Turtles, Trees, and the Spiral of Time

Today’s guest post is from bereaved parent Joy Bennett.


Joy Bennett

I’ve always pictured time as a line, with me an unchanging dot moving from moment to moment from birth on one end to death at the other. I have an almost visceral reaction to thinking of time, and myself within it, like this. In this model, I am static. The dot that is me remains unchanged as it moves through each moment. And at points of loss, the vision of me moving relentlessly farther and farther away from the person lost aches to my core.

I read something recently that describes time as a spiral. The spiral illustrates how then is very much a part of now and it all influences what’s next. It describes how dynamic and alive we are as we move through life.

I think time-as-spiral is a better model. It recognizes that we are more than a static pile of cells.  We are constantly being shaped by the interaction of our individual characteristics and choices, our past (the full spectrum of joys and pains we’ve experienced), and our future (our goals and plans and dreams).

I am the person I am today because of my past experiences, my joys and pains, and the quirks that make me me. You are the person you are today because of what makes you you, what you’ve experienced already, and what you hope to do in the future.

I am fascinated by the ways each person’s experiences shapes them, and how much they control that shaping. A lack of depth of experience renders a person less developed but less scarred. A wide and deep range of emotional experience can ripen a person into a rooted maturity, or it can singe them into a scarred, cynical shell.

My own life experience was relatively unremarkable before the birth of our first child. I overcame a handful of hurdles growing up: a few small heart-breaks, the deaths of two grandfathers, a cross-country move, the crucible of working as a resident assistant in a conservative Baptist college’s dormitory. (Two words: not fun.) Engagement, wedding planning, and the first year of marriage were mostly euphoric, with a few requisite lows, some tears, and a lot of talking things out. I remember sensing that life had been too calm and that something big was coming.

Then Elli arrived. We were catapulted into what seemed like an alternate universe. Hearing words like, “I wish I could say, ‘but the good news is ___,’ but I can’t” fires depth charges into your soul.Kissing your infant goodbye before surgery, knowing that the odds are 1 in 5 that she’ll survive for you to kiss her again, is one of the darkest paths one can tread. The sleepless nights caring for a child too sick to catch a breath or stop coughing or who just can’t sleep confronts you with darkness that you never dreamed lurked inside yourself.

That alternate universe wasn’t all dark desperation, though. We uncovered the pure delight of watching a child learn how to laugh, discovering how to make her smile, and celebrating each hard-won milestone. She redefined what was important and what was worth our energy.

Elli carved the raw material of us and left a distinct contour on everyone who met her. She’s been gone nearly three years, but the mark she made on each of us is permanent. We are now faced with what we do with it — how to move forward. What we choose each day is shaping us.

We all leave marks on the people with whom we interact. Whether those interactions provoke dark valleys or euphoric highs is often out of our control, but we can determine how it shapes us.

But howHow can the things which wound and scar us so deeply become the very things that strengthen us and equip us to help others?


This is one of the many beautiful themes we find the Bible. Terrible things happen. I will not say that God causes tragedybut I will declare that God is not thwarted by it. God can take natural disasters and the evil schemes of people and make those things produce good, in spite of themselves. This is what happened when Jesus was killed — people murdered God’s Son and yet, that very thing that was meant for evil became the greatest good ever accomplished on earth.  In the worst betrayal ever recorded, Jesus defeated death and made peace with God for us. Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him and meant to do him harm when they sold him as a slave. But God used it to save Joseph’s family and preserve the nation of Israel through them. We see it in nature, in the rejuvenation of a forest ravaged by fire. Over and over, we see God redeeming tragedy.

When I remember this, when I trust God to bring something beautiful out of my pain (even if takes years), I grow stronger. When I forget it, when I’m overcome by the circumstances and see only myself and what was lost or damaged, the pain burns and scars and my heart withdraws into a cynical bitter shell. (And as one who has hidden in my turtle shell and licked my wounds many times, hope is never lost. God can redeem even that, and he can transform the most recalcitrant turtle.)

How do you think about time and yourself in it? Who and what has shaped you? How are you responding to it?


Here’s Joy’s bio: “I am a writer, thinker, asker of questions, mother, wife, bereaved parent, walking by faith, still in process. I’ve blogged since 2005, writing on faith and doubt, family life (which is always humorous even with the medical spin), grief, and the depression that I only recognized a year after our oldest died at the age of 8. Views expressed are my own and do not reflect those of me yesterday.”

Send your love and likes her way on Facebook, add yourself to her Twitter tribe and check out Joy’s incredible blog!

Open Theism and the Problem of Evil

The past couple posts have been on the problem of evil.  Today is the fifth piece in the series.

How you handle the philosophical side of the problem of evil boils down to how you answer these two questions:

1.) Does logic apply to God?

2.) Does morality apply to God?

If you answer “yes” to both, the problem of evil is going to change / has already changed your whole view of God.

If you answer, “mostly yes and sometimes no”, you should probably be writing this post instead of me.

If you answer “no”, you’ll have a lot of trouble with questions like “Can God create a rock so big you can’t lift it?” or, “Can God do absolutely anything he wants, like kill children, and still be considered a loving God?”


Once you answer, “Can we apply logic to God?”, the following question needs to be asked about God’s knowledge of the future:

if God is limited by the possible (ex. he can’t exist and not exist at the same time), than how can he know with absolute certainty the future actions of a free person?  How can He know exactly what you’ll do if you’re free to do otherwise?

Most Arminians believe that God has both absolute foreknowledge AND that man has free will.  And while John Calvin and Open Theists would probably disagree on almost everything, they both agree that Arminians are flat out wrong … that God cannot know with certainty the future actions of free persons.

Calvin writes,

“But seeing He (God) therefore foreknows all things that will come to pass, because he has decreed they shall come to pass, it is vain to contend about foreknowledge, since it is plain all things come to pass by God’s positive decree”

God knows the future because God decrees the future.

While agreeing with Arminians on most points, Open Theists depart from the compatibalism.  Gordon Olson, one of the seminal thinkers in Open Theism, writes:

that if God foreknows every future event, then every future event must come to pass according to God’s foreknowledge, for if one should ever choose differently, God’s foreknowledge would be in error. If man must so choose, then only a single course of action is possible to him in every given instance. This means the will is not free to choose between two or more possibilities, and therefore is not free at all.

At this point, compatibalist Arminians (who believe God knows the future actions of humanity with absolute certainty and that humanity is totally free) would play the mystery card.


Or they play the “God is outside time” card. And the “outside time” card is a very difficult one to play.  I agree that God experiences time differently than we do, but — at least from a Christians perspective — as soon as we start playing that card we have to claim that every time the Bible speaks about God’s actions in the past tense, or present tense, it’s anthropomorphizing His actions … because there never is past tense, a present or a future with God … it’s all now for Him (since he’s outside of time).

This position is historically called the “Eternal Now.”

“Can’t God move in and out of time?” you might ask.  And here we have to define time.  Suffice it to say that time isn’t a “thing” that can be traveled, or warped or removed, but it’s simply the process of relationships … that as long as God is connected to us in actual relationship, he experiences time.

Open theists don’t believe that God’s view of the future is as limited as ours; rather, that it’s not seen in certainties, but in possibilities, with varying degrees of probabilities.  Farther, open theists would argue that God’s omniscience stays intact as he still knows everything that’s possible to know (assuming it’s impossible to know with certainty the future actions of a free being).  Instead of knowing everything as a certainty — he knows all possibilities in the future as actual possibilities and all certainties as certainties.

But, why even argue against absolute foreknowledge?  And how does it apply to the problem of evil?

Not only do open theists believe their position is biblical, and free from Hellenistic influence, they also believe that if God absolutely foreknew all the evil in the world, he also — to one degree or another — planned all the evil.  They agree with Calvin.  That the reason God foreknows all is because He (to one degree or another) decrees all.

But all this talk about an open future rests on a very huge assumption: that humanity possess free will … an assumption I’ll question on Friday.

Is It ALL God’s Will?

When confronted with the practical reality of the problem of evil, believers who don’t use the God of gaps often do one of two things:

They jettison their faith.

Or, they attempt to “grab the bull by the horns.”  In other words, they attempt to redefine the premise of the problem … they attempt to redefine “God”.

One of the more trending paths to redefine God is made through the redefinition of “omnipotence.”  I don’t like the word “omnipotence”, so I’ll use “sovereignty.”

And I’ll define two types of sovereignty: 1.) specific sovereignty and 2.) general sovereignty.

John Sanders states that specific sovereignty

maintains that there are absolutely no limitations, hindrances or insurmountable obstacles for God to achieve his will in every specific circumstance of the created order … God has exhaustive control over each situation: Only what god purposes to happen in that particular time and place to that specific creature will happen.

General sovereignty assumes that while God doesn’t have specific sovereignty, neither is he unable to move the direction of history through the means of His people.  There is a redemptive direction to history that is still being written.  It’s a narrative that has God as the Main character, with sub-characters and powers moving together and in opposition to each other as they write chapter after chapter.  In other words, God’s will isn’t always done, but neither is it always thwarted.


In both specific and general sovereignty, sovereignty is limited by the possible.

God can’t create a rock so big that he can’t lift it.  Nor can he create free beings that He controls.  If we’re free, God’s not in charge of us.

The question becomes, “Are we free?”

Many within the Calvinist brand of Reformed Theology would assert that our imputed sinful nature has taken our freedom away, so that depravity is the only possible path, and only God’s irresistible grace can save us.

Some within the Reformed movement assert what is called “compatibilism” or “soft-determinism”, which takes a couple different angles in attempting to affirm that God is both specifically sovereign and humanity is somehow responsible for our own choices.  And as much as I respect the attempts to pull these two opposing sides together, I’m not at all convinced it’s possible.

There’s a philosophical and theological path to specific sovereignty.

The philosophical line of thought starts with the assumption that anything that’s limited is imperfect and anything that’s imperfect isn’t any different than man; thus, God has to be absolutely unlimited in his power to earn the title God.

The theological line builds on the philosophical line of thought by using various scriptural passages to assert that either because of the Fall or having nothing to do with the Fall, God is literally working everything together for His good.  That everything (wars, rape, murder, divorce as well as redemption, eternal life, etc.) is His will and one day it will all make sense when we understand the weight of His glory.


It all comes back to the question, “Is there still some freedom found in humanity?”

C.S. Lewis once said that the greatest miracle of omnipotence is God’s ability to create beings who could oppose it.

That God in all his might has chosen to limit that power by creating you and me … creatures who have the ability to actually oppose His will and create our own little worlds where God’s purpose is NOT being accomplished.  That sin and death were never intended … that His plans don’t always work out.

That the world isn’t the way God intended it to be.  That even Jesus wishes that God’s kingdom would come here on earth, as it already is in heaven.

That it’s NOT all God’s will.


But, is it really that simply to say that the creation of humanity is God’s voluntary self-limitation?  And that the whole problem of evil doesn’t reside with God, but with man?

No.  I think it misses the point.

Although it may mean the limitation of His will, the creation of humanity isn’t the limitation of God’s power cause I don’t think God’s power is defined by what He can or can’t do.

Rather, God’s power is defined not by how much he can lift or move but by how much He can sacrifice, so that humanity becomes the opportunity for his power, and not it’s limitation.

God’s power is seen through the creation of solar systems, but it’s most clearly seen in the cross.  And we become, not a part of it’s limitation, but when we embrace the cross, we become it’s opportunity, so that God’s power is increased every time we ourselves participate in His kingdom.

And while the problem may be ours, it’s still God’s power — in sacrifice and through us — that can solve it.

My Problem with “God”

Yesterday, I started a series about The Problem of Evil.  Today is part 2.


When confronted with the practical reality of the problem of evil, believers who don’t use the God of gaps often do one of two things:

They jettison their faith.

Or, they attempt to “grab the bull by the horns.”  In other words, they attempt to redefine the premise of the problem … they attempt to redefine “God”.

The premises of the problem of evil are the following: that God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent.

And before I redefine some of these attributes in future blog posts, it’s important to recognize where these premises came from … where they originated from.

Your first thought might be, “The Bible.”  Maybe.  But not entirely.

Throughout Church history, we’ve made numerous capitulations to cultural philosophies.  These accommodation aren’t bad … as long as they’re recognized.

As soon as accommodations become unrecognized, they become hurtful. The early church attempted to defend the faith against Hellenistic philosophers.  And as often happens, we become — in subtle ways — like our opponents.

And this is how the problem of evil was formed.


To many Greek thinkers, the ultimate reality of the world had to be metaphysical because everything physical eventually falls apart and is therefore limited and corruptible.

The Greeks speculated that the metaphysical nature of ultimate reality must

never change (immutable) and

never cease to exist (eternal);

it must be more solid and

stronger than this temporal, physical world.

The pre-Socratic philosopher Anaximander stated that the final metaphysical ideal necessary to give a correct understanding of human lives cannot be found within the sphere of existence.  Instead, humans must conjecture what he called the “unlimited,” which is fully beyond anything humans know.

The “unlimited” is utterly ineffable because it has no predicates…because to predicate is to limit.

Plato thought we have to base our rationality in something other than our existence.  He discharged the Greek writer’s tales of the gods as anthropomorphic and looked for the perfect, the immutable and the timeless.

This he found in the realm of Forms, which exist outside our spatiotemporal world.  Aristotle hypothesized an ultimate metaphysical ideal (the unmoved mover).  These Greek philosophers set the stage for much of today’s theology.

Christians essentially assimilated these ideas into their views of God.

At the foundation of the whole Christian understanding of God’s nature is that if anything limits Him, He is finite and could not be the infinite, transcending God.

This “perfect being” theology that has influenced us in more ways than one.


Immutability, impassibility, omnipotence, simplicity, eternality (in the eternal now, or timelessness sense) are all terms that we ascribe to God that must be reconsidered.

In fact, it may be time to discard our misconceived Hellenistic God.

And, maybe our misconception is so large concerning God’s nature that it ends up that our vision of God doesn’t exist?  And maybe — in some regards — you may have to become an atheist to keep your faith when faced with the Problem of Evil.

Discarding “God”


A dilemma is a situation that presents a choice between a few options, all of which are undesirable.

The problem of evil presents a very practical dilemma for one who believes in “God” as it 1.) forces us to deny the traditional view of “God” or 2.) realize that our god is an absurdity and probably nonexistent.

Most Christians try a third option to this “dilemma” … they attempt to turn it around as evidence for God’s glory by playing the mystery card.

Although this may work for the faith of some, it’s a cop out and deserves the ridicule it has received by secular critics.  In fact, Christians have pressed this “mystery of God” assertion on so many inappropriate levels they have gained a stigma of not only pushing the boundaries of stupidity, but of being anti-reason.

The problem of evil is NOT a mystery.


A mystery is something that can be understood, but, because of a lack of evidence or knowledge, remains beyond our grasp.

The question of who assassinated JFK remains a mystery, not because we can’t comprehend it, but because we lack the knowledge to comprehend it.  If we’d finally figure out who murdered JFK, his death would no longer be a mystery and would be understood by all.

An absurdity is something that simply makes no sense.

Affirming that a circle can be a square.

Writing an unathorized autobiography about yourself.

The problem of evil is a dilemma that at worst presents an absurdity, but never a mystery.

If you assert that God is supremely good, and, at the same time, you assert that He has the power to stop evil, but doesn’t then you have an absurdity on your hands, not a mystery.

If you affirm God’s goodness in the face of evil, you must either deny his omnipotence, omniscience or omnipresence.

If you affirm his omnipotence, you must deny or drastically redefine his goodness.


When confronted with the practical reality of this problem, believers who don’t use the God of gaps often do one of two things:

They jettison their faith.

Or, they attempt to “grab the bull by the horns.”  In other words, they attempt to redefine the premise of the problem … they attempt to redefine “God”.

The attempt to redefine God usually goes in one of these three trajectories:

1.) Reformed theology upholds God’s omnipotence and omniscience by attempting to redefine the goodness aspect of God, emphasizing the glory of God in relation to the sinfulness of man.

2.) Arminianism attempts to uphold their understanding of God’s goodness at the expense of omnipotence by asserting the ability of man to limit God’s power.

3.)  Open theology attempts to build on Arminianism and redefine not only omnipotence but the omniscience aspect of God by asserting that man’s freedom somewhat redefines God’s future plans.


In one way or another, when confronted with the problem of evil we all must discard “God.”

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