Monday, February 11, 2008

God is greater than Shakespeare

Until now, I could only dream of putting these thoughts into words.

Now the reason we have a problem with God’s control of free actions is that we do not want to say that men are nothing more than puppets. But the assumption of "puppetry" is a false inference. God's relationship to us is not that of a bully on the playground making others do what he demands. It is more like Shakespeare and Macbeth -- the more Shakespeare writes, the freer Macbeth gets. Macbeth never wonders how he wound up in such a coercive play.

Objections to this illustation come quickly. Yes, but we are much greater than two-dimensional literary characters. What about that? Well, God is much greater than Shakespeare. And His greatness surpasses that of Shakespeare much more completely than ours surpasses that of the characters in the plays. So the analogy does break down, but not in the way we would like. And further, the analogy of the playwright and play is in no substantive way different than the scriptural illustration of the potter and the clay, and the same objection can be brought, and answered the same way. We are greater than a lump of clay. Yes, but God is much greater than a Potter.

And besides, if God's control of human actions annihiliates the freedom of those actions, then this means that the orthodox doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture is destroyed. Is Romans the word of Paul or the Word of God? You have, by this objection, established the fact that it can't be both, right? So which is it?

Read the whole thing.


Anonymous said...

Mike - I hope you will let me point out one huge difference between the analogy of the potter and the clay, and Doug's analogy of Shakespeare and Macbeth.

In Jeremiah 18:2-12, God says,"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 ... (6b - 10, NIV). Notice: "If that nation REPENTS, then I will RELENT" - and so on.

No such choice did any author of fiction give to his characters. It would be ludicrous. Shakespeare was the AUTHOR of his characters' actions.

Isaiah 64:8 quotes Israel as saying, "We are the clay, you are the potter," followed by a complaint about the sad state of Israel and Jerusalem. Chapter 65 gives God's answer: "All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people ... who continually provoke me to my very face ... I called but you did not answer ... You did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me" (vv. 2, 3, 12, NIV).

God was not the author of choices that displeased him. Israel made those choices. They CHOSE what DISPLEASED the Potter.

Therefore, the analogy of the potter and the clay differs substantively from the analogy of Shakespeare and Macbeth.

Please note: My objection to Wilson's analogy is not philisophical. It is TEXTUAL.

MJK said...

"Anonymous" -- Your objection is not philosophical, but neither is it relevant. Wilson would be very happy with all the texts you cite, and would then ask, "So what's the problem?"

In literature every author's characters make choices. Real choices. Macbeth chooses to kill Duncan and Banquo. No one reading this story says "Macbeth is not at fault, it is Shakespeare that authored the choice." We don't read literature that way. And the prophecy of Isaiah is literature.

Anonymous said...

It may be true that Isaiah is literature, but it is not FICTION.

The actual historical person, Macbeth, certainly had a will and was certainly responsible for his actions. But both his will and his actions were entirely independent of Shakespeare, since Macbeth died two or three hundred years before Shakespeare was born. To make Shakespeare's relationship with the historical Macbeth analogous to God's relationship with his creatures is ludicrous.

That brings us back to the fictional character. However accurate Shakespeare's presentation of the historical facts may be, his portayal of Macbeth is the product of Shakespeare's imagination.

Therefore, Doug's analogy differs substantively from the biblical analogy of the potter and the clay.

Thank you for making the objections of your elderly sister public. I still love you dearly.


MJK said...

Margaret, Doug Wilson's analogy actually works better when it is fiction. The question is, is God writing a narrative or not? Is he writing a drama of redemption? Or is he just facilitating another Reality Show? Wilson contends that it's a drama that God is writing. And in dramas, like all stories, the characters make real choices. Shakespeare authors the play. The play ends up where Shakespeare wants it to end up, and it gets there the way he wants it to. The audience sees what Shakespeare wants it to see. But not one person in the audience cries out in defense of Macbeth, "Don't blame him, Shakespeare done it!" We don't read Shakespeare's plays that way. We shouldn't read God's drama that way either.

If you still don't see the usefulness of Wilson's analogy, I could write a big post explaining how helpful it is for me, but that kind of defeats the purpose of analogies in the first place.

The love is reciprocated, and thanks for identifying yourself.


Anonymous said...

What you are saying is exactly the point, Mike. NOBODY punishes the fictional character for what Shakespeare caused him to do.

But God will certainly punish the Macbeth who died in 1057 for whatever sins he committed, IF he did not repent and believe the gospel.

The analogy in Isaiah IS explained for us, right in the passage. And the explanation seems clear to me. God is offering real choices to a nation of real people, and if they choose what displeases him, they will receive the punishment that their Sovereign God is warning them of.

As for God's plan of redemption, that is exactly what Isaiah and Romans 9 are all about. Maybe that's where the answer will be found.

I'm afraid I can't read the Word of God as I would read Shakespeare, but I'm willing to leave it at that.

And I have enjoyed your comments on Philippians, by the way.


MJK said...

I actually said the opposite, Margaret. Please re-read my comment.

And in the story, the fictional character Macbeth does receive retribution for what he's done. And Shakespeare doesn't. That's the point.