Like clockwork

I realize that this is a total departure from what I usually post on this blog, but maybe it’s time for a little theology.

Every year during Advent I put candles in the front windows of our house, as a symbol of our welcome for the arrival of Jesus at Christmas. The candles are electric, with little 7-watt night light bulbs which look pretty and festive.

I used to go  around every evening and plug them in, and then unplug them before I went to bed. Then I invested in a bunch of inexpensive electric timers, which turn the window candles on from 6:00 to 8:00 in the morning, and then again from 4:00 in the afternoon till about 11:00 at night.

The timers aren’t very accurate – I can only set them very roughly within about 15-30 minutes of the actual time. And because of friction inside the timers, or possibly because of original sin, they tend to fall behind a few minutes a day.

So, about once a week I have to go round the house and tweak the timers a bit – setting one 15 minutes faster, or adjusting the little knobs that control the on/off cycle, or sometimes replacing a light bulb. It takes a few minutes to get them all where they need to be, and then they’re all set for another week.

Years ago, in the 18th and 19th century, people tried to come up with a new way to understand God, a way which would incorporate all of the new scientific knowledge which was flooding the world at that time. People were learning about the laws which govern the movement of the stars and planets, about the hidden world of chemistry, the process of evolution, and the great depths of time during which mountains and continents had been formed and re-shaped.

It seemed impossible to them that God could be in charge of the movement of every atom in a universe which was bigger than they had ever imagined. So, many people gave up the idea of a “personal God”, and said that the world was more like a giant mechanism which God had created and set in motion. God created the world and the laws which govern it, the laws which scientists were discovering. Many theologians compared the world to an enormous clock, and the phrase “a clockwork universe” entered peoples’ imagination.

In some ways, that makes God seem removed and impersonal (“transcendent”, to use another theological word). In this metaphor, God is a “hands off” kind of creator, who doesn’t interfere with the workings of the world.

Well, tinkering again this year with our window candles and unreliable timers gave me a fresh sense of how things may work. As we work to get ready our welcome, some of the timers need frequent adjustment. Some of our light bulbs need to be replaced, so they can get back to their work of shining in the darkness. Sometimes the window shades need to be pulled up, so that the light doesn’t just glow in the guest bedroom, but so that it can shine out for everyone to see, and so that Jesus will know that He is welcome in our home.

And maybe, just maybe, God isn’t a hands-off Omniscient Designer in a perfect, eternal clockwork universe. Maybe the etnernal laws of nature have some slippage built in, or maybe things wear out and need to be adjusted or replaced. Maybe God goes around adjusting things, tweaking things, or nudging things along from time to time. Maybe God has to work a little bit now and then.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the season of Advent, and I hope you’ll take some time this season to prepare for the coming of Christ into our world.

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1 Response to “Like clockwork”


  1. 1 Rich Liversidge December 6, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    The idea of God tinkering in our lives is very comforting and familiar. We do that with our loved ones – our children and friends. So we can expect a loving God to do it with us. God just does it on so much larger a scale.


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All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.

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