Matthew R. Perry

Does God personally program each course?

In Theology on October 2, 2006 at 10:16 am

I confess: I am a big Philip Yancey fan. His writings continue to encourage me and propel me to actually think about the faith to which I hold. His books such as The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace? are well-worth the read, regardless of your theological background.

Yancey’s new work on Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? promises to live up to his previous standards of literary excellence. I am only 25 pages into the book. Yet, a red flag arose on page 19. Yancey speaks about a hike he is taking on a 14,000 foot mountain in Colorado. He speaks of the various vantage points, such as being at the foot of the mountain as well as being up high on the mountain. Listen to Yancey’s recounting:

Then it hits you: from this vantage point, three hours ago you too were a dot like that, a speck of human life on a hugh, hulking, weather-creating mountain that has little regard for it. (As a famous climber said, “Mountains don’t kill people. They just sit there.”) You feel appropriately small, almost insignificant. You get a tiny, fractional glimpse of what God must see all the time.

One of the Psalms describes thunder as the voice of the Lord, who strikes the earth with flashes of lightning. We know, of course, that lightning occurs when a positively charged streamer rushes up from the ground to meet a negative charge at the bottom of a cloud. A hundred times a second lightning strikes somewhere on the earth, and I for one do not believe God personally programs each course (italics mine). I have, however, been caught in terrifying storms near the summit of a mountain. With my ice axe humming and my scalp tingling, squatting with feet close together so the charge won’t circuit through my body, spaced far enough from my partner to lessen the odds of us both dying, counting the seconds between bolts (“two seconds … half a mile”) — then, too, I get a glimmer of my true state, a helpless two-legged creature perched on the skin of a molten planet.

Great writing, eh? Yet the emphasized sentence where Yancey believes that “God [does not] personally program each course” is disturbing. He quotes from Scripture that it is the Lord whose voice is the thunder and who strikes the earth with flashes of lightning — clearly saying that it is God who personally programs each time. Is it because of the fact that lightning flashes hundreds of times a second somewhere on earth that befuddles Yancey — that maybe God could not keep up with all of those flashes? Does it lessen the Scripture’s words that we now can explain scientifically why these lightning flashes and thunder rolls happen?

I love Yancey’s writing — he does make me think and ponder and meditate and wonder and God has used his work to lead me into the praise of the Savior who purchased my pardon with His blood. Do these stray comments (does Yancey have any stray comments?) indicate Yancey’s understanding of a God who is limited in his scope and his all-sustaining work of the created order?

I’ll just have to finish the book to find out!

  1. Matt,

    I also really enjoyed Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace? However, I started noticing significant theological problems in his work, beginning with Reaching for the Invisible God. Now, I no longer pick up his works.

    From what I have heard, Yancey is sympathetic to open theism. He would certainly not be someone I would want to read on prayer. You may appreciate Tim Challies’ review of this book as well.

  2. John:

    Believe me, I am not approaching Yancey’s volume on prayer believe Yancey is any kind of authority on the matter. That one sentence I quoted speaks volumes to his views.

    Yet Yancey on certain levels does certainly challenge me to think through what I already hold to and even with his definite Open Theistic views, he at least helps me to understand why those who hold to this believe this way. And it helps me think through the problematic issues that arise.

    I read Challies’ review before I bought the book, and Challies is spot on. I’m still looking forward to seeing Yancey’s thoughts on the matter.

  3. Matt,

    Sounds great, my friend! I look forward to hearing what you think of the rest of the book.

    I’ve been wanting to read a couple books on prayer for a while now: Bryan Chapell’s Praying Backwards Graeme Goldsworthy’s Prayer And The Knowledge Of God. Alas, as is all too often the case, I have never gotten around to picking them up!

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