or some form of wisdom), including your own.

This begs the question, “What about those people who don’t have access to a Bible?” Obviously, they will lack wisdom and intimate knowledge of their Creator, but they can still have a relationship with God. The Word frequently says that creation declares the glory of God, and the Apostle Paul makes the argument in Romans that the combination of nature’s splendor and the moral law of right and wrong that is written in everyman’s heart (in other words, his conscience), reveals the existence of God, and they should seek to know him through him that revelation. It is a mystery we cannot understand in our current fallen state (at least the understanding has not been revealed to me), but God says “If you seek for me, you will find me” (Deuteronomy 4:29 & Jeremiah 29:13), and Jesus later says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Throughout the ages, men have longed to know truth; what they are really seeking is Jesus. I believe Truth-Seekers who are not yet Christians are closer to God than many in the church who claim to know him. The Bible says, ergo God says, “If you seek for me you will find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” For the seeker who is honest and genuine, God will make the path to the Truth, to Jesus, clear in some way.

Additionally the question must be asked, “What about the thousands of people who claim the mark of Christ but don’t really seek to know him?” Their Bibles and Christian paraphernalia are on display for all to see, but a close inspection reveals a thick layer of dust. Those who just consider the Bible to be a book of rules and guidelines and nothing more can fall on either side of the narrow path. Either the rule of law becomes so strong for them they loose all compassion for others, or they, in their lack of knowledge of God’s character for want of relationship, pick and choose what rules and doctrines aught and aught not to be followed. They refuse to admit sin and repent of it; therefore, they try to manipulate the Word to fit their human perception, rather than let the Word renew their mind and bring them closer to the divine. As the Apostle Paul says, “These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom…but they lack any value…” (Colossians 2:22-23). These men and women who come to church week after week and honor God with their lips but not their hearts are in for a shock at the end of this age. Unless they change course, they are destined to hear from our Lord, “Get away from me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). To put it in human terms, it is like the parent who makes no effort to know his child and suddenly is shocked when she ends up pregnant or in jail; it is the husband and wife who sleep side by side night after night, but never locked together in love, and one is shocked when the other suddenly leaves or is caught cheating. With no communion, there can be no intimacy. With no intimacy, there can be no real relationship. With no relationship, there is no salvation. 

So the simple answer I wish I gave my son is this: “I read the Bible everyday because I want to start my day spending time with my Creator and Savior; I love being taught by my Heavenly Father, and I long for personal intimacy with the Lover of my Soul. It is not a task; it is a joy and an honor. I am pleased to be with him, and it is time well spent.”

Peter L Richardson
8/11/10
*This one’s dedicated to Angie, a fellow lover of God’s Word.

For skeptics and doubters that the Bible has any validity at all, both historical and spiritual, check out the 8/15/10 teaching, “How can the Bible be trusted,” from Pastor Dan Betters of Stone’s Throw Church:

http://ax.itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/stones-throw-church-audio/id379274171

http://www.stonesthrowchurch.com

The Mind Forged Matrixes

August 10, 2010

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.
     -William Blake, “London” 1794 AD

“What is truth?” –Pontius Pilate, ~33 AD

Each one of us lives inside the Matrix. We are all born into a world, a place we cannot define, a place we do not understand. We come into this place with a certain amount of programming already installed. We are born with characteristics, natural inclinations towards likes and dislikes, certain abilities, and certain weaknesses. Then we are given information; we are taught what is right and what is wrong and how to be good subjects. In order to survive, we must learn what it is we should believe and not believe about this world we are born into. Yet this Matrix is not a computer program, it is not an elaborate deception made by evil machines who long to rule the world. The Matrix is our Ideological State Apparatus: The reality we are born into, the world of ideas that we inherit from those who have gone before us. The French philosopher, Louis Althusser, who coined the phrase, Ideological State Apparatus (ISA), teaches that our ideas are given to us by society; in other words, our understanding of the world and our beliefs are simply a result of what time and place we were born into. Society dictates what is good and bad and we are being good subjects if we follow whatever the norm is, but if we deviate from the norm in anyway, then society will brand us bad subjects. On the surface level, I agree. However, this theory reduces our existence to something less meaningful than I would ascribe to humanity. If our ideas, our understanding of reality, and our values are simply mental Matrix’s, “mind forged manacles,” if you will, then everything is completely relative. There is no truth. There is no center. This theory is unacceptable to me. Of course, we are then confronted with: “What is truth?” There not sufficient time to tackle that in this essay, but I can say, along with the X-Files creator, “the truth is out there.” How do we know this? Simply because the X-Files is so popular, because of all the different ISA’s that exist and have existed and will exist in this thing we call life, this understanding of reality. We are programmed to search for truth; we are created with a longing in our hearts. Our spirits, if I may speak bluntly, long to find and know our origin, our creator, our purpose. If truth is relative, then whatever ISA anybody was born into wouldn’t matter to him or her. Yet, look at how many “bad subjects” we have breaking out of what has been given to them as reality, as “truth.” Man is searching for meaning in life.

Despite whatever Matrix we are born into, whatever ISA we inherit, we are not forced to accept our mind forged manacles. We have the ability to learn and to grow; we are able to make choices that affect ourselves and those around us. The consequences of our choices reach much further then most of us would like to believe. For better or for worse, we shape the world around us. We often like to blame our problems on a God we claim does not exist, yet whatever it is that created us, whatever programmed our basic instincts and abilities, also gave us the gift, or sometimes the curse, of choice. Free Will is the bottom line. At a certain point in life, any man or woman who seeks to do so is able to move beyond his/her ISA and begin to shape the reality around that surrounds everyone in his/her sphere of influence.

In the movie, The Matrix we are in the meeting room of Morpheus and Neo. Morpheus is about to disrupt Neo’s understanding of reality. Neo is about to discover the truth. Morpheus asks Neo if he believes in fate. Neo’s reply is, “No, because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.” There is high irony here because Neo is, in fact, fated to be “the One.” Yet also we are about to discover that in reality, Neo is incubating in some pod along with the rest of the majority of humanity. He has no control over the fabricated world that is before his eyes. Yet he is in control of his mind. It is a paradox of a truth we are faced with in our own reality. We are all given talents and resources, some more than others, which shape our life and give us purpose. Yet how far we carry out what we have been given to add to the world is up to us. We are fated to certain paths, yet we decide whether or not to follow the path. Even within the Matrix Neo heard the calling in his heart; he was the one who decided a career in computer programming; he was the one who decided to stay up late into each night searching on a computer that didn’t really exist for some truth out there; he was the one who decided to follow Trinity to Morpheus, and he was the one who decided to take the Red Pill. The choices he made shaped the world around him. He even shaped the “reality” within the Matrix. 

Our reality is real. We are organic, everything dies ands rots and gives nutrients to the earth; we spill our seed into each other, both plant and animal, and more of us are born. What separates man from plants and the rest of the animal kingdom is our higher consciousness, our ability to reason, to act out of self-will, in essence, to make choices. Trees grow and even the most intelligent of animals only live out of instinct. You can train a dog to be very faithful, but it is acting out what it’s been trained to do. Other than pro-create I don’t believe that humankind will ever be able create this kind of higher consciousness; what’s called Artificial Intelligence. But what if we could? We have often fantasized giving machines the ability to think for themselves, yet we always end the story in some kind of disaster. In He, She and It, Marge Piercy creates a cyborg through her characters Avram and Malkah. Yod was the tenth attempt for a successful cyborg; all other attempts had failed. It is interesting to note that Avram worked on his own with the previous nine, but it wasn’t until Malkah’s input, and her feminine side was added, that a successful conscious was able to be made. We are born from a man and a woman joining together, Yod was in a sense, Avram’s and Malkah’s son. If there is any good example of being brought into an ISA, it is with the cyborg. Here is a full grown, fully conscious individual that has had downloaded into it all the information its creators wanted it to have and programmed it to act the way they wanted it to act. It has been made for a specific purpose, and, the best news is, if it decides to become a bad subject, a certain code can be spoken, or a button pushed, and it’s destroyed! But Yod surprises everyone. He is able to think past his tasks and what he’s been programmed to do. He is able to learn and to grow as a person, to make choices of his own free will. He is even capable of love, as his relationship with Shira represents. It is not an Ideological State Apparatus that keeps Yod in his place and experiencing the world with even more freedom, but it is a Repressive State Apparatus in that Avram has the ability to destroy him at any moment. Yod finds a way to overcome his state by self-sacrifice. Yod makes a conscious judgment based on moral beliefs he has developed as a result of his own experience, and with his death he ends the possibility of the making of anymore like him; a person owned, a slave. He valued this act as more important than his or Avram’s life. It was a decision he made on his own. Is this not the cause of rebellion in countless Repressive State Apparatus’s—oppressive governments—which have gone too far to infringe upon human rights? Yod was a revolutionary. His actions changed the course of history. He shaped the world around him. How more so, we as real-live-individuals, not cyborgs neither characters in a novel, how much more are we responsible to change our world? To search for truth and discover what is right and what is the right thing to do? We have suffering in the world, yet we have the capability to change our course by the choices we make.

When we are confronted with truth we have two options: We can either accept it and deal with the consequences or ignore it and continue with business as usual. Truth is revelation. When something we have been ignorant of is revealed to us it usually provokes some kind of response. The majority of “subjects” remain ignorant to the state of affairs outside of their personal lives. They are content, so they are unconcerned. They move about day by day accepting whatever ISA they are given; they are happy in their Matrix. These people are simply ignorant of the truth. It is those who are confronted with a revelation of what reality is, and yet they choose to remain in ignorance, who are the true “bad subjects.” They are aware of a problem, yet they have not the strength of mind to fight for what is right and bring freedom and salvation to whomever may be enslaved. To be in ignorance is a shame, to choose ignorance is a complete lack of character. This is Cipher’s character in the Matrix. When the truth is a hard reality, is it better to ignore it and stay in a comfortable zone? Some would argue so, but Cipher takes it a step further and chooses to sacrifice his crew and what they believe in for his own personal comfort, a chance to return to the ignorance of the Matrix. This is what many of us do in life. It is often good to escape into novels, movies and many forms of entertainment, but how many of us live our lives through them? How many of us choose to spend time with people who don’t exist rather than our own families and neighbors? Our society offers us a variety of Matrixes that we gladly receive in order to stay ignorant. They are safer; the less intimate we are with others the less risk of pain they may cause us. In He, She and It, Piercy describes the area of the Glop, a futuristic third world slum. It is a place, much like our present day slums, full of corruption and violence. The solution for many of the Glop’s residents is to use Stimmies, a type of virtual reality that is purely escapism. Stimmies numb the pain of real life as the user literally experiences life vicariously through others. Yet there are those who are choosing to organize the Glop and fight against the corporations who are abusing them with their power. Which is better? To live in a fantasy world or to live a difficult life well and bring good to others in the process? 

The only good option with truth is to confront it and deal with the consequences that it brings. It is each person’s responsibility to find truth out, and when the revelation comes, to act on it. True good subjects do what needs to be done to bring others to truth and free them from deception. Once Neo is freed from the Matrix, he becomes aware that Morpheus thinks he is “the One.” He is supposedly the fulfillment of a prophecy made that one will come to set the human race free from the machines—an awesome responsibility. However, the oracle tells Neo that he’s not “the One.” But in an attempt to save Morpheus’ life, Neo discovers new abilities he has within the Matrix. In a radical revelation of life inside the Matrix, he believes the concept: “There is no spoon.” He grasps a kind a faith that enables him to manipulate the false reality of the Matrix. His mind is freed from its manacles and he is able to see the Matrix for what it is. He is able to radically shape the programmed world around him with seemingly supernatural abilities. When Neo questions the prophecy that he is not “the One,” Morpheus responds with, “There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”

We fulfill our destiny not by being told what it is, but by simply making the choice to live our lives to the fullest extent. Neo didn’t act out of a belief that he was “the One,” but rather rose to the occasion and did what he considered the right and best thing to do; he was willing to risk his own life for his friend, for what he thought was best for humanity. Only then did he discover his true potential, and once he gained confidence in who he was, he flourished under it. Cipher never realized his full potential. He chose ignorance instead. He died in his fight to return to “bliss,” yet his personhood had already been sacrificed.

We can be given guidance along the way, oracles and such, but it is only by truly living out our lives, that we will reach our fullest potential. We are born with talents and weaknesses, we born into different circumstances in life: some very negative, some very positive. Yet there comes a time when we reach a place we can choose and decide to break free from our mind forged manacles. We can honestly look at our ISA’s, judge them, and discern where they need changing. By our choices we change the Matrix which we live under. This affects the Matrix of everyone else around us. If we choose to live our lives to their fullest potential and do right, we will disrupt “the mind forged Matrixes” of all our neighbors. Our very existence will confront them with truth. But it is their own choice whether they will remain ignorant, or let the truth set them free. As Morpheus told Neo in his training, “I’m trying to free your mind, Neo, but I can only show you the door. You’re the one who has to walk through it.”

Peter L Richardson
12/16/2002

Works Cited:

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological Sate Apparatus .” Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays . New Left Books , 1971.

Piercy, Marge. He, She and It . The Ballantine Publishing Group , 1991.

The Matrix. By Wachowski Brothers. Dir. Wachowski Brothers. Warner Brothers . 1999.