Sunday, July 24, 2005

Lola and the sovereignty of God

I just re-watched the vibrantly creative German film Lola rennt (Run, Lola) with my oldest son, Matthew. It's quite the roller-coaster ride! This movie embraces a unique premise, as do the films Memento and The Sixth Sense -- though it is like neither film.

The filmmaker probably did not mean to say anything profound about God, yet he did, indirectly.

I despise unannounced spoilers, and will try to avoid them; if you're going to see it, I advise you to do the same. Read no reviews until you see the movie. (Be warned: there is a fair amount of German cursing, very plain in the subtitles.)

Stylistically, this film hits the ground (if you'll pardon me) running, and keeps up the pace. Genres are mixed, camera styles and music combine to tell a driving, moving, pressing, insistent tale. It is at least meant to raise questions. Indeed, the opening narration poses such broad and probing questions as "Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? How do we know what we believe to know? Why do we believe anything at all?"

The movie's contents uniquely press the question of what colossal difference might be made by the slightest variation in history. What might have happened if I had arrived twenty seconds earlier, or later? What if I'd ordered a burger instead of a salad? What if this conversation had gone two sentences longer, or two shorter? What if I'd bypassed this woman instead of bumping into her? Run, Lola haunts us with these hypotheticals, riveting our eyes to the screen... and the subtitles.

Of course, no mortal can answer these questions with anything approaching certainty. From the total number of available facts, we all know the slimmest fragment of a percentage. And of the facts we know, we understand only a small subset, we assign the correct significance and meaning to an assortment that a tiny baby could hold in his hand. On this at least, Bildad had it right: "For we are but of yesterday and know nothing, for our days on earth are a shadow" (Job 8:9).

And yet, on the basis of this microscopic database, we so often feel fit to judge God.

We pray about a situation, and it turns out "wrong." We think in our heart of hearts that God slipped up, He goofed. Seldom would we say as much; but in our internal ledger, God gets a red mark. A malicious mistake on His part? We hope not. Ill-informed and inattentive? Perhaps. At any rate, it is the kindest (!) interpretation we can put on His mistake.

Yet of course the truth of the matter is that God's omniscience, while it may be what theologians have called a "communicable attribute" (i.e. we share a small replica of it), hasn't been communicated much! Yes, we know a few bits of information here and there; but God knows all, exhaustively, without exception, past, present, and future. We understand a subset of what we do know; yet God's understanding is literally inexhausible, infinite, unlimited, and absolute. He gives each consideration the perfect weight, sees its significance perfectly, assigns it its place in the grand scheme of things inerrantly. And He does this flawlessly, the first time, every time.

God never has to reconsider, rethink, regroup. He never has to revise. It isn't that He is unwilling to do these things, or too proud; it is that they are utterly unnecessary. When you're right, first time and all the time, there's no need for an eraser or a "delete" key!

Again, the contrast with us could scarcely be more stark.

Have you ever known the sort of person (or worse have you ever been the sort of person), who seemingly never reconsiders or rethinks? Who never goes back over a decision, a stance, a statement, to analyze it anew and apply fresh information? Who never repents or apologizes?

There is only one Being in all the universe who can behave this way, and not be a pigheaded fool. That would be God.

And yet we have heard people say that God messed up here or there, that God dropped this or that ball, that God wrongly allowed something to happen. God help us, we've probably said or thought it ourselves.

But have you ever thought through that feeling, that attitude? Have you ever seen what breathtaking arrogance, what stunning audacity, what world-stopping hubris fuels such an attitude? Have you ever owned up to the fact that you and I are pitting our pathetic little blowing dustpile of knowledge against literally infinite knowledge and inexhaustible wisdom, and that we are saying "I got it right, and You got it wrong"?

This is why people so often hate the ending of the book of Job.

God allowed Job to be tempted and tried harshly and severely. It is impossible not to sympathize for him. At first, Job takes it astonishingly well. But as his "friends" keep doing amateur surgery with their broken plastic butter knives, seaching for what sin he committed to deserve and cause his misfortunes, Job becomes unhinged. He charges God with injustice (Job 27:2), and wrongdoing. Job "was righteous in his own eyes" (Job 32:1). He had "justified himself rather than God" (Job 32:2).

So then, when God appears, we want Him to answer Job. We want Him to explain things to Job, on Job's terms. We want Him to say, "Here's why I did what I did. Let me explain it in a way you can understand and accept." And then we want Him to ask, "Is that okay with you now?"

But He does nothing of the sort. In fact, He isn't even what we would call nice. He literally rides in on a whirlwind, and says in effect, "Job, you want to argue as equals, fine. All I ask is a chance to glance over your resume first, make sure we really are equals. And then, you're on."

So Yahweh challenges Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements - surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, 7 when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?...."

And that's just the opening sally.

On and on this barrage goes, until Job confesses His smallness and ignorance.

"I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.' I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:2-7)
This leaves us dissatisfied. Job is not answered. Instead, he is humbled.

But this of course misses the point. Job is answered; we just really hate the answer. We want a God big enough to give us what we want, but small enough to bend to our will. Big enough to save and keep us, but small enough to deal with us on our terms, accept our agenda, share our values and goals.

And so Job gets the answer, "I get to be God, and you don't. Your role is to trust Me, fear Me, respect Me. Get that premise straight. Then we can talk." Job's blessedness is restored, and we "have seen the outcome from the Lord: the Lord is very compassionate and merciful" (James 5:11 HCSB). God is sovereign and absolute, and we are not; He is moved, at any time, by considerations to which we have absolutely no access. Our wisest course is to humble ourselves under His mighty hand, that He might exalt us in due time (cf. James 4:6-7; 1 Peter 5:5b-6).

Back to Lola, then. God does know what would have happened if you'd taken Freshman Trig instead of Intro to Geometry. God does know what would have happened if you'd gone to the 4:40 showing of Fantastic Four instead of the 6:30 showing, or if you'd seen Star Wars 3 instead.
And God knows what would have happened if you'd married this man instead of that, gotten this job instead of that, used this preposition instead of that... He knows all of it, and furthermore He understands all of it in all of its infinite implications stretching from this moment until the end of the Millennial Kingdom.

And knowing all that, He rules history, from the toss of the dice (Proverbs 16:33) to the thoughts of the king (Proverbs 22:1), from the course of the stars (Psalm 136:7-9) to the fall of a sparrow (Matthew 10:29). And what's more, from that perspective of infinite, inexhausible knowledge, He determines the course of your life and mine. We must plan our way, but God overrules (Proverbs 16:9).

We can fight it and make ourselves miserable and useless arguing against it, or we can accept it and glory in it and rejoice in God's wise goodness. But we can't change it.

A man's steps are from the LORD;
how then can man understand his way?
(Proverbs 20:24)

I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself,
that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
(Jeremiah 10:23)

These are some thoughts that running Lola provokes. These, and one more:
So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy (Romans 9:16 NASB)

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