An Interview with Philosopher Steven Colborne About his New Book, “God’s Grand Game”

Hi, friends. Today’s post is a first for my blog. When Steven Colborne asked if I would participate in this blog tour for his new book, I immediately agreed because Steven is one of the most intelligent AND most supportive bloggers I have met on WordPress. Click here to view his philosophy and theology blog, Perfect Chaos.

I will provide a brief overview of his book, follow up with some interview questions, and end by identifying parts of the book that challenged or intrigued me the most.

Apologies for the post’s unusual length; I hope the highlighting makes it easy to skip around the post.

Quick Synopsis

In God’s Grand Game, Steven surveys an array of theories about God and the universe with the foundational premise that God creates and animates all things in existence. The idea that free will doesn’t exist logically follows. Thus, creation and our lives are completely out of our control and are all part of “God’s Grand Game.”

Interview with the Author

I preface this interview by informing readers that I come from a Christian perspective (more specifically, Methodist Protestant) while Steven believes in one God but does not adhere to a particular religion.

  • You mention in the first chapter that your progression from atheist to theist was partially catalyzed by reading the Bible when you were in a mental hospital. I find this piece of the story fascinating because, although I grew up in church, my life was not transformed until I started to seriously read the Bible. Can you tell us a little more about what was happening in you at that time, mentally and spiritually, as you read scripture?

Firstly, thank you so much Lily for agreeing to do this interview and allow me to talk about my life and work. I really appreciate it! And what a great first question.

My first admission to psychiatric hospital came after a turbulent but very spiritual period for me. I felt as though I was caught up in some great cosmic battle between Islam and Christianity, and I was somehow at the centre of it. I had spent some time sleeping rough outside a Mosque, and even attended a prayer session there. Not long after that, I remember going into a church and praying, and it was actually the church staff who called the police because they were worried about me (I hadn’t eaten or slept properly for some time).

When in the hospital, I asked for a Bible, which would have appeared strange to many considering my background as somewhat of an amoral, rebellious atheist. The Bible I was given was one of those Gideon Bibles, which had a list of references at the beginning that one could turn to when experiencing particular situations or emotions. I found that as I looked up passages of scripture, they spoke to me in a deep and profound way. For instance, when I was feeling anxious, I was directed to Philippians 4:6-7, and this was like balm for my soul.

It took me a few more years before I studied and read the Bible in its entirety, but I believe God used that hospital admission to open my mind to the gospel in a powerful way. I had read the New Testament briefly before, and had attended church sometimes as a youngster (my father was a Christian), but I had never experienced the power of the Bible before.

  • In the chapter “God’s Grand Game,” you state that God created and animates the world and all people as a form of entertainment. A Christian would likely say that God created humans for companionship. In the chapter “How Do I Know God Exists?” you talk about having a personal relationship with God, and in the chapter “What Are God’s Attributes?” you claim that God’s essence, ontologically speaking, is love. What is your view on the idea that God created humans for companionship? Does God seek to have intimate relationships with people? Does He love us?

Before writing the book I spent a lot of time considering the nature of God, and the idea of eternity, as I tried to figure out what this mysterious existence is all about. Why would God create a universe? It made sense to me that it would be a pastime for God, a way of utilising the infinite amount of time and creative power that are at God’s disposal.

I believe God is boundless, and as such it logically follows (in my view) that God is all there is and that all of existence is ‘within God’ and an expression of Him. In the book, I discuss the idea that it might be a kind of ‘hell’ for God to be alone for all eternity, and I have discussed elsewhere in my writing that He may have created beings because it’s as close as God can get to having free interaction with another being.

I think God does love us, but I would say He doesn’t just love Christians. He loves every creature He has ever created. This is why I have somewhat of a problem with the ‘exclusivist’ truth claims of religions such as Christianity and Islam. I believe God has an important role for every one of His creatures, and not just those that subscribe to a particular religion.

  • Your entire premise–that God must be controlling/part of everything in existence–is based on your assertion in “What Are God’s Attributes?” that God is omnipresent. Hence, you reiterate throughout the book that God’s omnipresence logically supports your perspective. What makes you certain of God’s omnipresence (as opposed to schools of thought that suppose God created the universe but is not actively involved in it)?

This understanding came to me from closely examining my present-moment experience. I used to spend a lot of time meditating, so would pay close attention not only to my thoughts, but also to what constitutes present-moment reality. It seemed to me that consciousness is something very fluid; it doesn’t have any boundaries. In Eastern philosophy, there is a term called Satchitananda, which translated into English is ‘existence-consciousness-bliss’, and this is what many in the East believe is the ultimate nature of the divine.

It makes sense to me that God is indistinguishable from existence because to argue anything else would be to place boundaries on God’s being–His being would have to have a certain form, I suppose. But I don’t believe God is an embodied being. Also, the fact that God can beat my heart when I’m here in London, and do the same thing when I’m on the moon (in theory!), means that He is not operating in a specific place, but everywhere. If God can act everywhere, then logically, He must be everywhere.

  • I found your theories on why God animates evil people/events interesting. N.T. Wright, a Christian theologian, also speculates about the nature of evil in “Surprised by Hope.” One theory he offers is that “God’s creative love, precisely by love, creates new space for there to be things that are genuinely other than God.” He also states, “If God is indeed creator of the world, it matters that creation is other than God.” Is it possible, in your opinion, for God to create anything outside of Himself? Or, referring back to #3, does God’s omnipresence automatically mean that He cannot create something without controlling every facet of it?

I believe it is a logical impossibility both for there to be an omnipresent God and freedom from God (or free will). If God is omnipresent, this means every atom in existence is part of God and, therefore, under God’s control. As you have correctly pointed out and understood, God’s omnipresence is at the heart of my writing, and this idea is really the reason I spend my life discussing philosophy and theology; I really want people to understand this.

There’s a short chapter in God’s Grand Game entitled ‘Divine Omnipotence and Free Will’, in which I invite readers to consider what it would actually mean to say we have free will. Did you freely choose the number of arms and legs you have, and the number of fingers you have? Are you circulating blood around your body, controlling your heartbeat, and growing your hair and nails? How are you doing these things? The materialist might argue that these processes are controlled by the brain, but then what is controlling the brain’s activity? You might say ‘I’ am controlling my brain, but this seems absurd to me because you cannot say how you are doing it. This problem is solved, in my view, when we acknowledge that God animates us in the same way that a puppeteer animates the puppets in a puppet show.

  • In the chapter “Compatibilism,” you argue against the theory that God is omnipresent yet humans have free will simultaneously. You end the chapter with a couple questions–”But if the Bible teaches compatibilism, and the Bible is God’s revelation to mankind, should we suspend logic and reason and live purely by faith in what we read in the scriptures? Is it really possible to commit our lives to a belief that, in a significant way, doesn’t make sense?” Do you consider the possibility that there are things we simply cannot wrap our minds around–not as a cheap response to a hard question but in a sincerely humble way, recognizing that human knowledge is limited?

The short answer is, yes! I do believe there are some things we will likely never understand during our lives on Earth. I believe that God hides certain things from us. I also believe He creates every being with a unique role and purpose, and I believe my purpose is to share the insights God has given me in relation to philosophy and theology. There are many things that I don’t understand–for example, the nature of the afterlife and whether or not God suffers.

I shouldn’t end without noting that I realise my worldview presents a significant challenge to the Christian worldview, and I wouldn’t expect all of your readers to get on board with my philosophy. The attraction of the Christian scriptures is very powerful (I know because I was an evangelical Christian for many years). I totally respect the Christian worldview, and I know that Christians genuinely care about not wanting the ‘unsaved’ to suffer in hell. I appreciate that. All I would say is that I have not arrived at my conclusions lightly–it has been a real struggle, with much time spent on my knees and in tears crying out to God. It would be much easier, in many respects, for me to become a Christian (not that being a Christian is easy!), but I am unable to commit to Christianity due to what seem to me to be significant problems with Christian theology, and most significantly in relation to the divine sovereignty vs. human free will problem, which is the major theme of God’s Grand Game.

Especially Challenging/Intriguing Chapters

Though my views don’t match Steven’s, his writings challenged me to think more deeply about my beliefs. For example, in the chapter “What Prayer Reveals About God,” Steven points out that the way Christians pray to God would have to imply His omnipresence. Steven argues that, if God can do all the things we pray for, He must logically control everything. I am still chewing on that area of thought.

I also found the chapters titled “Calvinism” and “Open Theism” informative and thought-provoking. He presented the two major opposing Christian views about God’s will clearly and concisely, and I am left pondering both ideas.

In the chapter “Materialism and Free Will,” Steven discusses prominent atheist Sam Harris’s views, and unless he has misinterpreted Harris, Harris apparently shares Steven’s belief that free will doesn’t exist. I’m intrigued and a bit perplexed that atheists would argue that idea.

Final Thoughts

The various chapter topics are compelling, and Steven has an intelligent yet straight-forward writing style that propelled me through 10, 25, 50 pages quickly. Whatever your beliefs about God or the universe are, this book may provoke you to examine those views more in depth.

Click here for info about purchasing God’s Grand Game.

Thanks for reading! What are your views about God’s will vs. free will? Do you have thoughts regarding my questions or Steven’s answers? Let us know in the comments.

16 comments

  1. Good interview, Lily, with thoughtful questions. I agree that, as Christians, we need to hear challenges to our understanding of God. We grow by listening and deeply thinking about these things. Especially, in the area of free will. This is a very complicated issue and I think we often find ourselves looking at different parts of the same elephant on these kinds of things. Blessings.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. To assume that if we have free will means God is not in control is a false assumption in my view. It also limits God. Yes God is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, but so much so that our having free will does not negate the awesomeness of God. Just because God knows something will happen does not mean he willed it to happen.

    God created space and time for us to live in and for all of creation to exist in, but he is not bound by it. Analogies are always deficient but one in my mind is I take a box and put paper in it and some food and then put a rabbit in it, I can reach in anytime to add more food, to take care of the rabbit etc, but I am not bound by the box. The rabbit moves within the boundaries of the box but I do not control its every move. However, its movements never surprise me.

    Just a few thoughts.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. “Just because God knows something will happen does not mean he willed it to happen.” I basically agree with this, Matt, and I like the analogy. Reading the OT straight through is tripping me up, though, because the authors attribute so much of people’s actions and feelings to God’s will, so I am not sure if I should accept that at face value or if the authors could have been wrong sometimes.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. A few thoughts about reading through the bible. 1- Is it descriptive or prescriptive? Is it describing how a person feels or what they did or is it prescribing what we should do or believe.

        Example- David in the Psalms many times writes about how he is feeling like in a prayer but is it prescriptive for us to follow or is it describing how he feels or thinks to give us a window into his experience?

        But then in the Psalms there are also prescriptive elements such as The Lord is my shepherd in Psalm 23. There is doctrinal truth in the 23rd Psalm that also teaches about how God is to us.

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      2. You bring up an interesting point. 2 Samuel 24:1 parallel to 1 Chronicle 21:1 comes to mind. Did God or Satan ask David to take the census? But if God is in control of everything, it happened as he wanted anyway. If we have no free will David had no choice but to take the census. Thank you for the interesting interview.

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  3. Lily, I have to say that you did a splendid job with this interview. You asked some great, thought provoking, and gracious questions! To answer your questions to your readers, I too find the issues with “Sovereignty” and “Free Will” a particularly challenging subject for us theologians and Christian thinkers. In fact, I have recently been doing a study on these issues myself, at least within the Christian debate on the matter. I have focused on Calvinism, Arminianism, and alternate views. One of the most surprising things that I have found is that, if we are looking at the full counsel of God’s Word as our primary authority on this theological question, then neither of the extremes quite meet the mark of the “mystery” that the text conveys. The two “extremes” try to make sense of the “paradox” in a systematic way. However, I’m not so sure that there is not more clarity within the “paradox” of the biblical texts that systematic theologians, or even philosophers, have somewhat neglected. It has been encouraging to be corrected in some of “my” views by Scripture. I began as more of a “Calvinist”, then became somewhat more “Arminian” in my thinking, and have since allowed the Word of God to correct both sides of the spectrum when they have not lined up. Inevitably, this has left me seeking something else, if there is a system that “fits” what the Bible proclaims, that will better communicate the theology of this issue that is rooted in the entirety of Scripture. But then I think, maybe there’s a reason for that and perhaps I should just take the “position of Scripture”, allowing God’s living and active Word do its work (Heb 4:12).

    I look forward to reading more of your content. And please, feel free to check out my blog at https://wordpress.com/view/jakebyrd.wordpress.com. I write on theology, current issues, and religion from a Christian perspective and would love to hear your feedback on anything you find interesting!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Jake, thank you for reading this post and leaving such a thorough comment! I will check out your blog.

      I like how you said that both sides of the spectrum–God controls everything vs. Humans have total free will–“try to make sense of the paradox in a systematic way.” And I agree that neither extreme feels sufficient, especially as I read scripture and see evidence for both sides. I’ve struggled with the OT (currently in 1 Kings on a straight read through) because the writers attribute so much of people’s actions and feelings to God’s will, and even in a NT letter like Romans, it’s more than implied that certain things are happening for a reason (such as Jews not accepting Christ until “the full number of Gentiles are saved”).

      Yet the entire crux of Christianity is accepting that Jesus was sent by God to die on the cross for our sins, and accepting or not accepting is a choice. Whether I read my Bible today or don’t, whether I listen to Christian music or secular, whether I pray or skip it…I feel like I am making those choices…not God through me but me. I feel that God can work through me, but I have to open my heart and spirit to it. If people had no free will at all, I’m a bit perplexed that God sent Jesus at all. And, returning to the text, there are plenty of instances where people disobey God that don’t attribute those decisions to God’s will.

      The subject is enigmatic to say the least!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Enigmatic indeed! I think it’s important that you see that both sides of the issue are represented in both Testaments, further evidencing the unity of the God that they describe. And that is one of the areas I feel is neglected by some when examining important theological issues such as these; proof-texting, and better yet, ignoring what the whole of Scripture has to say about the issue. There have been several moments where I see a passage of Scripture that helps resolve a theological tension (tension not being the same as “problem”), and I say to myself, “Well, why doesn’t anyone talk about that verse!?”.

        This reveals to me that first, our systematizing of theology requires a LOT of work and people willing to put the time into doing it. And second, that the field of systematic theology has room for growth and, at times, may be more subject to theological bias than we would like. Not to say there aren’t some great systematic theologians out there!

        I look forward to finding, perhaps a somewhat “systematized”, balance on this issue. There are some attempts like that out there that seem interesting. I tried typing out where I may currently “land” on the issue in this reply, but I feel it may be too confusing and I haven’t done enough research to “land” anywhere yet. Perhaps I’ll write about it one day? Regardless, I look forward to reading and reviewing Steven’s book as part of this process!

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