My question is this, is the world that we live in an open or closed system. This sounds outside of the type of categories that we normally use to define or discuss reality; however, I think it has some significant implications. For those philosophy nerds out there, the discussion below uses generalizations to move the discussion forward without pursuing every conceivable rabbit trail that one may encounter on this topic.
This idea is that the world around us is mechanistic. The nature of the mechanism is much debated. At one extreme are the Darwinists that think Chaos, Randomness, and Time are the only real rules of the Universe. Any honest observers can see that there is Oder and Purpose to much of what we observe, so the other extreme of the closed system is the clockmaker of Deism. If there is a god, he made the system and we can debate whether he occasionally tinkers with it or not. In this group you will also find Eastern ideas of pantheism, cyclical rebirth, and Yen & Yang.
This view is found in Jewish and Christian tradition. God is Personal, Loving, and Knowable. He governs the Universe in regular, knowable ways (Natural Laws) but God is not a mere observer, He tends His Creation as one might tend a garden. Nothing happens outside of God’s will. The debate within this view is does God allow things to happen or actively cause them to happen? Within an open system, people believe that they can genuinely pray and ask God to change the direction of an event—large or small—and if it is His will, He will respond to our petitions to make alterations.
A closed system is without hope. Nihilism and helplessness are the lot of men. The law of tooth and talon reigns supreme. Some folks in the East even think we get to do it all over again until we achieve perfect nothingness. What a dismal prospect.
An open system explains the things that have no basis in a closed system. Love, joy, compassion, purpose, intelligence, and design are all aspects of our Creator and since man is made in His image, we also share in a small way in His nature. Man is imperfect but still retains the marks of our Creator, his fingerprints on the clay so to speak.
The Problem of Sin
Because of sin, we are not in a right relationship with God. Furthermore, we are powerless to correct the problem. The Bible speaks of our attempts at good works to earn God’s merit as “filthy rags”. Folks this phrase is loaded with much content that doesn’t come thru even in King James English. The “filthy rags” are the unclean rags that result from a woman’s monthly cycle. The Bible is stating that your best efforts are rubbish only fit for the fire.
Man’s natural state is one of rebellion and separation from God. Only God can repair the separation of this relationship. It cost the life of His Son, Jesus. Only thru His death and sacrifice—dying in our place—was the penalty of sin paid. Only God’s remedy can restore our relationship. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, the Life. No man comes to the Father but by me.”
Some folks might ask why God—whom Christians claim is all knowing and all powerful—doesn’t just do away with evil, suffering, death, etc.? There are many ways to answer the question, but Jesus directly addressed the issue in this way:
The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
Matthew 13: 24 – 30.
Simply put, to root out evil by force will adversely affect the righteous. While all men are tainted by sin, not all will be redeemed. It is better that both continue to grow side by side until the harvest. As they mature, it will be apparent which are weeds and which are good grain. C.S. Lewis spoke of this as over time each will become consistent in its nature, the bad becoming more evil and the good becoming more righteous.
God is not evil but is able to use evil and rebellion against Him to bring His will to fruition. We are not told how He does this just that He does. Some questions about the “why” and “how” are beyond the scope of what has been revealed to us. At some point, we must trust. Some things can be called a “mystery” while others are just not revealed to us. As Lewis states in his Narnia books, they are not part of your story (and the clear implication of this statement also carries with it the idea that thus they are none of your business). Lewis believed that God’s revelation was on a need to know basis, if we don’t need it to know Him then it is not revealed to us.
The bottom line is that the prayers of His children will be answered but only to the extent that our petitions are in accordance with His will. The good news is that God is always active in his creation and incrementally redeeming it as we move closer to the promised harvest.