Thinking Out Loud

May 1, 2017

Open Theology and a 10-Year-Old Girl

It was the first of May and already the city’s Parks and Recreation Department Fall registration brochure had shown up in the mail. Amanda flipped over to the page “New This Year” and let out a sigh. This news was not going to go over very well.

Madison arrived home from school and Amanda said, “After you get your snack we need to talk.”

She grabbed her snack as her older brother Luke walked in the door and ran to the fridge before heading off to his game console.

Madison placed the straw in the juice pack and then returned to the living room where her mom was waiting. “Is something wrong?” she asked.

Amanda explained that the Fall sports schedule had arrived. “Madison, they’ve moved swimming and it’s now the same night as your indoor soccer league.”

She waited for Madison to process the impact of her words. Finally she said, “Well, I can do the next swimming level at Eastside pool, right?”

Amanda was impressed with the girl’s resourcefulness. However, “They’re changing all the pool times, and Eastside has Level 3 the same night as you have choir. Plus it’s a 30-minute drive.”

Madison would not be swayed. “Maybe I could do Level 3 at the private aquatic place where Zoe goes. I could get a ride with her parents?” She raised her voice at the end of the sentence as if waiting for rubber-stamped approval.

Amanda sighed for the second time that hour. “Honey, we just can’t afford to send you there. Remember, we’re a family of seven kids, and if we make an exception for you we have to pay extra for programs for everyone. Besides, it’s the same night as we’re driving Luke across town his youth group, and we’d miss some of your competitions.”

Wheels in the ten-year-old’s brain were still turning. “Luke’s old enough to take a bus.”

“Luke’s old enough to take the bus there, but he’s not old enough to take the bus home at 9:00 when it ends; especially in the winter.”

“Maybe there’s someone else who lives in Westside who goes to Luke’s church.”

“We’ve already looked into that with their student ministry director. We’re kind of an exception.”

“Well Luke could find a church close to home with a youth group that works.”

“He’s already raising money for a February missions trip with that church that your cousins are also going on. We’re not going to take that away from him.”

Madison was realizing that much of this was coming down to choice and that while her mom could just tell her what to do, she was being forced to make the choice for herself.  Finally she said, “Well, I guess I could just skip indoor soccer for a season.”

At this, Amanda realized full disclosure required her to tell the whole story; “Maddy, you can easily take a year off soccer, but when you go back in, you’ll have to go through tryouts all over again. You’ll be competing with all the kids who want to get on that team at that level. If they’re really good, you could get cut.”

Madison looked at the recently-won soccer trophy still in a place of prominence in the living room. “But Mom; I’m really good at soccer.”

Amanda shot back, “Does that mean you don’t want to give it up; you’re willing to give it up; or that you’re confident you’d get back with your teammates a year later? Also what if Level 4 swimming is scheduled opposite soccer in the new year?”

The girl was processing this. “Well, we won the finals, but I did miss three open shots in that game. If it’s the same coach a year from now, and he remembers that, he may want to cut me.”

And then she paused.

A long pause.

Finally she said, “Mom, this is really, really complicated. When is the registration deadline for swimming and soccer?”

“June 15th. Or as long as there are openings.”

“Can I drop choir?”

“Yes, but choir isn’t impacted by this. Unless you think Eastside is still a possibility. But I’m not sure it is.”

Finally the little girl crunched up the snack pack and the juice box and said, “Mom, I’m going to my room to pray about this.”

Amanda smiled and once the girl was out of earshot whispered quietly, “Maybe I should have thought of that.”


One decision affects another. At Quara.com an image of the “most epic flow chart ever.”

Amanda’s frustration with the city for changing some of the nights for pool activities was triggered not so much by the dilemma facing Madison as it was trying to run all the different scenarios of how this affected her six other siblings.

For example, making an exception for Madison when she’d already turned down her older sister Sydney when faced with similar scheduling conflicts. Or setting a precedent with Madison when her youngest brother Aiden clearly wanted to get into aquatics. And the costs. And the busyness placed on her and her husband ferrying kids to activities. And wondering down the road, which route would better serve her daughter when she reached high school athletics: Soccer or swimming?

She knew clearly which choice she wanted Madison to make. She had a favorite in her mental road-map for Maddy’s life. But it was going to be her daughter’s choice. Not hers. And Amanda has already run the various sequences in her head for Maddy’s decision and how it impacts the fall season for her, her husband, and the six other kids; and how it could impact Madison for the winter schedule and the many seasons which follow.

No matter what Madison chooses, Amanda is still the parent. She’s still in charge. She’s still guiding and directing her daughter’s life. But she’s offering her daughter the luxury — the latitude — of free choice. To make her own decisions and deal with the consequences.


What Amanda is being forced to do on a small scale, God is capable of doing on a grand scale.

To me, this story effectively illustrates the concept of open theology. Only God is capable of running all the various scenarios and sequences for billions of us. He is omnipotent, omniscient and has omniprocessing. (Try finding that one in a theological textbook.)

He’s still in charge. He’s still the sovereign. No matter what we choose. He’s still guiding. He still has some personal favorite choices he’d like us to make (because he can see all the sequences) but he’s offering us the luxury — and latitude — of free choice. He can even close his eyes to the future and let our choice surprise him.

And doing so doesn’t rob him of an iota of sovereignty.

It’s how he made us.

It’s how he designed the system to operate.

And it delights him to no end to watch us working it all through.

 

 

 

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