deus ex machina

deus ex machina


The psychohistoric trend of a planet-full of people contains a huge inertia. To be changed it must be met with something possessing a similar inertia. Either as many people must be concerned, or if the number of people be relatively small, enormous time for change must be allowed. Do you understand? – Foundation, Isaac Asimov

In the blog, “If you have two loaves of bread…” I wrote about the nature of yeast, considering the spiritual significance of Christ’s words, “The reign of the heavens is like to leaven [or yeast], which a woman having taken, hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened [or till the dough rises].”  In this blog, I will compare the yeast concept to ideas in Asimov’s book, Foundation.

All believers would agree that God is, or at least, will, at some point, do away with all that ails the human race – disease, death, sorrows, etc.  But in what manner or timing God does this, believers disagree.  Some think that God will interrupt the flow of history to make sudden, grand, sweeping changes.  Others believe that God is already actively at work, and that these changes will take place gradually.  Still others are of the opinion that both concepts contain truth.  And perhaps there are some who just go about their lives without really considering what the future holds.

In the above mentioned blog, I wrote that perhaps “God intends to establish His Kingdom in the same way yeast works through dough, that is, consuming very little energy and multiplying in a slow and steady manner that mimics human respiration in a repeating cycle of oxidation and reduction.  It happens quietly, almost imperceptibly.  Someone might be inclined to question whether the yeast is actually working at all.”  But according to Jesus Christ, “the whole” lump of dough is eventually leavened.

This wikipedia article describes the premise of Asimov’s book and other books in the Foundation series:

The premise of the series is that mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology (analogous to mathematical physics). Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale; it is error-prone on a small scale. It works on the principle that the behaviour of a mass of people is predictable if the quantity of this mass is very large (equal to the population of the galaxy, which has a population of quadrillions of humans, inhabiting millions of star systems). The larger the number, the more predictable is the future.

A cursory read of scripture reveals that God is in the habit of accomplishing His purposes through individual people and over long periods of time.  Take, for instance, Adam.  The entire human race is directly affected by Adam.  The same goes for Christ, the “last Adam.”  Then there’s Abraham.  The entire human race benefits from promises God made to this one man.  There’s a long string of individuals whose stories are told, culminating in Mary, who gave birth to Jesus.  And Jesus selects just twelve guys who effectively turn the world upside down.  Paul breaks the mold, claiming that God’s chosen people aren’t the only ones God plans to bless.

How can God accomplish His purposes when the “masses” are always resisting and rebelling?  It seems like every time an individual does the right thing, and some momentum builds, it dies off.  Like Asimov’s psychohistory, the large numbers of people who resist and rebel against God have set humanity on a course for destruction that “is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.”  Or so it seems.

I return once again to the blog, “If you have two loaves of bread…

From a spiritual point of view, this is very interesting: the yeast DIES as the dough is baked, and when the yeast dies, the little air pockets in the bread stop expanding, resulting in the bread’s pleasant texture and taste.  Perhaps the body of Christ needs to die to its own idea of Ecclesia in order to function in the world the way Jesus described.

We have to be willing to do the right thing, even if we know it makes little difference in the scope of human history, even if no one pays attention or cares, even if it results in great personal loss.  Why?  Because if there are enough of us “dying daily,” then the yeast is working its way through the dough.

Will God interrupt this process, bringing a literal fulfillment of apocalyptic language, tearing open the sky like a scroll unrolling while people scream in terror?  Or will God quietly and slowly fill all things with His glory?  What do you think?  Is the unfolding of human history, the momentum of the will of humanity, “too massive and majestic” for God’s yeast to have its intended effect?

I don’t dismiss the idea that God can do whatever He wants to do, all at once, or a little at a time, but I suspect that the all-at-once view may have been a Churchian invention, a deus ex machina conjured up in the minds of people who would like to reinvent God in their own image.

I could be mistaken, though.  Let each reader pray for God to reveal to him or her Who He is and what He does.

  • Mary Vanderplas July 23, 2013 at 6:21 am

    I like what you say about God working slowly, imperceptibly, by the power of love to vanquish evil and establish his reign. And I agree that the comparison to yeast points up both the hiddenness of God’s power at work in the world and the pervasiveness of its effects. I don’t think, though, that to acknowledge that God is at work already in hidden ways to accomplish his purposes precludes affirming that he will act at the end of time to eradicate evil completely and establish his reign in its fullness. Indeed, the New Testament writers seem plainly to affirm just this: that the righteous Judge will come to establish his reign of peace and justice on the earth. One doesn’t have to interpret literally the apocalyptic imagery of texts such as Matthew 13:40-43 in order to hear the theological message that is conveyed in them: that at the end of history evil will be completely destroyed by the power of God. How exactly this will happen remains to be seen; though I think it can be said that the power of God to vanquish evil and death is the power of love, not the power of violence.

    I appreciate your “epistemic humility”; and I share it, up to a point. There is much that we don’t know about how God will accomplish his purposes for the world he created and loves. Still, I don’t think that it’s saying too much, in light of the biblical witness, to affirm that the reign of God is already but not yet and that God will act not to “interrupt this process” but to bring it to its fulfillment at the end of time.

    I especially like what you say about the part that we play in God’s working to defeat the power of evil and death; and I agree that there is no underestimating what can be accomplished by way of changing the world when we join God, wielding the power not of force and violence, but of suffering love.

    • admin July 23, 2013 at 7:38 pm

      “wielding the power not of force and violence, but of suffering love” I love it.

  • Stephen Helbig July 23, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    I have no difficulty stating the “Rapture “theory to me is a deus ex machina .and I would also state that the Rapture portrayed by a great number in today’s Christianity is indeed an all-at-once view that may have been a Churchian invention, Having said that, and with this in reference, ~ I am amused with this statement from Dr. L. Kip Wheeler in his “Literary Terms and Definitions: ~ “A deus ex machina is generally deemed undesirable in writing and often implies a lack of creativity on the part of the author
    Who is the author? 🙂 ~ Rapture ? ~ Hoax or Hope

    p.s. ~ Up till today I had no idea what a “deus ex machina” was.” ~ So thanks for the  above 🙂 .~( Latin: “god from the machine”) ~ “deus ex machina” is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved, with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object. Depending on how it is done, it can be intended to move the story forward when the writer has “painted himself into a corner” and sees no other way out, to surprise the audience, to bring a happy ending into the tale, or as a comedic device.”
    “DEUS EX MACHINA (from Greek theos apo mechanes): An unrealistic or unexpected intervention to rescue the protagonists or resolve the story’s conflict. The term means “The god out of the machine,” and it refers to stage machinery. A classical Greek actor, portraying one of the Greek gods in a play, MIGHT BE LOWERED OUT OF THE SKY ONTO THE STAGE and then use his divine powers to solve all the mortals’ problems. The term is a negative one, and it often implies a lack of skill on the part of the writer.” 🙂

    p.s.s. ~ Also thank you Alice for great advice ~ “Let each reader pray for God to reveal to him or her Who He is and what He does.”

    p.s.s.t ~ Salvation is much more than saving us from, but it is more in saving us to ~ OUR ULTIMATE RECONCLLIATION

    • admin July 23, 2013 at 7:36 pm

      Thanks for expounding on deus ex machina. I put a link in there, but I’m not sure how many readers actually follow the links…

      • Stephen Helbig July 23, 2013 at 8:52 pm

        “Follow the links…” 🙂

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