This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: "Go down to the potter's
house, and there I will give you my message." So I went down to the potter's
house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the
clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping
it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: "O house of
Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the Lord. "Like
clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at
any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and
destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent
and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I
announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does
evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had
intended to do for it. (Jeremiah 18:1-10)
The false God of total control
There are some false ideas of God out there that make Him into a tyrannical dictator that controls the universe on puppet strings. Everything is pre-determined and pre-destined. God has created a race of the "chosen" whom He loves and who He will save, as well as a race of the "damned" who cannot get on God's good side no matter what. Generally, you can identify the chosen by their sparkling smiles, good grammar, and clean cut appearance. The damned have tattoos, vulgar language, and they like to smoke and drink. God, it turns out, is the producer of "Leave it to Beaver" and other wholesome 50's sitcoms, and if we do not act like that, then we are going straight to hell.
But there is another more violent type of controlling God peeks His demonic little head up in history throughout the ages. He is the God of the Holy War, the Jihad, and the Crusades. He is the God that terrorists scream is so "great" as they slam hi-jacked planes into packed office buildings. This God is not content with merely sending the damned to hell after they die. He wants His elect followers to actually assist in sending them there. If you are among the elect, then you have the right to hate and kill the infidels, or anyone else you disagree with. Its actually God's will! You become what you worship, and if you worship an all-controlling dictator, you will soon become a little Hitler yourself.
To tell the truth, if I believed that God was like this, I would be in rebellion against Him too. In fact, I WAS in rebellion against Him for this very reason (among others). Then He showed me who He really was in Jesus Christ, and that made all of the difference in the world. But we will get to that later. First, an ironic observation about people (like myself) who complain that God is controlling and manipulative.
You can't have it both ways: either God controls too much or too little
Many people who are angry at God and doubt His existence hold two contradictory reasons for disliking God. First, they are upset with God because He has allowed evil and suffering in the world and in their own lives (see chapters 1-2). They are mad at God because He does not control enough things in creation to stop them from harming others. Second, they do not want to believe in God because they do not want God controlling their lives. They are mad at God because He controls too much (or at least might control too much if they allowed Him into their lives).
This is ironic, because the very same people that want God to control all things so that there is no evil or suffering do not actually want God to control them personally. They, in effect, seem to want to be the "god" that tells God how to be God. They want control. But, you can't have it both ways and you can't blame God for both sides. You can either be angry at God for not controlling enough, and thus decide that you want God to control you and all other things for the good. Or, you can be angry at God for controlling too much, and thus decide that it is good there is so much freedom and evil and pain in the world. You can't really blame God at the same time for controlling and not controlling. That is self defeating.
So, lets agree to set aside the complaint about how much control God does or does not have. It doesn’t get us anything except a poorly reasoned excuse to reject God for selfish reasons. Instead, lets look at how much control God actually does (and does not) have in the universe.
Is everything pre-determined or not?
There are two radically different extremes of how the universe is controlled, and these extremes can be held by both people who are believers and disbelievers in God. The first extreme is complete determinism: everything in the universe is set in an unstoppable chain of cause and effect that cannot be un-broken. All freedom that we seem to experience is an illusion. The fact that we are choosing to read this sentence right now is because we have been conditioned by our environment, our genetics, and our society (plus whatever we ate for breakfast) to make us want to read this right now.
For determinists who believe in God, they often say that God is controlling our free will to make us want to read this. They may also say that God set in motion the chain of events from the very beginning of the universe, so that right at this moment we would be reading this very sentence. God knows everything we will ever do, and will intervene in creation to make sure absolutely everything, down to what we wear tomorrow, conforms to His will.
Determinists who do not believe in God postulate a very similar course of events, minus a personal God. Everything we will ever do was encoded into the very nature of the universe from the very beginning. The big bang set forth a system in which everything is totally determined by cause and effect, and we can do nothing to change that. We may think we can change things, but even our desire for change was pre-determined by how the forces of nature and society shaped our personality.
Both types of determinists (pro-God and anti-God) think that if we can just figure out all the causes in nature, society, genetics (and in the spiritual realm, for believers), then we will be able to foretell and control the future to some extent. Reality is just one great big pool table, and if we can figure out how to hit the balls just right, we can win the game every time. Determinists who believe in God have a even harder road to travel, because they must also figure out how to excuse God from causing evil and suffering if He controls everything. People will usually give some type of explanation about God "permitting" evil rather than causing it. But if God really does control all things directly there is no "permission", just direct action of God to cause all things to do what He wants. A puppet master does not permit a puppet to move. He moves it.
I guess I'm pre-determined to believe that determinism doesn't work...
I don’t think total determinism makes sense for a couple of reasons. First, since I believe in God, I cannot believe in a puppet master God who determines evil. I cannot just wish that God was not there, because belief in God makes much more sense out of the evidence I have, and the world I see around me, than not believing in God (see section 2). And the Bible says that God is Love, God is good, and that God does not have a hint of evil in Him nor does He tempt anyone to do evil. That gets rid of the puppet-master hypothesis for me.
Second, now one lives like a determinist. No one really believes that their free choices are un-free. For instance, I could stop writing this sentence and go watch TV, or paint a picture, or set my computer on fire, or go rob a convenience store (I do need the money, after all). But I don't. I choose to do this and there are tons of other things I could be doing that are more important. No one can exist for long if they really thing that none of their decisions are free and they are mere cogs in the machine or bricks in the wall. They will usually commit suicide or turn to drugs or alcohol to escape such a meaningless life.
Third, if determinism was true, then we would have a lot more things under control right now. We cannot fully control our own computers or pets, much less other humans. In fact, no scientist is even able to completely duplicate the results of another scientist when testing his or her findings. They can come very close, but never duplicate it. There is always an element of randomness and freedom even in the most tightly controlled science.
At the very bottom of reality, no one can control exactly what sub-atomic particles do. German Physicist Werner Von Heisenberg found out early last century that no one, no matter how good their equipment is, can ever determine the exact position AND velocity of sub-atomic particles. The closer you get to one, the less you can know about the other. These particles seem to choose at random where to go and change velocity on a whim. Sometimes rays of light act like particles and other time like waves, depending on how they are observed. Which are they? No one knows. We call this indeterminacy in physics, but freedom in theology.
Well then, is anything determined?
So, if determinism does not work in theology, real life, or even in science, then what is the alternative? Complete non-determinacy? Nothing can be known for sure? Nothing can be controlled? Everything is free! Nothing can be determined! The possibilities are endless! In this view, if God is there, He can know nothing about the future, only about the present and the past. He cannot control anything or intervene anywhere, because He does not have the power. He simply exists with us and feels for us.
But, total non-determinism does not work either. It is just plainly obvious that some things simply cannot happen, and other things have to happen and are determined. For instance, I do not have the freedom to go jump off a building and fly. No matter how badly I want to believe otherwise, it is determined that that if I do that I will fall to the ground and die painfully (barring, of course, miraculous interventions from God or fly-bys from Superman). I may have come freedom to choose how I will fall when I fall, or what I will scream on the way down, but I do not have the freedom not to fall once I have chosen to jump from the building.
Reality has certain boundaries or limits built into it which limit our freedom. Certain things in nature, our society, our culture, and our biology limit our freedom. I have the freedom to do a whole bunch of things, but I will never be the world's fastest man. I just do not have the genetics, the leg length, or the fast twitch muscle fibers necessary to do that. I might be really the fastest Nate I can be. I might even be faster than most people my age. But I will never be an Olympic caliber sprinter no matter how hard I trained.
Our freedom may be limited by our intelligence, our physical abilities, or our emotional capacity. But, within the boundaries handed to us by nature, society, and genetics, we have to option to choose anything we want. I could be a fairly good teacher, pastor, coach, or counselor (among other things) and serve God very well in any of these positions. But I have chosen, after listening to God's guidance, to be a pastor. He did not make me choose that. It just seemed best to me. You too have similar choices and similar boundaries, although I wouldn’t even venture to tell you exactly what they are.
Our freedom and God's FREEDOM
You see, there is a difference between our freedom and God's Freedom (with a capital "F"). God is free to do anything that does not contradict Himself. For instance, He cannot exist and not exist, and therefore He cannot create a universe that exists and does not exist at the same time. He cannot create something bigger, stronger, or more perfect than Himself, because by definition He is the greatest, strongest, most perfect thing there is. But, outside of not contradicting Himself, He can make any type of universe He wants with any type of boundaries and limitations He wants. He could in fact make an infinite number of universes, all in different dimensions with different boundaries and laws of physics. Maybe He has... but that is beyond the scope of this book. The point is that His Freedom is complete and absolute. He has no boundaries except for His own self.
We, as His creations, are different. Yes, we are created in the image of God in our ability to truly and freely make choices without anything determining what choices we will make. But, unlike God, our choice options are limited. We can only choose from within the world we have been put in, whereas God can choose to make any world He wants to. God can create from nothing. We can only create from the materials we find around us.
I heard a funny joke one time about a scientist who had figured out how to make life, and did not need God anymore. So, she went up to God and said "Thanks for all you have done, but we do not need you anymore. I can make life from non-living matter." God, with a twinkle in His eye, said "Oh really? Good to hear it. But, before you go your own way, how about we have a life-creating contest. The one who can make the most interesting and complex life form wins." The scientist says "That's great! I will take you up on the offer. I just need you to give me a little dirt to start my experiment!" God then turns to her and says "No fair. Make your own dirt."
We can choose to do a lot of things, for good or for bad, with the life given to us. But, we cannot give ourselves life. We can choose what to do with out natural talents, abilities, and inabilities. But, we cannot create ourselves and give ourselves these things. We can choose to change or even leave the society we live in, but we cannot pick the society we are born into. All of these things, plus the intervention of God in human affairs, shapes our freedom. We have total freedom within the boundaries that God has set us within.
Life, then, is somewhat like a game of chess. The chess rules and board designate HOW we can use our freedom to move around on the board. Certain pieces can only move forward, others only diagonal, others only one space at a time, and still others can move multiple spaces in one turn. None of them can move off of the board (unless they are captured and taken out of the game). Yet, within these boundaries there are an almost infinite number of games two people can play. The boundaries and rules to do limit the game-players freedom, but instead liberate that freedom to be used for a definite purpose and reason. That is how God sets up creation and then allows us to play the "game" of life. He does not control us any more than the rules of chess control how you will play the game. But, just like chess, you can play a good game or a bad game. It is up to you.
So, what does God cause?
So, if this is how freedom works, then how does God work with freedom? How does He cause things to happen and "work all things for the good of those who love Him"? Well, first of all, He sets the game board and the basic boundaries. But, what about the Bible passages where God is said to "cause" evil things? Just look at Moses and the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The Bible says that God caused Pharaoh's heart to be hardened so that He would choose evil. It says that God caused several plagues to strike Egypt, and that He even sent an angel to kill every firstborn he found there, including helpless babies and children. Does God really cause evil to happen?
Well, it depends on what you mean by cause. There are several kinds of causality. A really wise guy back in the day named Aristotle identified at least four types of cause in the world (although there may be more). We will use one ball striking another on a pool table to illustrate each type of cause. First, there is the "effective cause", which is the movement of the pool cue to hit the pool ball. This effective cause was put into action by a freely choosing pool player. This is the cause that causes direct effects on something else and thus is the "effective" cause.
Second, there is the "material cause", which is the matter that the balls, the pool cue, and the table are made out of. Without matter, there could be nothing to effect. Third, there is the "formal cause", which is the form, or rules, that govern how big the table it supposed to be, what the balls are made out of, and how you can hit those balls (for instance, not you cannot hit them with a baseball bat). Fourth, there is the "final cause", which is the purpose for which the pool table was made, and why the balls were hit. In this case, the final cause is to win a game called "pool". The final cause is what something is finally headed toward, or aimed to.
Usually in modern science we only care about the effective cause, but it is clear that all four are essential in shaping why the pool game happens the way that it does. If there was no material cause, there would be nothing to play pool with. If there was no formal cause, there would be no rules to make pool any different from bowling or baseball. If there was no final cause, there would be no purpose to play the game at all.
How does this relate to God? Well, God is definitely the "final cause" of all things. He made all things to eventually, finally, share in Loving relationship with Him. God also made all of the matter in the universe that becomes the "material cause" for everything else that happens. In one sense, God is also directly responsible as the "formal cause" of everything, since by His Word He creates the "form" which governs how the physical laws work. The laws of physics (such as gravity, thermodynamics, chemistry, and such) give shape and form to all of reality. Without the form that God gives everything, there would be nothing but a throbbing glob of mass-energy with no form or shape.
But, now we come to the idea of "efficient cause". Just because God creates the purpose, the form, and the matter of the universe, does that mean that He effectively causes everything? The clear answer is no, just as we have discussed above when we compared God's freedom to our freedom. He gives us the boundaries of matter and form, but within that matter and form we are able to freely choose to be effective causes for whatever we want to do. He has made us in His image to effectively and freely choose as we will.
How does God cause what happens in the Bible?
Now, back to the Bible. As the Bible was written over 1500 years, God progressively revealed more and more of what He is like and how He acts in the world. In the beginning of the Bible, such as Genesis and Exodus, God causes EVERYTHING without differentiating what type of cause God is. This makes sense if you were a ancient sheep-herder and not a post-modern citizen of a scientific society. And it is true, that in certain ways, God is the cause of everything that anyone does at any time, because nothing could have happened if God did not make it first, right? So, in a very general, over-simplified sense it is true to say that God is the cause of evil and suffering. He made the system that evil and suffering came out of. He made the material, gave the form, and provided the purpose. It is, in one sense, all His fault. And, by the way, He paid for that fault- and our fault- in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ (see chapter 1).
This is why God says that God caused Pharaoh's heart to be hardened so that He did evil. This is why God caused the plague and the death of the firstborn children in Egypt. He set up the system. He let it happen. It was His fault. But, this is not the whole story. In a second, more specific and accurate sense, God is not the cause of any of this. He did not effectively cause it to happen. He allowed it to happen. A close reading of Exodus will reveal that the Pharaoh hardened His own heart long before God ever "hardened" it. God simply allowed Pharaoh to complete the evil he had intended long before. Likewise, God allowed an avenging evil angel to attack and kill the firstborn.
The Bible paints a picture of reality that includes evil spirit-beings, called fallen angels or demons, who constantly try and destroy everything God loves. They are only withheld from destruction by the power of God. But, when He allows them to ravage and destroy, they do. This is the case of the plagues and the death of the firstborn. The demons had been wanting to destroy Egypt for ages, and because Egypt would not stop doing evil to Israel, God allowed the demons to strike Egypt with plagues until they let Israel go. If you are not ready to believe in miracles and supernatural beings, just substitute "natural forces of destruction" for demons above.
The same pattern happens throughout the Bible. When Israel herself became corrupt and wicked, killing children and doing injustice to the poor, God "sent" armies from other countries to attack Israel to discipline her and bring her back to Him. God did not send them by effectively causing them to march and attack, but rather by allowing the violent plans of the nations to go forward without stopping them. By the time of Jesus, the idea of God "causing" things by doing them versus "causing" them by allowing them became well known. One of Jesus' disciples writes that God does not cause evil or tempt anyone to do evil, but He allows evil when we are enticed by our own selfish desires.
God gets a lot of bad rap for all the evil He "causes" in the Old Testament, but we must realize that most Old Testament writers were not sophisticated enough to tell the difference between effective cause and other types of cause, between God doing something directly and God allowing something. God only directly causes good. God allows evil, and then somehow works to redeem it. If you don't believe that, then just look at the resurrection of Christ. God did not cause the death of His only Son, although He knew it would happen from before time. Yet, He allowed it so that Christ could rise from the dead and destroy destruction and put death to death forever.
Cause and Pre-destination
So, if God only does good and only allows evil, how does He plan what He will do? Is everything pre-destined, or are there future events that God does not know will happen? Just as much as the Bible talks about freedom, it also talks about God's complete control over all things and His predestination of things (see Ephesians ch. 1 and Romans ch. 8-11). How does freedom and pre-destination mesh together? How can we have true choice if God has complete control over all things and "works all things for our good"? This just does not seem to mesh!
Before we go on, let us go back to Werner Von Heisenberg and the freedom he found at the base of reality in sub-atomic particles. Science, no matter how hard it looks and how good its instruments are, cannot find out both the position and velocity of a particle at the same time. The more you focus on one, the more you loose the other. The more you focus on light as particles, the less you can see it act as a wave. The more you focus on it as a wave, the less you can see it act as particles. There is mystery and freedom at the base of reality that must be held in tension, without sacrificing either. Because to sacrifice either does not yield a true picture of what reality is.
The same is true for our freedom and God's control. It is equally true that God absolutely controls all things (through both doing, and allowing things to be done), and that humans are truly free to do what they will within the world God has given them. The more we focus on God's control, the more we loose our freedom. And the more we focus on our freedom, the less we can see God's control. Yet, without both held in tension and mystery, we will not have a true picture of reality. Creaturely freedom and the Creator's control mesh together just as the position and velocity of a sub-atomic particle, or as light is both wave and particle. That is the first thing to be said about freedom and predestination.
Two wrong extremes in seeing destiny
The second thing that is to be said about freedom and predestination has to do with how people understand God's knowledge of the future. Just as there are extremes of determinacy and indeterminacy in how God deals with the present, there are also extremes of control and chaos in how God sees and deals with the future.
The first extreme is complete control. The future timeline is a one-way track, that is totally determined, and God knows everything that will happen. There is a straight line of cause from A to B to C and so on down the line to eternity. Nothing can deviate, and nothing can change. As a consequence, any true freedom we have is just an illusion. Nothing we do will really change anything that could ever happen. In this view all of God's promises in the Bible and future prophecy will come true because there is literally no way it could not happen. This view, it seems to me, focuses so much on God's control that the reality of freedom is completely lost.
The second extreme is the exact opposite: chaos. In this view, God is bound in our time line just like we are, and He is waiting for the future to happen just like we do. He knows everything that has happened and everything that is happening, and He can see the possibilities in the immediate future, but He has no idea how everything will actually pan out. God evolves and changes along with His creation as He learns how to guide and develop the world toward a "better future" (whatever that may be). In this view, God cannot truly make and fulfill future promises because in the end, He has no real control over the course of events. God just holds on for dear life and surfs the wave of freedom that He has created. This view, it seems, focuses so much on the freedom of God's creatures that it totally looses God's control over the world.
One view focuses on how God knows all things as ACTUAL. The second view focuses on how God knows all things as POSSIBLE. One view focuses on God outside of time, seeing time as one eternal present tense event, so that everything is present-tense to God. The other view focuses on God working inside of time, living in real interaction with His creation on our own level. Is there any way to merge these two perspectives so that they fit together? I think there is, and it is by doing just that: seeing them as two perspective of the same reality. One is the perspective from above reality. One is the perspective from below reality.
Needlepoint and pre-destination
It is like the needlepoint picture I spoke of in chapter one. The perspective from the top of the needlepoint is that it is a pretty picture, perhaps of a kitten or a child or a sunset. The perspective from the bottom of the needlepoint is quite different. There are strings and knots and you cannot be exactly sure how they will all connect and make something beautiful. But, in the hands of a good artist, all the strings connect and make something beautiful. The same is true for God, who is the artist who weaves together the strings of time, space, matter, energy, and freedom into the fabric of His Love to make something so surpassingly beautiful that we cannot imagine it on this side of eternity.
Like a good embroiderer, God knows how to weave the picture even when strings break or stitches are messed up. He is able to re-connect strings and re-weave stitches and redeem them so that the picture turns out more beautiful, not less, than had been planned. You see, the time line may be known to God, but it is somehow not closed. God not only knows all actual events, but also all possible events. On one hand, it is not that God makes everything happen in a certain way. There is freedom for things to happen differently than they could have. On the other hand, there are no surprises for God. Nothing can happen that makes God say "Wow! I did not think about that!" God has a plan for how to deal with any and every possible choice we could ever make. He has to do this so that His promises actually come true.
Pick your own ending?
In elementary school I read "pick your own ending" books. Within certain boundaries, these books gave me the ability to alter the story line and change how things worked out. It gave me certain decision points that allowed me to see what happened if the characters made different decisions. If Tom decided to go to the house, you would turn to page 9, but if he went to the castle, you would turn to page 13. This would change how the story happened, but often the ending was the same no matter how you got there. All the choices ended up in catching the bad guys and solving the mystery.
God's control over reality is like this. God controls everything by allowing freedom, not by limiting it. Like we said before, He knows every possible thing we could ever choose, and He has a plan to react to anything we could do, so that it steers the course of events to fulfill His promises. On one hand, nothing surprises God, and there is nothing He has not thought of or does not already know. On the other hand, not everything is pre-determined, on a straight line with no deviation. Within certain boundaries there is tons of freedom and choice options which God acts within. God controls reality by allowing the true freedom of His creatures and planning how He will react in any and every possibility.
Like God says through Jeremiah: He is the potter and we are the clay, and He has a plan to form and shape us no matter what we choose. If He tells us that we will be destroyed if we keep going down a certain path, and then we change to His path, He will go to "plan B", and bless us instead. But, if He tells us we will be blessed if we stay on the path we are on, and we veer off of that path into our own selfishness, then He will go to "plan C" and allow pain and trials to come into our life. God allows us total freedom, but He lovingly keeps getting in our face, challenging us to be a better, more loving person. We can choose not to be, but the consequences will be ours to deal with.
When our choices begin to get extremely out of sync with God's plans and boundaries, God will at times step in and act through miracles to redeem and heal us, and guide our lives in a different direction. The best example of this is when God became one of us in Jesus Christ to heal us and guide us. But, every day, in places all over the planet, God's Spirit still speaks to people and still heals them to reverse evil that has been done to them. Like we said in chapter one, while God may allow evil to happen to us, He also will step in to heal and transform that evil into good. God knows exactly when He will do this if we cross certain boundaries. Nothing we could do will catch Him unaware.
Smile, you are on God's camera!
But still, doesn’t God's total knowledge of what we can and will choose make our freedom worthless? Doesn’t it mean that God actually makes us live our lives the way He wants us to? Not at all. Think about a movie that you like to watch over and over at home on video or DVD. Most of us have a movie that we have seen dozens of times, so that we know scene and every line of dialogue by heart. From the moment we put the video in, we know exactly its "future" and how it will end. Yet, we have no control over how the actors said their lines, or what camera angles the director chose, or how the script writer wrote the ending. Our knowledge of what DOES happen in no way means that we CAUSED it to happen. The same is true for God's knowledge of the future. He may know every actual and possible thing that can happen, but He does not directly, effectively cause it.
Speaking of movies, this real life example was given to me from a friend of mine. Have you ever seen the Star Wars movies? In the very first movie released in 1977, the champion Luke Skywalker was played by Mark Hamill. He was a very attractive guy with a perfect nose, and he became an international sex symbol after the movie. But, in-between Star Wars and making its sequel, Empire Strikes Back, Mark Hamill was in a bad car wreck in which his nose was badly broken. In fact, it was such a visible injury that not even the make-up crew could hide it. Hamill's sex symbol status would never quite be the same. Instead of looking young and fresh, he looked weathered and battle-worn.
So, what did the director do? Hire a new Luke Skywalker? No, he made his injury a central aspect of the Empire Strikes Back. He developed a plot line where Luke was nearly killed by an alien monster, his face was disfigured, and barely survived. This incident led to the rebel base being found by the Empire, which eventually led to a huge battle and the rest of the movie's plot. So, when Mark Hamill made a mistake, he was not written out of the script, but the whole script was re-written to redeem his mistake and include it in the ultimate fulfillment of the script.
God does that with our lives, if we will let Him and trust Him to guide our lives. We are in God's story. He is the author, the director. He knows where the plot line is going, and he wants to write us into the script. If we will turn from selfishness and choose to love Him, He will write us into the story of the universe... the story that will be told over and over forever. He will take our worst mistakes and give them reason and purpose, but we have to choose to be part of the story. Like I have quoted several times and will quote several times more: God works all things for the good of those who LOVE Him and are called according to His PURPOSE.
A cosmic thought experiment
While we are on this subject, allow me to day dream for just a second about our freedom and God's control of all things and how God will work all things out for the good. What I am about to say is probably bad theology and bad science, but it is a good daydream, so I will say it anyway.
So far we have talked about Heisenberg, sub-atomic particles, and how freedom appears from the very bottom of reality to the very top. But, there is a very profound question that comes out of this observation: Why is one choice made over another? Why does a sub-atomic particle seem to choose to bounce from one energy state to another? Why does a woman choose to make a turkey sandwich instead of a ham sandwich? Why is reality one way and not another? The very brief answer is freedom: they just chose them that way. The only other alternative was determinism and that would have destroyed freedom and thus destroyed the ability to give and share love.
But what about the choice not chosen? What about the path not taken? What about those who do not choose God? In the 1950's a physicist named Hugh Everett came out with a very interesting and very controversial interpretation of the phenomenon of freedom in the universe called the "many worlds theory". In very, very simplified form this theory states that every time a free-choice event could happen differently, whether it is the movement of a particle or the choice of a person, reality actually splits in two, with each new reality existing on parallel time lines in separate dimensions.
This leads to an infinity of realities in which every possibility becomes an actual reality. This "many worlds" interpretation of physics is the basis for several books and movies, such as the 2004 movie "The Butterfly Effect". This theory is hotly debated, and even flatly rejected, by many physicists (although there are many who find the idea possible, and even realistic). If this "many worlds" idea were right, what would it do for the interaction between God and creation?
First, it would allow for the maximum freedom of God's creation, which would also maximize the amount of Love God can share with created beings, since every being, in some version of reality, would choose to accept and not deny God's Love. It would also maximize the compassion and mercy of God, because the death and resurrection of Christ would not only be to bear the pain, suffering, and evil of this reality, but also the suffering of all realities.
Second, it would maximize the creativity and glory of God, since, like a great artist, He would be able to create each and every possible version of reality. What is more fitting to an absolutely perfect, holy, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God: a single universe where only one possible outcome becomes reality, or an infinite "multi-verse", where every possible outcome becomes reality? The "many worlds" multi-verse seems to fit the awesomeness of God better.
Third, it would maximize the salvation of every created being in the universe. God could truly save and redeem all of creation without violating anyone's freedom. Imagine the day of the last judgment, when all of the separated versions of our "self" would be re-combined and re-integrated as one person. All of those evil choices that had denied God and harmed others would be burned away by the fire of God's love, just like a refiner's fire burns away the impurities of gold ore to leave only pure gold. The pain and consequences of those choices would be taken by God Himself in Christ, and we would be forgiven. All that would be left behind would be that perfected version of ourselves that was truly loving and kind and good and filled with the Love of Christ.
All our imperfections and every evil would be damned forever, destroyed by the fire of God's Love and sent to "hell", while every person would be saved to eternally enjoy fellowship with God and each other face to face. And all of this while maintaining the true freedom of every created thing. Now this is probably a bad reading of Scripture and a doubtful interpretation of physics, and I will be the first to admit it. But still... what if? What more glorious and exalted vision of the Love of God could there be? What better joining of the absolute control of God and the total freedom of humanity could there be?
Our true destiny is to choose Love or hate
Even if this is not true, I hope that something like this would be true and that somehow God's Love will actually reach every created thing! Even if it will not happen, it should be the hope of everyone who truly loves Jesus Christ and really loves those created in His image. We should all hope that somehow the Love of God will reach everyone in the end. That is, after all, the hope of God Himself. If you don't believe it, then check out John 3:16-21, 1Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9, and Ezekiel 33:11.
But, in the end, we do not know exactly how God will bring about the loving consummation of all of reality. We do not know exactly how His control interacts with our freedom, although I hope I have given some good pictures to help make sense of it. It really is a mystery. But what is clear is this: God really is in control, but we really are free also. God really effectively causes good, but also allows evil. Yet, God really does have a plan to work all things out for our good, but we have to trust and love Him for that plan to work out. We really do have the choice of whether to do that or not. We are not God's puppets. We are His beloved children. Now, the choice is yours. Will you choose to Love Him and follow His plan? Or will you become your own "god"?