This is Cherie’s “garden theology.” I love it.
Creation is like a farm or garden. The farmer is the creator and the farmer’s plan is for good to come out of the garden. Disease, pests, drought, frost, etc. exist in the garden, but they have not be introduced or caused by the farmer. The farmer works around these problems and surprises, and some of the problems may actually strengthen the plants. However, the farmer doesn’t invite or create these problems. Ultimately, despite the troubles, the garden produces a beautiful bounty.
I believe there is so much wonderful truth in that metaphor. If a farmer’s gardens are damaged by disease or pests, no one would say that the damage was part of the farmer’s plan. No one would look at a field washed away by a sudden storm and say, “Oh well. The farmer is in control. His ways are not our ways. It is part of his great plan for the garden, and it’s just too mysterious for the rest of us to understand.” That would be ridiculous, of course.
A good farmer anticipates problems, but he’d greatly prefer them not to occur at all. A good farmer will act immediately to heal and restore any damage to his gardens, but that does not mean that he planned to do so.
And a good farmer would be offended by anyone who would suggest that the farmer actually caused the problems, to serve some purpose known only to him.
But when it comes to the Creator of the universe, that is the conventional thinking. When some part of creation is damaged (by a tragic premature death, for example), far too many of us blame it on God. We conclude that he caused it, or that it was part of his great plan. We even look at something that can only reasonably be seen as evil, and conclude that it must in fact be good, in ways too mysterious for us to comprehend. We look at suffering and respond, “God is in control.” That pains me. I truly believe it pains God to know that so many of us see him in that way.
Returning to the gardener analogy, as I’ve said on here before, I see God not as just a farmer, but as an organic farmer. An organic farmer could reduce or even eliminate the possibility of his crops being damaged or destroyed by weeds or pests, by spraying them with pesticides and herbicides. But if the farmer intervened in that way, by applying poison to the food he’s growing, he might avoid the problem, but in doing so he would change the crops from something good, to something poisonous. By eliminating the possibility of the damage, he would fundamentally change the nature of that which he is growing.
Likewise, an omnipotent God could control everything, if he wished. But the price of that would be free will, and the price of no free will, is love. So God doesn’t control the universe, in some mechanistic or deterministic fashion. Sure he has created it in such a way that it is not out of control, but within those natural parameters creation is organic and is constantly affected by the decisions, both good and bad, of billions of free actors, using the free will they received from their Creator. And, like the farmer, God is constantly at work redeeming and restoring his creation. He has foreseen every possible scenario and will respond to those which materialize. From a human perspective there are virtually an infinite number of possible futures. But there is nothing free actors can screw up, which God cannot restore and redeem. Whatever mess we create, he’ll present the opportunity to redeem it. And he’ll keep doing so until all is restored to his original perfection.
In the meantime, when we screw up, or when some natural tragedy occurs, I don’t think we ought to blame God for it, any more than we’d blame the farmer for a drought.