Take a moment and think about Dungeons and Dragons. Did any of you play this game as children? Are you Satanists now? Just curious…
I played D&D (or AD&D, at the time) quite a bit growing up. The guy who was our regular DM (ie. the dude who ran the game) always tried to straddle the line between strict adherance to the rules and fudging them to make it the game funner for those participating. We had two kids who consistently went out of control. One who would go off and play with other gamers and come back with these spectacular magical items which, he would then insist, our DM allow him to use in our game. The DM would agree and then destroy the items at the first convienient opportunity. The other kid would consistently get fed up with the slow pace of the game (at around the hour mark) and then spend the rest of the game trying to get the rest of us killed. He would always start the game with some random new chaotic good character and, by the end of the night, he would be some random dead chaotic evil character. I look at that last paragraph and realize what a geek I was (and probably still am).
So, aside from embarassing myself with my high-school nerditude, I think that AD&D (or games in general) may help explain the difference that Geoff J and I appear to be having regarding the manner in which the atonement is expressed in the repentance process. As you have likely guessed, I will, of course, be comparing God to Gary Gygax.
Gary Gygax wrote the rules of AD&D. He came up with manner in which one generates a character (ie. the role that one plays in the game). He developed the manner in which those characters can change over time. He explained who you could be, what you could be, and why you could be it. He established the rules.
Within the parameters of the rules, you could develop your character. You could go on adventures, chop up orcs, drink potions, find treasure, etc. All of these experiences allowed your character to develop over time, helping you to become better. The changes that your character experienced were of two sorts: first, when you received a certain number of experience points (ie. an arbitrary measure of how much your character had learned/developed over time), you were granted the next level (meaning that you received new powers and abilities); second, your character changed because of the experiences themselves (at least, it would if you were a good role player). You might get 2000 experience points for defeating a dragon or something, but if all of your friends died in the process, you were expected to play the game from then on like someone whose friends had died helping him defeat a dragon. Events were meant to have psychological, as well as physical, effects (which was why the two above geekier-than-I kids were particularly obnoxious).
Why Gary Gygax is like God: Gary established the rules. Without Gary, there are no rules. I do not mean that there are no other games and that there are no rules in those other games. I mean that, without Gary, we would not have had these games to play by these rules. Any character development that you accomplished in that game was accomplished by meeting the requirements that Mr. Gygax set out. Without Gygax’s consideration of the need for development, there is not development. This does not absolve you from personal responsibility in developing your character (it is a time-honored adage that if you let someone else play your character in a role-playing game, your character will get killed). If you want to develop the character, you have to do something. You just have to follow the rules that Gygax established in order to do the something. In this manner, I would say that Gary is like God.
Why Gary Gygax is not like God: well, aside from the obvious, AD&D does involve creation ex nihilo. Your characters do not exist until you sit down, roll dice, and make them. However, I don’t believe that this is a killer to the argument. In role playing, like in any other role, you put yourself into the world. You are introduced into the world of the game from elsewhere and you make a form of yourself for participation within the game. Reality contains no NPC’s (ie. roles filled by the DM, as opposed to players).
So, if God has established the rules for this world, what does “natural” change mean? If it means that these changes occur according to the rules of the world, I am happy to go along with that (for at least as long as we are in an physical, fallen world). God has established the rules and we progress or regress as we follow them. There doesn’t appear to be another set of rules (for this world) and it appears that those who try to overturn the rules (ala my two friends) fail. Geoff might describe this as a passive role for God, but I tend to think that the rules are tailored too closely to the individual for this to be the case. In other words, while both Geoff and I have to be baptized and believe in Christ in general, some of the challenges that we face are individual (Geoff won’t have to learn to love my in-laws; I won’t have to deal with Geoff’s co-workers).
To be frank, I am not too happy with the above model, but I have put all the thought into it that I want for today. What do you all think?