God the Blogger

While commenting on TC Robinson’s Open Letter to an Open Theist, I realised that I had found an interesting analogy which might help to explain some of the complex issues of free will and predestination. Or maybe the whole thing is just far too simplistic.

It is an old analogy to compare the relationship between God and the created world with that between an author and the fictional world of his or her novel. On this analogy God is in full control of the whole storyline, of everything which happens. The characters in the novel may have free will within that fictional world, but in the real world they have no freedom, indeed no independent existence. As I understand it this kind of model corresponds quite well with Calvinism. It is consistent with the compatibilism which Jeremy Pierce finds in Calvinism in that the characters have real free will within their own world. It is hard to argue against such a model. Yet somehow it is not a compelling one because it reduces the dignity of humanity to a set of pawns in the mind of God.

I would like to put forward a rather different model in which God is a blogger! He can post what he likes on his blog, including stories of a world he has created and the people who inhabit it. But my model differs from the one of God as novelist in that human beings, spiritual beings like God, are not just characters described on the blog but also in the same world as God, perhaps “seated in the heavenly places”, and with real free will not controlled by God. As such they are able to read the blog, and, crucially, also have some input into it.

God as a blogger could of course make his blog entirely read-only, as for example Adrian Warnock has done. By doing so he would on my understanding make it not a blog at all. In my model this would correspond with a Calvinist position in which God decides everything, at least in the real world, with human freedom restricted to the world inside the non-blog. This is equivalent to the model of God as novelist. It is perhaps not accidental that non-blogs like this are popular among Calvinists.

But on my preferred version of the model God has chosen, voluntarily, to open up the blog so that others, humans, can interact with him on it. On a real blog that interaction is typically limited to commenting. But on my model the humans can also write the main text, within limits set by God which might include that they can only write or edit posts about themselves. Indeed God might let the humans do most of the posting at least about matters which concern them, getting involved himself only when the humans ask him to or to put things right when they go seriously wrong. Thus what happens in the stories on the blog depends largely on the genuinely free decisions of the humans in God’s world, and not just on what God determines. Actually perhaps a wiki is a better analogy here than a blog.

Nevertheless, God retains complete control of the blog. He can moderate and reverse any edits. He can withdraw access privileges from those who abuse them. He can also write people in and out of the story as and when he wishes. In the blog world he is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent.

Crucially for the open theism debate, if he decides to do something on the blog, nothing can stop him doing it. This does not mean that he controls everything that happens on the blog. But it does mean that if he announces a plan to do something at a certain time and in a certain way we can be sure that he actually can and will do it, even if in order to do so he has to undo some things which others have done.

I’m not sure how good a model this is of the interaction between God, his creation and humanity. It is certainly not a perfect one. But it may be closer to the truth than the model of God as novelist. And it may address some of the issues which have led to Open Theism, the idea that God doesn’t exhaustively know the future, without following that path to its false conclusion of that God is not omnipotent.

0 thoughts on “God the Blogger

  1. Peter said:

    The characters in the novel may have free will within that fictional world, but in the real world they have no freedom, indeed no independent existence. As I understand it this kind of model corresponds quite well with Calvinism. It is consistent with the compatibilism which Jeremy Pierce finds in Calvinism in that the characters have real free will within their own world. It is hard to argue against such a model. Yet somehow it is not a compelling one because it reduces the dignity of humanity to a set of pawns in the mind of God.

    God as a novelist keeps intact the sovereignty of God. The novelist knows the story (omniscience) and determines its outcome (omnipotence) as the characters are developed. But this doesn’t seem to correspond with my understanding of compatibilism.

    In compatibilism both God and the individual are 100% contributing to the storyline, but there’s an element of mystery along the way. Now trying to figure out this element of mystery has led to open theism, on the one hand, and calvinistic fatalism on the other hand.

    But on my preferred version of the model God has chosen, voluntarily, to open up the blog so that others, humans, can interact with him on it. On a real blog that interaction is typically limited to commenting. But on my model the humans can also write the main text, within limits set by God which might include that they can only write or edit posts about themselves. Indeed God might let the humans do most of the posting at least about matters which concern them, getting involved himself only when the humans ask him to or to put things right when they go seriously wrong. Thus what happens in the stories on the blog depends largely on the genuinely free decisions of the humans in God’s world, and not just on what God determines. Actually perhaps a wiki is a better analogy here than a blog.

    If humans are writing the main text, then God is not sovereign of the universe. Humans are. In this model God has been reduced to the level of a janitor, to clean up afther the main players mess.

    Crucially for the open theism debate, if he decides to do something on the blog, nothing can stop him doing it. This does not mean that he controls everything that happens on the blog. But it does mean that if he announces a plan to do something at a certain time and in a certain way we can be sure that he actually can and will do it, even if in order to do so he has to undo some things which others have done.

    Now I’m finding out that open theists are not unified in their thinking on these matters.

    Whatever happened to Isaiah and Jeremiah’s potter and clay analogy? I personally don’t believe in God as a puppet master and we humans as puppets. But neither do I want to undermine God’s omniscience and omnipotence.

    By the way, What is free will?

  2. TC, thanks for this.

    If humans are writing the main text, then God is not sovereign of the universe. Humans are.

    I suppose this depends what you mean by “sovereign”, a word I avoided in my post. But what are the alternatives? God writes the whole text and humans write nothing? That’s the puppet master position which you reject. God writes the main text but lets humans do a little bit round the edges? But by your argument that makes God not completely sovereign.

    Now I accept that God writes the main text concerning creation and the overall plan of salvation. But on my view the basics of each person’s life are written by that person. This is more like the ordinary human view of a sovereign, under whom ordinary humans have a degree of free will to do what they want, but who intervenes and if necessary punishes those who don’t do the sovereign’s will. Attributing a stronger concept of sovereignty than this to God is not clearly biblical but is part of the puppet master model which you are rejecting. You can’t have both.

  3. TC, I forgot to answer your last question. It is a good one! I don’t know. Ask Jeremy Pierce. But there are two different concepts of it in the God as novelist, characters free within the fictional world model and the God as blogger, humans free to in the same world as him model.

  4. I suppose this depends what you mean by “sovereign”, a word I avoided in my post. But what are the alternatives? God writes the whole text and humans write nothing? That’s the puppet master position which you reject. God writes the main text but lets humans do a little bit round the edges? But by your argument that makes God not completely sovereign.

    Compatibilism is the most viable, for in it both God and humans are 100% involved, allowing God to be God and humans to be humans, but with that element of mystery. If there’s not that element of mystery, then we should just forget about Deut 29:29 and Isa 55:8, 9.

    This much is clear: the deterministic God of some calvinists has its problem, and I’m still trying to understand the God of open theists.

    Now I accept that God writes the main text concerning creation and the overall plan of salvation. But on my view the basics of each person’s life are written by that person. This is more like the ordinary human view of a sovereign, under whom ordinary humans have a degree of free will to do what they want, but who intervenes and if necessary punishes those who don’t do the sovereign’s will.

    And nothing should prevent this God of your model to be a deist, since humans has the free will to write their own story at will.

  5. TC, the problem I see with compatibilism is that it is logically equivalent to the “God the novelist” scenario, or at least a “God the puppet-master” one, in which the characters he creates have free will within the world of the novel or puppet show, but within the world God inhabits God makes all the decisions. That does not make compatibilism wrong, but it does give me concerns about it. But I agree that we should not presume to understand what God has chosen to keep secret.

    As for God being a deistic God, my model would allow him to be an absent blogger who allows humans to mess up the blog as much as they like, but ignores it or just reads it. But that is not what our God is like. He has intervened in the story in all kinds of ways, and continues to do so. I could develop the model to bring in how he intervenes in the story through Jesus Christ, and still today through his Holy Spirit. But models should be allowed their limits.

  6. The “God as blogger” model also works for analogizing how prayer works. In a typical blog, the blogger is responsive to commenters and often even changes his or her posting agenda based on what some of the commenters say, just as God can respond in how he’s going to act based on people’s prayers.

  7. Thanks, Indecisive. Again this contrasts with a Calvinist view that prayer doesn’t actually change anything, which is more like a blog which doesn’t accept comments, or one on which they are accepted but disappear into moderation and never actually appear on the blog.

  8. Again this contrasts with a Calvinist view that prayer doesn’t actually change anything, which is more like a blog which doesn’t accept comments, or one on which they are accepted but disappear into moderation and never actually appear on the blog.

    Good point! This picture makes everything predetermined. Hmm… Something indeed to consider.

  9. Hi Peter,
    I enjoyed your ‘God as a blogger’ analogy – I’ll have to consider it a bit longer though!

    You know, what I’ve always found intriguing about the ‘God as a novelist’ idea is the reported experience of novelists themselves.

    When you listen to people who write stories – especially those who write great stories – it seems that often they will tell you that while they may have invented the characters and placed them in a setting at the beginning, that, as the novel continued, the characters seemed to take over and almost write the story themselves. Perhaps you’ve heard authors talking about their characters taking on ‘a life of their own’?

    So, although I too am not that keen on the idea I might be following a predetermined ‘script’, I’ve never worried about the ‘God as a Novelist’ analogy that much!
    And it is reassuring to know that God has “known the end from the beginning” (Is 46.10).

  10. Also, I just thought, have you come across NT Wright’s analogy of a Shakespeare play from ‘Scripture and the Authority of God’ (I found this earlier version in this lecture – it’s about half way through)? This is more about our engagement with Scripture and what it means for the Bible, as a story, to be authoritative, but it’s interesting as an illustration nevertheless.

    Suppose there exists a Shakespeare play whose fifth act had been lost. …give the key parts to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors, who would immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves.

    Consider the result. The first four acts, existing as they did, would be the undoubted ‘authority’ for the task in hand. That is, anyone could properly object to the new improvisation on the grounds that this or that character was now behaving inconsistently, or that this or that sub-plot or theme, adumbrated earlier, had not reached its proper resolution. This ‘authority’ of the first four acts would not consist in an implicit command that the actors should repeat the earlier pans of the play over and over again. It would consist in the fact of an as yet unfinished drama, which contained its own impetus, its own forward movement, which demanded to be concluded in the proper manner but which required of the actors a responsible entering in to the story as it stood, in order first to understand how the threads could appropriately be drawn together, and then to put that understanding into effect by speaking and acting with both innovation and consistency.

  11. Ironically, I had started a post based on your comments at TC’s blog, but then I left town for the weekend… so rather than post it and be redundant, I’ll just excerpt some of the points into a comment here and keep everything together:

    In your initial comment on TC’s blog, you observed that God has chosen to allow “comments” on his blog… er, creation.

    WordPressians are familiar with several ways of doing this, including open posting from everyone, fully moderated comments and initial moderation. The first method results in blogs quickly becoming overwhelmed with spam posts and other off-topic undesirable information. The second method is the most restrictive and results in only author-approved comments appearing, perhaps to the exclusion of critics. The last method is what most people do: force everyone through an initial moderation screen, but then allow open comments after that.

    If we look around creation, I’m led to conclude that God “has chosen” the first method, allowing all forms and types of comments on his creation, both on topic and off topic. However, can we extend the analogy to “the elect”? Does God allow himself to be worshiped by only those who he’s moderated, e.g. chosen to have life in Christ, or does he accept worship from all of the unwashed masses?

  12. Clare, thanks for your comments, including Wright’s analogy. I suppose the Shakespeare play model is just an upmarket version of the novel one, but with the added twist that suddenly the author stops being in control, which does not correspond to anything theologically plausible. Somehow I am not satisfied with the idea that I am just a character in God’s novel or play who has taken on a life of my own.

    Thanks, ElShaddai. I agree that God doesn’t moderate comments! I would hold that God allows worship from all, but doesn’t allow everyone into his presence. An analogy might be that he simply ignores comments from the wrong people. But then who are the wrong people? If “unwashed”, then only spiritually so!

    By the way, I don’t “force everyone through an initial moderation screen”, but I do use Akismet (effectively part of WordPress) to catch the vast majority of spam.

  13. Thanks Peter for this idea about God blogging. It made me think of some ideas in French Protestantism which have been doing the rounds in the past decade about the “espace publique” – public space or simply just space. So if God blogs then the the ever evolving and being written and re-written blog would be the structured but open space of creation. I’d need to try and dust off the article where Paul Keller talks about this but I think there’s also something about the espace being important not just for those who actually debate and discuss but also for the listeners and for those on the fringes of the espace. Something that is in continual interaction.
    But then I wondered whether sometimes God’s blog is read and commented on by noone very much just maybe by a minority of cranks who think God’s creation is worth wondering at and worrying about … God’s blogging, creating and recreating and communicating and we couldn’t care less…
    Sorry late night stream of consciousness, must get some sleep

  14. On the problem of predestination and free will I prefer Spinoza’s answer: what gives us a sense of freedom is the ability to understand the conditions we are in.

    I believe this is in his Ethics.

    Of course this may not be directly within the scope of the discussion here, but I thought it is related, and may be of interest.

    Uri Hurwitz Wilmington Vt

  15. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Does God know the future? Does prayer make a difference?

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