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Why Did the Bridge Collapse?

2008 August 27
by Mike

A year ago this month, a bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed. Why?

Here are two accounts from well-known Twin Cities ministers — one from a Calvinist and one from a non-Calvinist.

I continue to be puzzled with how one squares Calvinism with the apparent open-endedness of the world (including the choices the Bible calls on us to make) and with the problem of evil.

– – – –

Read this amazing conversion story about the author of “Basic Instinct.”

38 Responses leave one →
  1. annie permalink
    August 27, 2008

    Thanks so much for pointing us toward Eszterhas’s book. Wow…..

  2. Richard permalink
    August 27, 2008

    Just to start conversation here Mike.

    I’m also not sure how free-will systems deal with evils like tsunamis or famine or childhood cancer. These observations, combined with the advances in neuroscience, show why both free-will and Calvinist systems are breaking down all over the place.

  3. eddy permalink
    August 27, 2008

    I’ll be at a funeral today that is based upon major tug-of-wars about permissive will of God and intentional will of God (in reality, wondering if God was guilty of a “sin” of omission or comission). I fall back on prooftexts–“Secret things belong to God” and “Lord, I believe but help my unbelief.”

  4. August 27, 2008

    Great links Mike – I really relate with Greg Boyd. I thought the Basic Instinct conversion was sincere – I really do – but do you ever wonder if those converted feel remorse for receiving ongoing royalties for their prior works like Basic Instincts?

  5. Matt permalink
    August 27, 2008

    Boyd has been preaching on that passage in Luke for the last several weeks. The podcasts are available in audio and video via iTunes. Highly recommend them.

  6. Richard permalink
    August 27, 2008

    To stir the pot some more, here’s why I think the work of Boyd is devoid of any intellectual merit:

    1. If Satan and the demons have free will to rebel against God why does God allow them to attack human beings? God doesn’t need to remove Satan’s free will, but he could quarantine those angelic beings. That is, an all-powerful and loving God would not allow a malevolent bully to terrorize and victimize humanity.

    2. If, however, you claim that the existence of Satan in human affairs is necessary for humans to have moral choice (God providing one alternative and Satan the other) then how did Satan exercise his choice to fall? Does Satan need a Satan to have true moral choice? And does Satan’s Satan need a Satan? In fact, the existence of Satan is not a necessary condition for authentic human choice or human evil. Satan, morally speaking, is a completely superfluous concept.

    3. Finally, Satan having “free will” begs so many questions from the longstanding philosophical controversies surrounding this concept. Boyd has effectively staked his entire theological system upon, not theology, but a non-biblical philosophical position (libertarianism). Does that make any sense at all? Placing all your theological eggs in the basket of one of the most controversial (and non-biblical) notions in all of philosophy? That’s not progress, nor is it helpful. It’s a shell game.

  7. Ray B. permalink
    August 27, 2008

    But was his conversion just an experience , something entirely emotional ? How can we ever know if it was from God or just a psychological adjustment ? Are we back to it is just your experience and my expereince and that is all that counts ? And when anyone has an experience and say it is a conversion( but wait, how do we know it is really a conversion since no authority or standard is being used , but that is right , let us throw out any idea of a standard or authority beyond the human opinion of each experience ) , then do we just say that anything goes when it comes to the post-experience / conversion life ? Live however you want, believe whatever you want ? It makes no real difference, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox , Mega – church , Emergent , or no connection to any church since that sounds too much like organization or being out of touch with real life , etc. ?

  8. eddy permalink
    August 27, 2008

    More inclined to side with Hobbs than Calvin.

  9. Jeff W permalink
    August 27, 2008

    Richard, I recently perused some of your material on Satan as theodicy. I understand your frustration with Boyd.

  10. August 27, 2008

    John Piper and Greg Boyd…you can’t get two Christian views on “predestination” that are going to be farther apart than that. Though I tend to agree with Boyd’s perspective, often called “open theism,” I’m not sure about all the steps he takes to get to that conclusion.

  11. clint permalink
    August 27, 2008

    It is a scary path to base ones theology on the ability to understand God.

  12. August 27, 2008

    You finally did it Mike. Good job. Proud of you! Thought you were lying last Tuesday but since you bought my burrito, I kept silent.

    Join my blog next week when I post a link of the famous “Chandler/Harris” Debates.

    And after that, stay tuned for next sermon from Luke 15, “The Dad left the porch and the son left the pen” Subtitled: “Who walked farther?”

    And keep your eyes open for my final weigh in on the subject in the form of a real time test: “Guacamole or Chips – I Eat, You Debate”

  13. Kyle permalink
    August 27, 2008

    I’m not sure where I fall, but I don’t think I agree with either one of those positions (which is somewhat surprising). Anyone else find holes in both of the articles Mike linked to?

  14. August 27, 2008

    Sure, Kyle. A complete lack of scriptural evidence on either side. Suppositions based on interpretations based on suppositions. And, as clint pointed out, an underlying predisposition that it’s not only possible but necessary to understand God and serve as His apologist.

    Really … isn’t it enough that we trust Him?

  15. August 27, 2008

    On a different note, I just wanted to let you know you made my day today. My son Jeremy Moore is in your 10:00 MWF Bible Class. He called me this morning during your class and of course you know the rest. It was great to actually hear from a college professor that way, but it was so cool how you had them sing to us “I Love You With the Love of the Lord”! You made this mom’s day! Blessings to you for a great semester!

  16. August 27, 2008

    Personally, I’m ready to disagree outright with just about anything John Piper writes. I’m still young enough to be arrogant enough to believe that I, obviously, know better. 😛

  17. August 27, 2008

    Clint said, “It is a scary path to base ones theology on the ability to understand God.”

    That is the best point made so far in these comments. Humility must always proceed our attempt to understand and know God. Thanks Clint!

    -Rex

  18. August 27, 2008

    If God is [perfect] Love…
    And God is [always] Good…
    And God is remaking this broken world [not dismantling it further]…

    …then putting the bridge collapse on God’s shoulders is blasphemy.

    I suppose that’s open to disagreement — and I am happy to call those who disagree brothers and sisters — but I don’t see the “good” in that Good News. I just don’t.

  19. August 27, 2008

    Steve Jr., I love you. I tried to make these same points in small group on Sunday night but I wasn’t nearly as eloquent. I am afraid that I got myself in a little bit of trouble.

  20. Kyle permalink
    August 27, 2008

    Steve,

    Not going for Calvinism here…just following your reasoning to it’s natural end…

    God has always been good
    and has always been love
    and has always been remaking the world (I would say saving)

    But he has at times used catastrophe to both of these ends.

    One aspect I have always struggled with about suffering is our supposition that suffering is unnecessary. We tend to assume that death is tragedy. In other words is physical death or suffering the worst thing that could happen to us. Not hardly. I think that is a childish view (I mean that literally, not demeaning).

    A child supposes the worst thing that can happen to them is some form of punishment. In their small thinking they don’t always realize that sometimes their parents are teaching them with discipline (different from punishment) to avoid worse things in the future.

    Suppose that someone you are close to was lost, living in sin and drinking in all that flesh has to offer. You’ve tried everything you can think of to get through to your friend but can’t break through. Then you get cancer. All of the sudden your talk of eternity has credibility to your friend and due to your suffering, you’re able to break through to your friend. Would you choose this path (even if it resulted in your death) if you knew everything on the front end? I guess what I’m saying is there can be redemption/salvation/rebuilding in tragedy.

    Is it possible that some suffering isn’t actually bad at all? I’m not sure I even agree with what I’m saying here, just discussing.

    This brings me to the question, can any amount of earthly suffering or heartache really even compare to the goodness resulting in being one of God’s children, living in his kingdom?

    In Minnesota, I’m sure if we looked we could find salvation/redmeption in this story. I don’t know if God did it, nor do I really need to know. But I think he could have if he wanted to. I don’t think it would violate the image of God in the Bible. I don’t think he was trying to scare us into repenting. But I haven’t studied this topic enough to have theological backing for that intuition. Does this line of reasoning make me a Calvinist?

    This is something I am pretty open to others comments on so please don’t flame on me if I’ve touched on a nerve here.

  21. Raymond Elliott permalink
    August 27, 2008

    Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if a ‘modern Ananias’ had been close by when Joe Eszterhas finished praying and would have said to him, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name”(Acts 22:16). Joe would then be a member of the body of Jesus Christ which is his church (Acts 2:47:I Corinthians 12:13;Colossians 1:18) which Jesus established and died for (Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28). We then would hope that he could locate other baptized believers and join with them in fellowship, worship and work (Acts 2:42;Ephesians 4:15, 16).
    BRE

  22. August 28, 2008

    But he has at times used catastrophe to both of these ends.

    Kyle – Saying God has “used” or “worked out his will despite” catastrophe is quite different than saying God causes catastrophe to happen. I am in no way claiming to know the inner workings of our mysterious God, but I do think we must claim a few timeless truths about God: his goodness, his power, his love, his mercy, etc.

    It’s not claiming too much, I think, to declare that because of the work of God through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (and subsequent reign in the heavenlies) we have a hope of experiencing the saving and abundant life God created us for. In the meta-narrative of God, Jesus stands as the conclusive act of God to reach a broken world — and he stands victorious! God no longer needs to use calamity to announce his reign throughout the world … Jesus’ life ushered in a kingdom where love (not destruction and calamity) is the medium AND the message.

    This is why I make the claims that I make about God.

    Again, saying God still reigns DESPITE and THROUGH the most extreme suffering and pain is also true. I’ve seen this time and time again. No doubt relationships were restored and hearts redeemed as a result of the bridge collapse, just like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the tsunami. But painting God in a way where these things are his WILL is heresy, in my humble opinion. Like I said earlier, God is restoring (saving) this broken world … not destroying it.

  23. Carolyn Dycus permalink
    August 28, 2008

    Steve Jr.–What you said.

  24. August 28, 2008

    Steve Jr.

    Just some thoughts. This is perplexing for us all. A fly in the ointment of what you said about “God not doing that anymore” are people like King Herod and Anannias and Sapphira in Acts. Seems those were cases where God’s will was to destroy. Plus what God has planned for those who reject Him when this whole thing is done doesn’t seem very loving, merciful and caring.

    Limiting God’s character to parts of the New Testament does not capture the whole essence of God as revealed through the entire narrative of His dealing with people, from Genesis to Rev. If God is truly unchanging, then the same God who dumped the Red Sea on the Egyptians, or sent the snakes to kill his chosen people, or gave David the power to slay the giant and rout the Philistines, is the same God who “is my shepherd, I shall not be in want” who “makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me besides quiet waters.”

    For me, my faith in God is not affected or upset when I see both sides of His nature. My love of Him and healthy fear of Him coexist peacefully in my heart.

  25. Kyle permalink
    August 28, 2008

    Steve,

    Thanks for your response. I follow that line of reasoning and I probably lean further towards that than Calvinism.

    Just a question or two if you will:

    If all of these tragedies are “bad” then why does God allow them to happen? I know Tony Campolo suggested after Katrina that God might not be omnipotent. That seems heretical to me. What could be other reasons that God allows “bad” things to happen.

    I keep using “bad” in quotes because I’m not convinced that what we see as bad necessarily is. I used my analogy about cancer leading to salvation because I think most of us here would consider that to be good and if presented with that choice would take physical death if it resulted in spiritual life for a friend. Is that choosing the greater “good”? Can God not work in the same way? What is the worst thing to come out of hurricane Katrina? I have to guess that it is easily trumped by the stories of salvation and fellowship. But we continue to view it as tragedy and say that surely God wasn’t a part of it. If we take the view that God wasn’t a part of the hurricane but was a part of the salvation (not in the bad but the source of the good) then it begins to sound as if God’s opportunities to work are limited by forces outside his control or will. I just can’t go down that road.

  26. August 28, 2008

    Isaiah 45:7? Is this a mistake? misquote? misunderstanding? Or does God occasionally cause chaos … even by allowing it to happen? Somehow, I don’t think that Israel would have believed this is not true … after God caused the Red Sea to obliterate their pursuers, let the earth swallow up their dissidents, slew 185,000 of their enemies silently in the night and let their disobedience lead them to Babylon.

    If Jesus had come and prevented all of the “bad” things that can happen, where would faith be? In the good that God can do beyond mankind’s control? Or in the good that God can do through people who will let Him?

    What kind of faith does each produce?

    One yields a faith that says, “God’s got it covered. I don’t need to do anything.”

    The other prompts a faith that says, “God has work He wants to do through me. I want to be part of it.”

    I don’t know how much of a hand God has in causing disaster in this world today. I do know that He permits them when He could prevent them and that He is in control and that it is part of His scheme of redemption. We can either let that fact drive us to doubt in His goodness/omnipotence, or to faith in a goodness that is eternal in nature and larger than we can possibly imagine.

  27. Jeff W permalink
    August 28, 2008

    Kyle, I do not hold that God is omnipotent. It is one thing to make a faith confession that God is the powerful creator (like we see in the scriptures). It is another thing entirely to take omnipotence as an axiom for theology.

    The faith confession is a relational use of words — from you to your neighbors and to God — in the context of covenantal community. The confession isn’t just about relationship; it is an act of relationship itself.

    The axiomatic approach puts human thinking at the foundation instead of divine-human relationship. It suffers from the ill-definition of “omnipotent” — not a problem of language generally, but a failure of that term specifically. For most of us, it also suffers from not being biblically founded.

    Boyd is an open theist (but not a very good one): he doesn’t hold to God’s omniscience (especially foreknowledge) and omnipotence. Lots of others believe likewise. You should check out what they have to say.

    Jeff W

  28. August 28, 2008

    Mike, this question of the Bridge dropping makes me think of the book, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” by Thornton Wilder. This is exactly what it’s like.

  29. Kyle permalink
    August 28, 2008

    Jeff,

    I got about 80% of that but haven’t completely wrapped my brain around it. In situational terms, how does your theology affect my questions. Are you arguing that God can’t control people or creation or both or am I missing the mark altogether?

  30. eddy permalink
    August 28, 2008

    Does the free will of man that built the bridge have any bearing or did God force/program someone to build a bridge and then forget to force/program someone to maintain the bridge? Should God have suspended his “laws” of gravity that sent cars into the river? Should God have suspended his wiliingness to grant comfort to grieving families? Should God have said “No” to bridge repair workers who prayed for more income to contribute to church work?

  31. August 28, 2008

    Keith said: “I don’t know how much of a hand God has in causing disaster in this world today. I do know that He permits them when He could prevent them and that He is in control and that it is part of His scheme of redemption. We can either let that fact drive us to doubt in His goodness/omnipotence, or to faith in a goodness that is eternal in nature and larger than we can possibly imagine.”

    That’s good stuff.

  32. Jeff W permalink
    August 28, 2008

    Kyle, I have no idea what God can or cannot do. I don’t know if even God knows. He hasn’t told me.

    According to the scriptures, God’s power is limited at least insofar as he grants authority to others. This, again, is a relational understanding of God’s power: God yields. So, no matter how much power God has at his disposal — whether it’s “inifinite” (whatever that means) or not — the scriptures testify that he doesn’t use it all.

    Jeff W

  33. Geezer permalink
    August 28, 2008

    Didn’t Jesus say that not even a sparrow falls apart from God?

  34. Geezer permalink
    August 28, 2008

    Sometimes it is surprising to see the altars we worship at. We sacrifice family for things of little value and I am afraid many in the CofC heritage come close to bowing down and worshiping at the Altar of Free Will. We make a Calvinist Strawman and then blow him down. I doubt we have a good understanding the sovereignty of God or own fallen nature. Do we believe that God is not in control of his creation? Was he surprised by Satan’s fall, or Adam’s fall? Did he have to resort to plan B and then on to plan C? Did he not know the end from the beginning and are not all things working out exactly as he planned in his own counsel and in his own time.

    Which of us wants to be perfect? I suspect many readers here would make that claim. So I ask which one of us could be perfect for even a day or two? Just go one or two days w/o being greedy, or proud, of lustful, or arrogant or not content with what God has given us. Could you do it for 24 hours? For even one day could you love God with all of your being as we are commanded. Can’t do it? Why not? Because we are not free – we are in bondage to Sin. We confuse license with freedom. We are not sinful b/c we sin. We sin b/c we are sinful. Until we understand ourselves we may not understand much else.

    I have not given a proof texts here b/c I doubt it would be helpful in this type of post. However, one might read Romans 9: 1-23 and even John Piper’s book on the passage titled The Justification Of God.

    Boyd made reference to God condemning someone who was simply acting in the way God has determined the person would act and said it was incredulous to believe such a thing could be. In Romans 9 we see exactly that in the case of Pharoah. Why does God find fault with him for having a hardened heart since God is the one that hardened Pharoah’s heart? Who are you talk back to God. Does not the Potter have the right over the clay to make it into whatever he wants? Read Romans 9 and note what it says. Do you think God ever sat in heaven wringing his hands bc he wanted to save a particular person and just wasn’t able to effect it? What resources did he lack? Power, intellect, the ability to persuade? Surely we don’t think God could set his mind to do something, anything at all, and fail to accomplish it.

    In our hymns we ask God to take control of our hearts, our lives, our wills. Do we mean it? I do! I much prefer to live when the HS is controlling my life, actions, thoughts. When I do it on my own I make a mess of things.

    Do any of us really believe we are saved by grace alone though faith alone. It is my only hope of salvation – but it is also my sure hope of salvation.

    Do we really understand the meaning of grace? Do we know what unconditional love is? We get confused when we mix the scriptures with documents like our constitution and all the intellectual currents of western thought (e.g. the enlightenment). We think God must love all people equally. I don’t know where scripture teaches that. He has always loved his people differently than the rest. See Romans 9 again.

    OK, enough rambling for now. Grace and peace.

  35. Kyle permalink
    August 28, 2008

    Jeff,

    You said:

    “So, no matter how much power God has at his disposal — whether it’s “inifinite” (whatever that means) or not — the scriptures testify that he doesn’t use it all.”

    I wholeheartedly agree with this. I think God does use power (or influence) on occasion but some of my brothers and sisters seem preoccupied with figuring out whether God is or is not directly influencing certain situations.

    This week I heard a preacher give multiple examples of people being physically rescued from cancer, heart attack and drowning. He attributed this to God’s faithfulness. It caused a quandary for me because some could hear this and think to when their mother or father died and conclude that must mean that God wasn’t faithful to them. At the same time, I sure don’t want to be guilty of not giving God the glory.

    The other element in this discussion that hasn’t been really discussed is dimensional comprehension. Our minds can’t comprehend the beginning and ending of time. The creation seems to suggest that God created time. I don’t know of anyone who will insist on a 3 dimensional (cartesian) paradise. Many think of paradise as a dimensionless non-physical representation of earth (or somewhere else). If the first 3 dimensions don’t exist outside of the universe, then maybe time doesn’t either. If that’s the case then alot of our discussion of omniscience and predestination boil down to us getting trapped inside of our own minds.

  36. August 29, 2008

    The infinite and incomprehensible nature of God is why I have to fall back onto God’s character in discussions like these. I just have to wake up every morning confident that God is remaking, not destroying, the world. That he works for the good of those who love him. That his dominant identity is Love. That Jesus did, in a mysterious way, take on the sin of humanity and go to the cross, where He defeated sin and death by resurrecting from the dead. That pinning all or most evil or natural disasters onto this Good God flies in the faith of this theology. It’s dangerous ground, and, as I argued before, not “good news.”

    That said, I have enough epistemelogical humility to admit that God could very well still cause “bad” things to happen in the world today. We’ll never know 100%, and I don’t think it should change how we approach God. He is always good and faithful THROUGH the storm. We can count on that.

  37. Ray B. permalink
    August 29, 2008

    This will be debated until Jesus returns . I think Steve Jr. has the right perspective. Whatever you may believe about His sovereign will , He will be sovereign. You must keep your faith in Him. Trust in His wisdom , His grace , His mercy , His love. Worship Him and obey Him no matter what may come into your life or the life of your family or the world. When there is a tornado you still love Him. When there is a hurricane you still believe in Him. When there is the insanity of genocide you still trust in His mercy. And when times of trouble come , then what a wonderful opportunity to display your Christ-likeness with helpful and gentle acts of compassion. Sometimes vast doors of opportunity open to teach the gospel. To some first century Christians who were undergoing severe persecution he said they still would need to love God and believe in Him and be filled with joy. I Peter 1 : 3- 9 .

  38. WES permalink
    September 9, 2008

    What do you mean by ‘the apparent open-endedness of the world’?

    Greg Boyd, the man you linked to, and apparently endorse, ascribes to ‘open theism’.

    Is that what you mean?

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