Friday, October 29, 2010

Life Is Not Exactly Like The Movies...

“The biblical view of destiny is that a personal God (as opposed to impersonal fate) created the universe, sovereignly controls and providentially destines all things that come to pass without forcing human beings against our wills or negating our responsibility (Rom. 9). Storytelling reflects the Christian God and his PROVIDENTIAL DETERMINATION OF THE FREE ACTS OF HUMAN BEINGS. A screenwriter providentially creates characters based on the kind of story he or she desires to tell. AUTHORS DETERMINE EVERY SINGLE WORD, EVERY SINGLE ACT, GOOD AND EVIL, OF ALL THEIR CHARACTERS, DOWN TO THE JOT AND TITTLE... Yet when an audience watches the movie, WE SEE CHARACTERS FREELY ACTING AND MORALLY ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS IN A WORLD WHERE SOME THINGS APPEAR TO HAPPEN BY CHANCE. OUR KNOWING THAT THE CHARACTERS AND THEIR STORIES ARE PREDESTINED BY AN AUTHOR DOES NOT MAKE THEM ANY LESS VALUABLE OR THEIR STORIES ANY LESS MEANINGFUL” (Brian Godawa, “Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom & Discernment, Second Edition.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009, pages 99-100, caps mine).
I stumbled upon these words while reading Brian Godawa’s “Hollywood Worldviews.” First, let me recommend the book to anyone who desires to see how theology and philosophy are “encrypted” within movies. Once you read Godawa’s work, you will not see movies the same, ever again. It’s such a good book to read regarding theology and philosophy in movies, how to see the theology/philosophy that is advanced from one movie to another, how the author (creator) gives away his or her hints throughout the movie itself, etc. It’s a book that’s sure to revolutionize your life!
At the same time, the words in the above quote disturbed me when I came to them. For one, he actually states, “storytelling reflects the Christian God and His providential determination of the free acts of human beings.” So first, movies themselves show the determination of authors regarding the choices of characters. In other words, the authors decided what the characters would do and then make the characters within the story responsible for their “predetermined” actions. But who determined the actions: the author, or the characters? I think it’s pretty clear that if the authors design the script, then it is the authors (and not the person) who determine the actions. How then, can the person be responsible for actions that they were not allowed to commit of their own volition?
However, the last part pierced me worse than the first part:
Godawa has compared everyday, normal life to the movies. In his view, “life is like the movies”. In the same way that “authors determine every single word...act, good and evil...,” so is life itself determined. However, let’s think on this for a moment. I’ll set up a syllogism to show the dilemma Godawa has created:
1) “Life is like the movies.”
2) In the movies, authors determine every word and action of their characters, yet the characters are morally responsible for their actions.
3) If life is like the movies, where authors determine every word and action of their characters (while holding the characters morally responsible), then God (as Author) has determined the actions of all individuals, yet holds them responsible for those predetermined actions.
So let’s take the example of David and Bathsheba. David is on his rooftop, sees Bathsheba, lusts for her, finds her, has sex with her, and gets her pregnant...then places her husband Uriah on the front lines of battle to be killed. Once he kills Uriah, Bathsheba is allowed to mourn and then become David’s wife.
However...step back for a moment. If life is like the movie screen, when we read the Scriptures, let’s not forget that we see (with our own eyes the words and our minds the actions) David’s actions; however, God is the one that predetermined that David would do those things. God is the one that decided that David would commit adultery, murder, conspiracy, conceive a child out of wedlock, etc. And guess what else happened? Before time began, God also determined that the innocent child conceived out of wedlock would die, simply because He wanted it to (after all, the sin had not yet been committed). All of this is part-and-parcel of a great drama. Since God was the Author of the Script, He wanted to create David’s story as that of a great drama...and since He needed sex, crime, lust, and so forth, to accomplish His task, David just “happened” to be candidate God picked for the script.
To make matters worse, go back to Godawa’s quote: “Authors determine every single word, every single act, good and evil, of all their characters, down to the jot and tittle, sometimes working for hours on just the right turn of a phrase or subtle plot twist. Even events that seem like chance occurrences in a movie, like a freak car accident or the lucky throw of dice, are DELIBERATELY WRITTEN IN by authors to direct the story exactly where they want it to go” (“Hollywood Worldviews,” page 100).
David’s actions, then, were determined by God, including his evil ones. However, does not Scripture contradict Godawa’s quote? What about James?
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:13-14, NKJV).
If God does not tempt anyone, then how can we explain David’s temptation of lust for Bathsheba? It was David who was drawn away by his own lust---it was never God enticing him and leading him into sin. God cannot do that, for that would mean He would go against His own character: “He leads me in the paths of righteousness FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE” (Ps. 23:3). Because He is who He is, He cannot deny Himself...which means that He can only lead me in the good. He can NEVER lead me into evil (Matthew 6:13).
But if “life is like the movies,” then God determines every word, every thought, every deed, of every person. Does this sound like the God of the Bible? I think not.
Godawa is not alone in his thinking, however; his thinking permeates our culture and society in which we live. The world, particularly Americans, have engrossed themselves in the theater and movie industry for so long that they can no longer distinguish the imaginary from the real. If you think I am joking, just ask yourself the question, “Why is it that the imaginary today has been renamed as ‘VIRTUAL REALITY’?” The fact that the imaginary has been renamed in terms of reality and existence should shock us into seeing the depravity of human nature.
If you ask me, I am not convinced that “life is like the movies” least not in every sense. Will I dare to say that the act of creating movies stems from a Creator in whose image and likeness we are made? Yes. Is the intelligent form of movies that man creates a reflection of the image and likeness of God that he or she bears? Yes. However, I will not go so far as to say that God determines the words, thoughts, and deeds of every person in the same way that an author determines every word, thought, and deed of every character. To do so is to make God the author of sin and evil...which opposes the God of the Scriptures.
In the end, Godawa’s analogy of the movies as revelatory of the God-man relationship breaks down heavily. If the God-man relationship is “like the movies,” then there better be human improvisation lurking somewhere around.


Steve Lemke said...

Let me join in on your Determinist bashing (and, perhaps, Molinist bashing). In either, God has scripted every event. In Determinism, freedom is nothing but an illusion. In Molinism, freedom is . . . freely chosen, without the knowledge that our choice has functionally already been decided for us.

Life is not like the movies, but it might be like MAKING a movie (that is, sometimes several different endings are written, and decisions are made about which ending is chosen).

But life is MORE like some contemporary dramas which are more like an improvisation. The plot can go several ways, depending on the choices of the characters. I oppose Open Theism, so I oppose the notion that nobody knows what the end will be. God knows the beginning, middle and end, both in the improvisation and in life. But this foreknowledge is with certainty, not necessity.

Deidre Richardson said...

Dr. Lemke,

Let me just say thanks for responding. Your words are very insightful and encouraging.

Yes, in some sense, it seems as if Godawa is "Molinist" in his thinking, certainly so if you consider the fact that he references "Romans 9" in his commentary on movies and theology. But yes, ultimately, the point of the post seems to connect "determinism" and "Molinism" in some way. I respect Molinism's idea of certain "non-feasible worlds" due to human choice...but, at the same time, I think God's selection of a world gives what the right hand (i.e., non-feasible worlds) takes away.

Contemporary movies that involve improv are a major relief. My problem with Godawa stems from the fact that he mentioned nothing of the sort in his commentary on movies. Rather, he just generalized all movies under one and the same umbrella, making all movies seem as if the scriptwriter determines every move, every action, etc.

If Molinism did not involve the notion of "God selecting a world" where "I can freely choose every action," then I would agree with it. It's the "ultimately, God-decides-my-choice" idea inherent in the divine selection of worlds that prevents me from affirming Molinism. Can we not find some other way to express that God allows choices without determining them?

According to Dr. Keathley's work "Salvation and Sovereignty," Molinism does not answer the question of why evil and suffering exists in the world. It does not attempt to provide a theodicy...instead, it only tries to defend the setup that exists. While that may work for some, I desire answers to why evil exists. When I approach the atheist, I will still have mystery in my system (regarding why God was pleased to grant man free will)...however, I will not have mystery in my system regarding the existence of evil. Rather, I will be able to tell the atheist and unbeliever that evil exists because of humans who don't know how to appropriately use the divine gift of freedom.

Steve Lemke said...

Yeah, and if God chooses everything, Molinism is just soft determinism. According to Keathley in Salvation and Sovereignty, God exercises “meticulous control” over all worldwide events, all decisions of human agents, and even all minor things such as “every roll of the dice, every flip of the coin, [and] every seemingly random event” (pp. 22-25). Keathley also insists that God is in “complete control” of all things (p. 157). Not only does that seem inseparable from determinism, but it seems like it puts Molinism back in the "God causes evil" category and offers not much improvement over the Calvinist answers to the problem of evil which make God the author of evil (He chose this world, after all). Dr. Keathley wants to avoid that, obviously, but I'm not sure if Molinism does it for him.

Deidre Richardson said...

Dr. Lemke,

You're quite right indeed. I'm rather sure that Molinism doesn't do it. When it comes to the problem of evil, sadly enough, Molinism and Calvinism provide the same answer.

This may surprise you, but there was a time (earlier this year) when I wanted to be a Molinist. I was disappointed when my conscience wouldn't allow it. I did investigate Molinism, however. I took time to read it and study it. Here at the blog, I've discussed Molinism and Dr. Keathley's book so much because I keep coming back to it, always asking myself whether or not I'm thinking rightly. I may write with a bit of power in my words, but I do so because I've honestly been quite sympathetic to Molinism.

In the end, sadly enough, I'm so heartbroken that Molinism is not a viable option for my conscience. As a Classic Arminian, I am quite content and happy. I've learned that my theology will not answer everything (neither will anyone else's); but at least I can live with what my theology cannot provide. I could not live with a theology that implicates God in evil.

mlculwell said...

Debate Oneness Versus Trinity, Feb.2010