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Vol. 21, No. 6, 2022
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Robert J. Lewis
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Robert Lyon is a retired clergyman who divides his time between Guelph, Ontario and Melaque, Mexico. He taught high school English, Latin, Greek and science, and served as an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. His latest book, Don’t Throw Out Your Bible, from which the essay below is excerpted, should be available by the end of the year (2022). His monograph, A Christmas You Can Believe In, is available on request as a PDF file from

For most of the past two years I have been living in Melaque, a small tourist and fishing town on Mexico’s Pacific coast. Most of the amenities one wants are available here, the prices are right, the beaches and fishing are good, we have an English speaking church and a great sense of community, and the temperatures offer a welcome escape from the wicked witch of winter. But even here in paradise, things sometimes go wrong.

Last Monday I had to drive an hour from Melaque to the big city of Manzanillo, where the nearest Apple store is located, because my MacBook’s newly installed optical drive didn’t work. Then on Wednesday, the voice chip on my iPhone pooped out. All the phone’s capabilities are functional except speaking and listening. But what’s a phone without speaking and listening? And that happened immediately before my Thursday trip to Ajijic, five hours away on Lake Chapala.

The autopista between Melaque and Ajijic on Lake Chapala is a scenic, state-of-the-art toll road, with two lanes each way and a hundred yards of grassy median in between. After crossing a desert that’s actually a dry glacial lake, it approaches Lake Chapala through the magnificent Sierra Madres, offering a grandeur that no eye can remain indifferent to. Of course, I didn’t get there.

It’s now Friday, and for the second night in a row I’m ensconced in a hotel room in Ciudad Guzman, halfway to my destination. A mechanic here spent a day and a half restoring my engine after it overheated on the highway. If there are no further hiccups, I’ll be able to resume the journey at first light tomorrow. Meanwhile, I’m reflecting on this spate of ‘bad luck.’

If, as the Bible says (that’s an “if” of logic, not of doubt), God made the world and all that’s in it, and described it as “very good” (Genesis 1:31), then why is it that everything eventually breaks down? Often at the most inconvenient time! And why, as I read the news, do many Americans and Canadians think their respective democracies are also breaking down and tending towards oligarchic power? But you don’t need my list of “Why?”s. You undoubtedly have your own, and yours are more important to you than mine are. So let’s get on with a consideration of the question: Why do things go bad? Why, as the Scottish poet Robbie Burns observed, do “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley”?

Certainly, a lot of life’s ills can be attributed to carelessness, greed, stupidity and malice. And a lot more can be attributed to successive generations of inadequate parenting. But if God made the world “very good”, none of those reasons can explain the latest drought that appears on your news screen, or the young skater who was killed by a stray hockey puck.

Most of my Christian friends view the vicissitudes of life through the words of St Paul, who says that “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:23). (A textual variant reads: “In all things God works for good for those who love him.”) I believe that – in the long run – but to many that belief may seem naïve, because in the short run we very often don’t see how it can be so. On the other hand, was it just dumb luck that my car broke down near the only highway vendor within miles, and that the vendor knew of an excellent mechanic located near the closest interchange? And was it just dumb luck that I had in my suitcase the pair of tweezers needed to remove the piece of broken key when the mechanic was locked out of his building this afternoon? Was Hamlet right when he said, “There’s a providence that shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we will?”

Others propose that trials are sent by the devil to tempt us, or by God to test us or to teach us, But those options may also stretch your “willing suspension of disbelief.” The famous American preacher A. W. Tozer once told me: “Providence, young man, is God playing his checkers – not as our competitor, of course, but to win the game for all of us. I Like Tozer’s analogy, but I have to admit that the strategy in God’s checker moves often escapes us.

Next day, Saturday. Reached Ajijic at last, but not without a two-hour delay while a tow truck removed from the roadway the second half of a double tractor-trailer that had somehow managed to stray into the median off a perfectly straight highway.

Underling all the explanations posed above, is the idea of the will and purposes of God. But in the midst of that perspective – alongside Einstein’s assurance that God does not play dice with the universe – the Bible offers a most curious statement that seems to contradict any notion of providence. The writer says:

I have seem something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned, but time and chance happen to them all. (Ecclesiastes 9:11)

To most of us, I expect, the writer’s observations seem self-evident. They are also consistent with physicists’ discovery of the randomness of elementary particles. (More on that later.) So although I can believe that God “sustains all things by his powerful logos” (Hebrews 1:3), that belief must not be allowed to reduce our picture of events to a cosmic puppet show, or our concept of God to a Grand Puppeteer. For the Bible acknowledges that what we have facetiously come to call Murphy’s Law (with apologies to Murphy, whoever he was) really seems to happen. The problem, then, is how to comprehend a world where God is good, wise and powerful, but “time and chance happen to all.”


I offer for your consideration the thesis that this world, perhaps this universe, is only the Beta version. Not in the sense that God was experimenting with an app, of which he’ll get the bugs out later. But in the sense that this physical world in which we live out our temporary lives is itself temporary and a preparation for something greater. That seems to be where St Paul is going in the following passage:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For with anxious longing the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the children of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, to give us hope that the creation itself will also be set free from its bondage to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21)

Actually, you have to admit that, except when Murphy intervenes, our present Beta version is often pretty good. But like every good Beta, as Paul suggests, it should make us look forward to the release of the Alpha. That’s why I waited until now to mention that the writer of Hebrews 1:3 (above) identifies the God who “sustains all things by his powerful logos” with none other than Jesus: the God who came to live our kind of life, who died (most gruesomely) our kind of death, but who also rose again, revealing what can be our future kind of life. Jesus’ resurrection is the prototype of the Alpha version of our deepest longings. St John articulates this in his first letter, where he writes:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and it is not yet apparent what we shall be. But we know that when Jesus appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2,3)

Even given that hope, we still need to consider the question: Why a Beta version? I think that question invites two considerations: one deals with natural evils, like my car’s engine failure or the devastations caused by weather events; the other deals with the evils that people do.

Nature, the physical world, is a temporary thing. It supports itself by consuming itself; entropy actually serves a purpose. The sun, as a result of its task of supporting life, will one day burn out. Critters in the animal kingdom survive, or at least some of them do for a while, by being part of one another’s food chain. Without forest fires, floods, storms, the shifting of tectonic plates and indeed the expansion of the universe, the earth would be static and unliveable. In a universe where nothing like that happened, nothing else could happen. If the material of which my car’s engine is made was not capable of breaking down when it overheated, no one would have been able to fashion it into an engine in the first place. When physicists discovered the random behaviour of sub-atomic particles, we finally understood why “time and chance happen to all.” But more importantly, that random behaviour is the reason why the world, indeed the universe, is not a dead place but alive in motion; it is the reason why things can happen at all.

So the vicissitudes of life are a necessary aspect of the physical universe. But what about human evil? Where is the necessity in that? There is a myth, or at least I think it’s a myth, about fallen angels who exercised their freedom to rebel against God. But myth or fact, it’s also a story about us. As beings created in the image of God, our reason is a reflection of God’s reason, our best values and instincts reflect his love, compassion, and righteousness, and – here’s the critical point – our freedom reflects God’s absolute freedom. To have freedom in a world without God would be a world where all things are permissible, but to have a replica of God’s own freedom in God’s own creation makes every one of us accountable. Without that freedom, there could be no ultimate accountability. Conversely, without the possibility of human freedom, we would have no freedom.

It is now Sunday, and time for a conclusion. So I propose that, in God’s wisdom, this Beta world exists as a sort of prep school where, in all the exigencies of life, we may learn how to use the freedom that can become ours in the Alpha world. If we accept that recurring lesson with appropriate humility, we are assured that “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” In that blessed Presence, nothing will break down.





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