Seeing Providence in the Chaos of Nature and Video Game Thieves

Paul Vander Klay

The recovery community has a saying, "expectations are preconceived resentments". The angrier or safer people feel the freer they become to share their resentments and many of these resentments are against God. Usually these resentments are based upon some history of hurt. God's providential governance of the universe appears overly haphazard and risky and we quickly complain that if we were given God's power we could out perform his management choices. We are more than uncomfortable about God's record of providential management and this leads to doubts about God's existence, goodness, and power and sometimes explodes into outright rejection.

While we complain about God's providence we experience, we can fairly easily embrace notions of natural evolution as being somehow good. While we're uncomfortable with God's governance over our personal or communal narratives we're more comfortable imagining his evolutionary management of the development of life on planet earth. Despite liking to think of ourselves as being animal friendly, giving to the ASPCA or choosing eggs from free range chickens over those raised in cages, we're surprisingly non-judgmental towards evolution for the wholesale massacre of the majority of living species that have ever called this planet home. Somehow I can't let God off the hook for not stopping a painful episode in my life but I can easily give him a pass for the enormous historical destructions wrought by asteroid strikes or volcanic eruptions. What does this say about the biases expressed in my evaluation of God's rulership?

Tim Stafford has a personal blog and lately he's been doing a wonderful summary of some of John Polkinghorne's work. Polkinghorne is one of those rare figures who is an expert in both Christian theology and physics. I find his thoughts engaging and stimulating. Stafford quotes Polkinghorne as asking why couldn't God choose to create life through “the shuffling explorations of possibility, which we choose to call ‘chance.’“ [Beyond Science, 77]. This is a really good question and when I think about it I notice that this is exactly the kind of process we see in Biblical stories. In the Bible God works his way through history through events that look risky, direction-less and purposeless like we find in nature, even using creatures as willful, senseless and unpredictable as ourselves. Yet somehow through the writings of this library of texts drawn together over centuries, a thread emerges that speaks of purpose, redemption, joy and glory. Sometimes the path seems so haphazard and strained that we throw up our hands imagining we're reading purpose into the texts, at other times it seems crystal clear and miraculous.

One of my children has been playing a computer game called "Uncharted 2". In it an adventurer/thief navigates an exotic and dangerous world searching for lost treasure from Marco Polo. I'm amazed at the skill of the programmers in this game. At any moment the player seems to be able to express complete freedom, exploring, running, climbing, fighting, yet as you play the game you realize that the developers have you progressing along a well thought through path towards a very specific destination. Your freedom appears unlimited yet because the game designers have mastery over this universe they are very subtly leading and guiding along the way. As I watch the game unfold I begin to imagine how God works through seeming chaos, chance and human agency while also moving towards purpose and fulfillment.

The reason the recovery community asserts that expectations are preconceived resentments is because they want us to recognize our self-serving biases which are in fact self-defeating. If this is true of our expectation based judgments towards each other, how much more is it true of our evaluation of God's rulership. When I see order and beauty coming out of seeming chaos in nature, when I see glory and joy coming out of seeming lostness in Biblical stories, when I see how even human world sub-creators can engineer this into computer games, it helps me believe that God's providence may also be true and good in the chaos and confusion of my own unfolding story.

Topics: Games, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Entertainment, News & Politics, Media