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Why We Can’t Know Why

• Greg Boyd

This week in our Moving Pictures series we explore the film ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ to better understand the complexities of a world with free will. Every decision we make unfolds massive ripple effects, making it almost impossible to know why things happen as they do. Our hope in the midst of this beautifully complex world is found in God who is infinitely smarter than we can ever understand.

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Every single decision we make in life has with it massive ripple effects, just like tossing stones into a pond. We live in a world of free-will where people are gifted with the freedom to make choices. This is God’s plan for the world. From the very beginning, the theme of the story of God and the created order is Love, for God is love. And we know that true love requires the freedom to choose.

There is, however, another worldview that attempts to articulate why things happen the way that they do. Greg describes this as the Blueprint worldview. In this model, the created order is entirely planned out. Every choice, happening, experience (good or evil) unfolds in perfect accordance with the script that God designed before you or I were born. According to the blueprint worldview, humans and non-human agents alike make decisions based on the script that God wrote from the dawn of time.

This week we explore the rich complexities of this world by looking at the film The Adjustment Bureau. In this film what we see is that instead of making decisions based on a blueprint scripted worldview, we our decision making process is much more in line with a ‘choose your own adventure’ story. This choose your own adventure story script contains many possibilities of what may or may not happen. For ever decision we make opens up many other possibilities and closes other possibilities.

But many of us may be asking, “Doesn’t a choose your own adventure worldview limit the knowledge of God?” For those who adhere to a blueprint model, God always knows exactly what is going to happen because every single thing has been predestined from the beginning of all things. In the free-will, choose your own adventure model, we see that God’s omniscience is not, in fact, limited, but rather much, much larger than we can ever understand. We must not allow ourselves to think that God isnt capable of providentially governing a world with free-will. On the contrary, God providentially guides the created order within the beauty of our free will adventures, for every choice we make, God can anticipate each and every possibility and ripple effect of our choices.

As we examine the narrative of God’s relationship with the world, we find that there are many examples within scripture that support this choose your own adventure worldview. For example, in Exodus 4:1, just after God instructs Moses to go assemble the elders of Israel, telling them that God has heard their cries for freedom from the Egyptians, Moses says to God, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me…” Here we see that God told Moses that God is going to free Israel, yet Moses reveals the possibility that the Israelites may not believe him. When we read the story further, we see that God had already anticipated that possibility, for God then says to Moses, “If they will not believe you or heed the first sign, they may believe the second sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or heed you, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (Exodus 4:8-9).

God can anticipate each possibility. God has planned for Moses to display miracles before the Israelites in the event they choose not to believe Moses at his word. There is freedom within the will of God, and within that freedom of choosing our own adventure, God can easily fashion together new plans and purposes. Perhaps nowhere in scripture to we see this re-designing and re-fashioning that in the story of the potter and the clay as told in Jeremiah 18:5-11. In this story the clay had become spoiled in the potter’s hand, so he reworked it into another vessel as seemed pleasing to him. If we allow ourselves to be as moldable and humble as the clay in the potter’s hand, God is more freely able to guide and shape our lives into new and beautiful ways!

It might be impossible to know why things happen the way that we do. But we do know God, and that is where our trust and confidence is to take root. Greg provides for us three key take-home points. The first is to know and to trust that God is good. Even when suffering happens, we know that is was not destined to be this way by the will of God, but rather as a result of human free will, and God is so mercifully able to fashion something beautiful from the pain. The second point to note is that God is super, super smart! God can anticipate the limitless possibilities that are woven within the choose your own adventure worldview. Not everything happens for a purpose in this worldview, but everything happens with a purpose. Third and finally, pray! Pray creates massive ripples within the realm of things seen and things unseen. We are to pray with great fervor for the kingdom of heaven to come, for good to be born from suffering, for light to overcome darkness, for soft hearts to be fashioned in the hands of the potter. Prayer changes the shape of the universe!

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Topics: Culture, Free Will, God's Will, Kingdom of God

Sermon Series: Moving Pictures


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Focus Scripture:

  • Exodus 13:17

    When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.”

  • Jeremiah 18:5-11

    Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.

    And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

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2 thoughts on “Why We Can’t Know Why

  1. Christy Frye says:

    This message really resonated with me. I’ve been struggling with the “whys” of late and Greg’s explanation of how we can’t always know because there are so many different variables in situations, made such sense…I also loved the way he described the effectiveness of prayer as making ripples…Thanks so much for this Sermon Pastor Greg!

  2. Josh Brist says:

    Christy, I felt much the same way. This opened my eyes to some ways of thinking that I’d not fully considered before. There are still more questions but I am blessed knowing that God is good.

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