The following is from “Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman & Terry Prachett (pg. 388-389, Harperbooks paperback edition, 2006). The two characters are Crowley (a demon, but more like Loki of Nordic tradiiton than the classic Christian view of being demonic) and Aziraphale (and angel, close to the classic Christian view of a guardian angel, although more Epicurean).Crowleey starts:
“I don’t know. You can never be certain about what’s really intended. Plans within plans.”
“Sorry?” siad Aziraphale.
“Well,” said Crowley, who’d been thinking about this until his head ached, “haven’t you ever wondered about it all? You know— your people and my people. Heaven and Hell, good and evil, all that sort of thing? I mean, why?”
“As I recall,” said the angel stiffly, “there was the rebellion and…”
“Ah, yes. And why did it happen, eh? I mean, it didn’t have to, did it?” said Crowley, a manic look in his eye. “Anyone who could build a universe in six days isn’t going to let a little thing like that happen. Unless they want it to, of course.”
“Oh, come on. Be sensible,” said Aziraphale, doubtfully.
“That’s not good advice,” said Crowley, “That’s not good advice at all. If you sit down and think about it sensibly, you come up with some very funny ideas. Like why make people inquisitive, and then put some forbidden fruit where they can see it with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying “THIS IS IT!’?”
“I don’t remember any neon.”
“Metaphorically, I mean. I mean, why do that if you really don’t want them to eat it, eh? I mean, maybe you just want to see how it all turns out. Maybe it’s all part of a great big ineffable plan. All of it. You, me, him, everything. Some great big test to see if what you’ve built all works properly, eh? You start thinking: it can’t be a great cosmic game of chess, it has to be just very complicated Solitaire. And don’t bother to answer. If we could understand, we wouldn’t be us. Because it’s all–all–“
Sometimes I like to read theological musings that are not, strictly speaking tied to any particular religious viewpoint (Christian or otherwise). Sometimes it can inspire creative musings of one’s own.
Frankly, it is true that many Christians (and not just Folk Christianity) tend to view the world in terms of a great Chess match. God versus the Devil… Good versus Evil. And while there are war metaphors used in the Bible, it is quite evident that the chess match view (a dualistic or gnostic view) has no traction in Scripture. The Bible is God’s story and that story plays itself out in the Universe we call home. As in Pogo, the enemy, ultimately, is us.
The idea of our world being a complex game of Solitaire appears to be a much better metaphor than a chess match. That doesn’t suggest a “theology of decrees” but rather God as the director and lead actor in the drama.
Unfortunately, some Christians go to the opposite side of the chess match. They drift into Triumphalism. Focusing on the idea that the battle is already won (in a sense there was no battle) they go into brag mode… kind of like fans of a championship team sitting in the stands saying “WE won! WE are the champions!” Theologically, this may be sound, but ministerially, it is poor. From Christians desecrating Roman idols in the early church, cutting down pagan shrines in the “Dark Ages,” insulting Muslim neighbors in Persia during the Mongol occupation, on down to the present, we see that humility (see Philippians 2) is not just the Law, it is a good idea, as ambassadors of Christ.
I have drifted off topic a bit… but that is the point. It is good sometimes to hear or read other people’s reflections on God… and see where one’s (sanctified?) imagination takes one.
Ineffable is an uncommon word meaning “too great or extreme to be put into words.” I think that describes both God and God’s plan quite well. When we become too good at putting it into words… it is quite possible we got it wrong.