Let My People Think

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I want to consider the role of God as a system designer and engineer (or “designer”, for short). A correct understanding of that role is critical in correctly informing our theological worldview.

Let me start off with a simple example that illustrates people using just one agency variable to explain processes involving multiple agencies in multiple roles.

Johnny, who is a teenager, lives in a bad neighborhood dominated by a hardened criminal character. Johnny looks up to this character, and is influenced by him. Johnny has been in legal trouble before, and the local law enforcement knows him pretty well by now. One day, Johnny robs a store. A detective is assigned to the case, who quickly solves it. A police officer is sent with a warrant to arrest Johnny, which he does. Johnny is brought before the judge, who adjudicates the case, finds Johnny guilty, and sentences him to a certain time in prison. A court officer takes Johnny out of the courtroom, and escorts him to prison.

Now, after this has happened, consider these several vignettes:

  • 2 police officers are chatting in a cop cruiser. They are talking about their colleague, a “cop who sent Johnny to prison”.
  • 2 detectives are chatting in a precinct. They are talking about their colleague, a “detective who sent Johnny to prison”.
  • Johnny’s mom is talking to her sister on the phone. She mentions that this morning she saw a newspaper with a front page graced (or, in her mind, dis-graced) by the photo of the “judge who sent Johnny to prison”.
  • In prison, one of Johnny’s new cellmates sees a figure at a distance and points a finger at him saying that it was the “officer who brought Johnny to this prison”.

So, the question is: who send Johnny to prison? 4 different people say 4 different things. You won’t see any contradiction, even though they seem to be saying opposite things, if and only if you understand the larger context.

Being a 21st century logical thinker, with Western values of personal responsibility instilled in me, if you ask me to give a general statement that’s context-independent, I would submit to you that Johnny, albeit having been influenced by the hardened criminal character, is personally responsible for being in prison. In other words, his own actions are what sent him prison.

I just said something that would seem to logically contradict all the statements made in the above vignettes. Is there a contradiction? Only if you don’t understand the context.

Johnny’s mom might be a codependent person and think that the judge is the one responsible for Johnny’s being in prison. Or she might simply be saying that to focus on the judge in particular simply because she saw his face on this morning’s paper front page.

Now, the police officers and the detectives should know that Johnny can blame no one but himself. Yet in their dialogues they choose to focus on the action of one of their colleagues and highlight that, which can be understood that way only if read in its context.

When you read the vignettes, you understand what all those different parties are talking about and what they mean, but if you are an outsider to this context and to the culture in which it happened (modern Western culture), you would think that the cops / detectives believe that one of their colleagues is the primary cause, Johnny’s mom thinks the judge is the primary cause, etc. Then you would have no way of reconciling those logically contradictory statements.

So from this you see that even though the same words are used to describe different facets of personal participation in a given situation, the precise understanding of the part played by a given person hinges on the correct understanding of their role in that situation.

Now, let’s throw into the mix the roles that haven’t been mentioned so far: the legislator(s) who submitted the law, the legislative body who approved the law, and the people who voted to install the legislator into his office. Do you see that there are more variables to any given situation that what initially appears?

(View part 2)

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