Tuesday, March 18, 2008

There Are Chipmunks in the Pinball Machine

I once worked as an engineer in an area that was comprised of large built-in corner desks with the wings of the desks attached side-by side and end-to-end with one another. There were no dividers preventing us from talking easily with our neighbors. This was to enable us to collaborate. It was also a source of distraction. I enjoyed some conversation throughout the day as it could fill our need for human interaction and make the time we spent actually working more productive. However, too much chit-chat and nothing got done.

One neighbor I had in this work environment enjoyed extended conversation and would occasionally spend too much time distracting me. It's not that I didn't enjoy the conversation, but work was work. I learned that the best way to make him productive was to argue with him over whatever topic he happened to be rambling on about. If he was talking politics, for example – perhaps capitol punishment – and he was espousing a positive view, then I would make an insidiously fallacious argument (with a smile) that he couldn't sort out in short order. This would make him upset for a while. As such, he would get quiet and work for a while while he fumed about it. This would make us both more productive.

He never knew why I did what I did. It didn't matter. I was practicing a mild form of behavior modification through psychological manipulation. It's akin to practical hypnotism. Way back in high school, a friend and I worked out some simple methods for doing this and ran experiments for applying the same methods for sociological manipulation.

We all practice behavior modification to some degree simply by interacting with each other. However, I determined at the time that this was dangerous stuff and vowed not to use this knowledge in any significant way. There are people of questionable intent who have developed methods with this knowledge for the purposes of large-scale sociological manipulation and ideological indoctrination. Most of you who read what I write are Christians. Largely, the people who endeavor to control you are not. However, many of them purport to believe that ministers of the gospel are fellow practitioners of this subversive art.

If the subjects of this practice are unaware that their behavior is being modified; and if such manipulation is practiced by mere mortals; then how much more is our Creator capable of modifying our behavior? (The question my Arminian friends would ask is “would He?” I would ask, “How could He not, creating from the beginning and knowing the ends from the beginning?” Isaiah 46:10) I tell you, He manipulates not only our behavior, but our beliefs and capacity to understand as well.

There is more than one view of how God's sovereignty and our free will are compatible. One mistake is to think that the will of a human is somehow on par with God's. This mistake holds that either we are in control of our minds and behavior or God is in control of our minds and behavior, but not both. This is a false dichotomy. It presumes that reformed theologians believe that we do things that are against our will to do. My former coworker behaved according to his greatest inclination. He stopped talking and got to work because he wanted to. It suited him at the time because I changed the conditions of our immediate relationship by challenging his ideological considerations (such as were not necessary to do his job). I did not controvert his will. I merely offered a stimulus that I knew would cause his will to react naturally in a way that I desired.

The human will is not creative, it is reactive. Nothing we respond to is outside of God's created order. God's will is creative, not reactive. God cannot react to anything He created since He created it. There is nothing outside of God's creation for Him to react to since He created all things. (John 1:3) The question then is how can we say that man has any free will at all if God has ordained all things.

Christ told a couple of parables that seem to indicate that there is a creative difference between those who are God's people and those who are not. One is the wheat and the tares. The other is the sheep and the goats. Let me explain through an analogy. No analogy is perfect, but this should help give an idea.

Imagine a pinball machine. Pinballs are cued and shot into the field of play replete with active bumpers and flippers. The balls come to life as they bounce from bumper to bumper and are catapulted across the field by the flippers. However, tilt the machine and the balls fall to the bottom and come to rest. There is no real life in the balls; they merely respond to the outside forces acting on them.

Imagine now balls that are not balls. They are little chipmunks rolled up into balls. They are cued up and shot into the field of play. They come to life as they bounce off the bumpers and are shot across the field by the flippers. However, they're not balls. They may act like balls as long as they stayed balled up and don't exert their internal motivation. However, when they realize that they don't have to bounce whichever way the machine sends them, they are free to spread their legs and run about peculiarly, even if the machine tilts.

The internal motivation of the chipmunks is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believers. Those who are not God's people are spiritually dead. Those who are God's people have been made alive and spend their time in this world learning how to live in Christ, which is peculiar to those who are dead. Even the will of God's people is reactive, but aside from external stimuli, God's people have the stronger internal stimulation of His Spirit.

Now that's freedom.

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Blogger Brad B said...

Hey Jim,
Great to hear from you! Thanks for reading the blog...I love yours.

thanks as well for your prayers. We'll surely update everyone when we get back!

Thu Mar 20, 09:23:00 PM GMT-5  

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