A lot of times people say that things were caused by chance. For example, if I flip a coin 100 times, I will find that it comes up heads more or less half the time. So these people say that the chance caused the outcome. But what if I had not flipped the coin? The probability of the results would be the same, even if the event had not yet occurred. Thus chance is a description of the event, not its cause.
There is another problem with saying that the universe was caused by chance, and that is because the probability of any past event happening is exactly 100%. Chance only describes the probability of an event occurring in the future.
Therefore, attributing the existence of the universe to chance is simple nonsense, not just because chance has no will or agency, but also we cannot assess the probability of our universe’s existence, the existence of our universe must be in the future, which it is not. Chance cannot cause the universe unless chance was present before the universe existed and unless chance possesses will and agency. But as it stands, chance is just another attribute of the universe, like size, weight, density, and the speed of light. Any scientist who thinks that the universe can be explained by chance has unwittingly posited a creator-god and has flown over the boundaries of empiricism into theology.
Chance does not cause things to happen, any more than green makes trees.
Natural law is a concept in Catholic theology, but I have the gall to say that the universe is not sustained by natural principles, it is sustained by the will of God. Since God generally wills the same thing all the time, we find consistency in the universe and call it natural law. However, that name implies that these natural laws exist of their own necessity and admit to no exceptions.
Lately, however, the physicists who study subatomic particles have been making some unsettling discoveries. On the subatomic level, there seem to be exceptions to natural laws from time to time. There are subatomic particles that do opposite things at the same time! The physicists are furiously at work—even as I type this—to refine their definitions of what we non-scientists would call natural laws to cover these apparent exceptions and even contradictions, but it seems to me that whether they succeed or fail in this endeavor, the phenomenon points out one thing: either we do not have full insight into God’s wisdom, or God is a sovereign King who can make exceptions if He likes.
Either way, no description of the universe that takes the metaphorical form of a legal code is water tight.
Nature in the sense of Mother Nature
Nature doesn’t have a bounty, nature is the bounty. If anyone can demonstrate that Nature is our mother, I think we should sue her for child abuse and get placed on a foster planet. Nature is an artifact of God, not a god in and of itself. Therefore, I will worship the God that created the bounty and not the bounty.
Nevertheless, that doesn’t place me in the slash-and-burn camp of Christian non-ecology. In this world we prove our stewardship so that we can be entrusted with greater things in the next world. Some say that we belong to the earth, others say the earth belongs to us. Both camps are wrong. The earth belongs to God. It is God’s garden, and we are God’s gardeners. Therefore let us work to show ourselves approved of this great trust, so that we may receive a greater trust in the world to come.
Nature as a synonym for an ideal state
Today, we think of nature as an ideal; something good and pure, even though many natural things, such as arsenic and the climate of Antarctica, aren’t good for us. But in the New Testament, nature is simply the raw material that the Spirit of God transforms. If you would like to research this yourself, consult the following passages:
In every case, nature is base, sinful and bestial. It has potential, which is currently being redeemed. Nature in the wild horse that God is presently breaking in. When the New Testament says even nature does such-and-such or when it speaks of people being devoid of natural affection, it refers to the very lowest of possible moral standards.
Now here’s a phrase that’s perfectly good, but commonly misunderstood. When most people hear the phrase personal God, they think that it means an individual god—you know, I have my personal god and you have your personal god, and each person’s subjective perception is valid for them. Of course, if my god is private to me, he is the product of my mind, and he dies when I do. What comfort can such a god give me?
But that is not what the term personal God means. It has its origins in Latin legal terminology, and it asserts only that God that has a personality, that God is a Person. This is one of the fundamental assertions of historic Christian orthodoxy. There are religions in which God is an impersonal force that can be directed through magical rituals, but we do not worship a god like that—and it is a good thing, because what if we unwittingly conjure up things that are harmful to us? No, our God has a personality, our God is a Person, we can have fellowship with Him just as we can have fellowship with each other. This also means that He can love us. He can decline our requests if we unwittingly ask for bad things, and He can provide us things we do not even know we need.
The problem with using person in theology is not modern. The operating language of the ecumenical councils was Greek, and the canons (what we would call resolutions were translated into Latin for the west. Since we are in the west, our theological terminology is based on those Latin translations. There were debates about the proper translations of words, mainly they were trying to translate Greek philosophical terms into Latin legal terms. They had to do this because Latin lacked a good theological vocabulary. The Greek word was ὑπόστᾰσις, which literally means underlying state and is translated into Latin as essence, substance, or in this case as person, because the ὑπόστᾰσις has will, intent, and purpose. The Latin terms are slightly misleading, the ancient Greek theologians knew it, but they threw up their hands and used them anyway because there weren’t any better Latin words.
How sad it must be to worship an impersonal god, a god who is little more than a metaphor for non-sentient forces of the universe! How sad to have a god who cannot love, cannot care, and cannot save us when we err.
Once a friend of mine informed me that he wasn’t going to attend our church anymore. Naturally, I asked the reason for this startling change of heart. I’m not being fed, he complained, I’m not having a good worship experience. To his surprise, I wasn’t sympathetic at all. In fact, I told him straight out that his attitude was blasphemous! That took him aback, to say the least. First, I said, the reason you aren’t being fed is because you are supposed to be passing out the food, not eating it yourself. What good is a restaurant if the waiters eat the food and the customers go hungry? What good is a church if only the saints are edified and no sinners are loved into salvation? Second, I said, if you are having a worship experience in church, you are mightily confused. Only God should experience worship, not you. The question you should ask yourself is not, Did I have a good worship experience today? but Did I give God a good worship experience today?
Now don’t get me wrong. I think it is great when the congregation gets enthusiastic and the preaching hits you straight in the heart and the choir is exuberant and the soloist hits all the high notes without missing. I love it when I get goosebumps in the service. But I am the worshipper not the worshippee, and as long as God gets goosebumps, it doesn’t matter if I don’t.
My friend decided not to leave the church.
The Church Family
Now here’s a surprise, you’re probably thinking. What could possibly be annoying about calling the local church a family?
Well, there are a lot of reasons why we could call the local church a family. Family is an inclusive word, and nowadays thanks to politicians it is a very popular word. There are family doctors, family restaurants, family movies, and there is a family channel on cable television in the United States. I have even seen family restrooms, which on the face of it doesn’t sound very wholesome. Someone once said that home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in. And a family is like that. It is the one place where we find a common bond, despite our peculiarities and foibles, and it is the one place where we can count on people to lift us when we fall, to forgive us when we sin, and to love us when we are unlovable. So in that sense, the local church is indeed a family. Or it should be one.
But family is also an exclusive word. A family is the one thing you can’t join. You can only be born into a family or you can marry into one, and if you marry into a family, you’re on probation for a while. If you are widowed or divorced, the family goes away. When people say, This is a family matter, it is time for you to leave the room, and when your childhood playmate is called to a family dinner, it is time for you to go home. When the hospital says that only family members can visit, you can’t take flowers to your friend. When politicians speak of family values, their next statement is invariably about some part of society on whom they rightly or wrongly seek to exclude.
So when we speak of the local church as a family, we must be aware that this phrase has two impacts on the congregation. For the ninety and the nine who are safe in the fold, it reinforces the fellowship they feel. But for the people who are on the periphery of the congregation, trying to be accepted and loved, it can draw an uncrossable line and erect an impassable wall. And it is to the those we are called to preach the Good News.