Where there are two wills, there’s a way

Monday Musings for June 08, 2020

Good morning, Musers,

Believing in God is not a crapshoot. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Believing in God is a sure thing! Nevertheless, I need to talk about the accouterments of shooting craps today — the dice.

A fair die is an evenly weighted cube that comes in many sizes. The 16 mm size (which is about three-quarters of an inch) seems to be a popular choice. The purpose of a die is to throw it at an angle onto a horizontal surface so it will roll and tumble and ultimately stop. The die is a cube, so it has six surfaces. The surface facing upward after it stops is the one that tells us our score.

We have an English idiom — “a roll of the dice.” If it were used among a people who had no knowledge of dice but understood what it meant for something to roll, they would think that a die might be a ball or a wheel — and think about this: cubes do not roll. But here’s what we know: not only do dice demonstrably roll, they are designed to roll. So what’s going on?

A lot is going on. Technically speaking, dice are not cubes. I’ll admit that they are more like cubes than they are like anything else, and since we usually speak casually and not technically, we’re okay. But dice have rounded corners. As such, they are superquadrics, not cubes.

Superquadrics are a family of geometric shapes defined by formulas that resemble those of ellipsoids and other quadrics, except that the squaring operations are replaced by arbitrary powers. Got that? Me neither. Just know that a cube with rounded corners is one of the possible quadratic shapes, and that, therefore, the common die is technically not a cube.

When you think about it, if dice were truly cubes, they would barely tumble. A true cube would often lay flat when it hit the surface... and a few might tumble once or twice if they landed on their corners. But they would not tumble nearly as much as the superquadratic cubes.

Here’s another way of looking at it: if you swallowed one of your Yahtzee dice, you probably wouldn’t feel it as it passed through your body. But if that die were truly a cube — one with 90° corners — you would feel it on its way in... and arguably more on its way out!

Today’s point is that rounded corners make the world work… and I’m okay with people referring to dice casually as cubes. But I am not okay when they speak about God’s sovereignty that way. It gives people the wrong idea. You see, it’s tempting to think of God’s sovereignty as a cube... and to think that no God worth having would have anything less than harsh and exacting corners on his attributes.

But our experience is that God is more of a superquadratic. His sovereignty simply cannot be a cube in a world where people have free will. If his sovereignty were not eased at the edges, then human free will — and God’s purposes for the universe — would be torn to shreds.

I made that adjustment to my view of God’s ontology years ago (to avoid insanity). The Bible teaches that God is sovereign. But it (and life) also teaches that we have free will. So, if the Bible is true — and that’s our stand around here — then there is no way that God’s sovereignty would be absolute in that flinty kind of way that we accuse Calvinists of affirming.

But I learned something this week. In John Piper’s teaching — Are There Two Wills in God? — Piper, a well-known and well-respected Calvinist preacher and teacher, admits that God’s sovereignty must have rounded edges... and that sounds a little Arminian to me.

Join me as we discuss this, and enjoy the musings.

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