Theology on Thursdays

Posted: January 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

Have you ever seen the early ’80’s movie Wargames? It’s about a powerful military computer with artificial intelligence that nearly starts World War III because it doesn’t understand the difference between wargames and real life. 

The protagonist (a very young Matthew Broderick), tracks down the computer’s original programmer for help.  He tells Broderick that the real problem the is the computer never learned the lesson of futility, that there is a time to just give up.

Broderick and his girlfriend protest, “what kind of lesson is that?” The programmer responds with a question, “Have you ever played tic-tac-toe?” “Sure, when I was kid.”  “But you don’t anymore?” “No, it’s a stupid game, it’s always a tie.”  “Exactly!’ the programmer exclaims, “the game itself is pointless.  There is no way to win.”  Hence, the importance of futility.

I’ve been reading through theologian Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics 1.1 and I think he would argue that Christians need to learn the lesson of futility when it comes to speaking about the ways of God at least with any real sense of confidence.   Barth believes we are all much too depraved and God is too “wholly other” for us to claim to truly understand God.

I don’t agree with Barth that we have to go that far but certainly “the secret things belong to God” (Deuteronomy 29:29) and penetrating those secret things may indeed be futile.

Ask yourself, how many great thinkers have tried to solve the problem of evil or explain the trinity or successfully balance election and free will? How many have to fail before we throw up our hands and celebrate futility?

One scholar put it this way, let’s say that the every year for thousands of years the best athletes in the world attempted to jump the Grand Canyon without success.  How many bodies have to pile up on the river bed before someone says, “You know, I don’t think it can be done.”

Barth may have pushed too far but accepting the futility of probing into some corners of the divine may not be such a bad idea.

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