2.01 Circumstance

Rear of ER SchoolWhen I was young I remember being told that God was omnipotent and omnipresent. I didn’t have too much trouble digesting all-powerful. After all, I read Superman comic books and the idea of a powerful being did not seem like too much of an impossibility. But omnipresent gave me pause. He was everywhere. I had a hard time with that. How could He be everywhere? Was He behind every bush, inside every cave and building, and everywhere in outer space? Maybe outer space made some sense as an easy place for Him to keep an eye on things. But how could He be everywhere? I’m assuming that atheists and Darwinists have a similar complaint. Their main belief, I gather, is that there is no God, but I would think their human logic cannot deal with the idea of anything or anyone who is all powerful and everywhere at once.

Years ago in the 1970’s, as a college student, I still wanted to believe in God, but I also wanted to fit in with life and peers in Ann Arbor. I thought that if I applied the scientific method and pure logic to the meaning of life that I would end up concluding that there was no God. That idea scared me—what if somehow there was a God even though my logic could prove there wasn’t? The thing about that is God probably does not particularly care what we think about Him. Or maybe that’s not the right way to phrase it exactly. He knows what we think and what He sees isn’t pretty. He provided us with free will and lets us make our decisions no matter how oblivious we chose to be. Using my free will I concluded without any further dangerous thinking that my best bet was to ignore the whole problem and play it a little safe by not rejecting God; instead I would live without thinking about Him. I would just take life as it comes. Ironically, that was the right thing to do; not that I always did the right things as my life unfolded.

Just taking life as it comes is another way of saying that you are living within your circumstances. Living things obviously do change to adapt to circumstances. And circumstance is part of the key to understanding omnipresence. Circumstances are the conditions, settings, surrounding and environments that we are in. Our circumstances are what “is”. I am in Saint Louis right now as I write this. Odds are that you are not in Saint Louis as you read this. It doesn’t matter, you are living, so you are somewhere—and more to the point you “are”. I am. My wife is. So we “are”. If you don’t agree, then you still “are” because you have no choice. Let’s leave aside the issues of when we starting “being”, and if we stop “being” at some point. Let’s agree that we “are”.

Circumstances are the “are” we experience. One of my favorite film exchanges is between a Sargent and a private in the movie, “Zulu”. Surrounded and outnumbered by Zulu warriors, a private asks, why us? The Sargent calmly replies, “Because we are here…”. Your mind can zoom back through all of the factors and decisions that got you into a tight place, but that doesn’t matter to where you are. Circumstances “are” and we “are”. We think of ourselves as more than just mindless parts of circumstance. And we are not mindless. Most of us in America do decide where to go, what to eat, and who to be with. Those things, the things we choose, do define us. To others we are who we are. We are a part of their circumstances. We can be mean; we can love; we can be anything in between. We are all part of the swirling circumstances we live in. We each can alter circumstances to varying degrees. A king or president can change circumstances quite a bit. The Fed can raise interest rates and change circumstances for many. An author, songwriter, or screenwriter can indirectly change circumstances for millions of people. We can smile at someone or curse someone and thus perhaps alter his or her circumstances. Whether it’s for a little or for a lot, we form circumstance for others, and so we are circumstance; well, at least participants in it.

But we human beings, individually or collectively, do not control, determine or understand all of our circumstances. No king, no matter how powerful, can stand up to a tornado and make it stop. Why we were born where we were? Why are some of us tall, some short, some healthy, and some not? What about earthquakes, wind, rain, the sun, and every other part of nature? So while we are a part of circumstance and can influence circumstance, we are not all of circumstance. What is the rest of circumstance?

Here there are different schools of thought. Some people think that the rest of circumstance is basically random. “Is” just is. (Remember when Bill Clinton questioned the idea and meaning of is?) Other people think that there is an active being, God, who controls circumstance. But I find it more helpful to think about this in a different way. God is circumstance. More accurately God is. And what we see as circumstance is of God. I’m not going to say that God is limited to what we know as circumstance, probably far from it.

There is a continued dispute about how literally we should take what the Bible says. I find it helpful to see the Bible as something that can be understood at many different levels. Life constantly reveals things to us that were there all along, but that we did not see or understand. When I was growing up I learned that the best bicycle brakes were not coaster brakes—the kind that work when you pedal backward; the best were caliper brakes—the kind you apply by squeezing the levers on the handlebars, and the best caliper brakes were center-pull with the cable connected to the center of the brake caliper. Side-pull caliper brakes were inferior. That seemed very logical to me. I could understand the logic of why center-pull brakes were better; the cable pulled both halves of the caliper pushing each brake shoe onto the rim with equal pressure. But then I saw a very high-end bike with the best brakes you could buy and they were side-pull. There is always, it seems, another level of things. You think that you know it all and then you discover that you really did not. It is that way with our understanding of the Bible. Miracles are one example. G. K. Chesterton pointed out that a slowly unfolding miracle is just as miraculous as a fast one. That seems obvious once you think about it. If I could change into a pig and back into a human that would be a miracle whether it took me 17 years or one second to do it. It is helpful for me to think about that when I read about the creation of the world in Genesis. Evolutionists who reject the idea of creation by God say that the world evolved over time as each life form adapted to its circumstances. Well, changing from a blob to a human still is a miracle even if it took 3 billion years instead of less than a day (or perhaps there was a miraculous 3 billion year-long day). We do need to take the Bible literally at every level revealed to us.

People say that they cannot see God so how can He be everywhere. The answer is that you cannot see “is” either and they are the same thing—or at least “is” is a subset of God. We cannot define “is” and we cannot define God. That is not a coincidence. How blind we humans can be. Perhaps it is good to remind ourselves how God described Himself. God said, “I am that I am.” He defined Himself as is. God is omnipresent not because He can somehow occupy every part of our world, He is omnipresent because He is is. The Apostle John wrote, “God is love.” I recently read a very logical analysis that said basically that God is love, but that love was not God. The problem with the analysis is it ignores what is means. Is means equal, it means both sides of the expression are the same. They may look different, “2+2” looks different than “4”, but they are equal, the same. When we do what is right and treat others as we would like to be treated, then we love, and, somehow, we are one with God in our circumstances.

As I close out these thoughts on circumstance it seems a good place to address one of the complaints often made about the Bible: it cannot be God’s word because many books were written by men in Biblical times, and other men decided which books to include and which not to include in what we call the Bible. The Bible, they say, was not written by God Himself, it just sort of evolved over time from the books that were the most popular and the most copied. To that complaint I say, Amen! The Bible “evolved” into its current form through a long series of circumstances, kind of like a slow moving miracle. God is is, He is circumstance. He is omnipresent.


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