Kill The Moon: A Theological Reflection on God’s Intervention and on Free Will

DOCTOR: I knew that eggs are not bombs. I know they don’t usually destroy their nests. Essentially, what I knew was that you would always make the best choice. I had faith that you would always make the right choice.
CLARA: Honestly, do you have music playing in your head when you say rubbish like that?
DOCTOR: It wasn’t my decision to make. I told you.

CLARA: Do you know what? Shut up! I am so sick of listening to you!
DOCTOR: Well, I didn’t do it for Courtney. I didn’t know what was going to happen. Do you think I’m lying?

God’s omniscience (God as all knowing) and omnipotence (God as all powerful), are some of the key pillars of popular Christian understandings of God. Yet despite God’s unlimited power and knowledge, most Christians affirm some notion of free will. In fact, when asked about suffering and why God does not stop it, the answer frequently given is, “well God does not want to impede on our free will.” On the one hand, that sounds like a sufficient answer. God does not want to turn us into robots forced to do God’s will. On the other hand, when one is in the midst of suffering such an answer seems unfair and pathetic. So a deity, who could avoid suffering, chooses not to in order to give us free will? If another person were to say, refuse to stop a rape or a murder, they would at the very least be disparaged for their lack of action and in some cases face criminal charges. Why does the same disdain not directed towards God. God, who is supposedly the gold standard of morality is given a free pass to simply walk away from devastating situations. God is given such leeway because God’s “ways are bigger than our ways” or “because God values our free will so much.” Quite frankly, I would take an active God who would intervene in say horrible atrocities like the Holocaust then a silent one who claims to respect humanity’s decisions. Some argue, “well if God got involved in those events we would be like automatic robots.” Really? An all knowing, all powerful deity has less common sense than the average parent to recognize that while they need to give their children choices and responsibilities to grow, they have a responsibility to protect their children from harm or at least from hurting others. It’s one thing for a parent to see a child self-destruct and then say, “I can’t control this kid, I need to let him/her make her own choices” but if a parent were to say, “well my kid is planning to rape or murder another person, which is wrong, but hey my child needs to be responsible for his/her decision” they would understandably be condemned for their attitude. But God, who is supposedly the loving parent of seven billion people-gets to sit back while massive amounts of innocent people are being slaughtered, raped, kidnapped, tortured, or are suffering from poverty, infectious diseases, cancer, etc?

In Kill The Moon, the Doctor forces Clara, Courtney, and Lundvik to decide the course of human history. He pops into the TARDIS and pushes them to make a decision-which regardless of what they choose could spell disaster. If they didn’t kill the egg, the creature inside could destroy all humanity, if they kill the egg, they face the very real possibility of killing an innocent life. Now in all fairness, the Doctor claims he does not know what would happen, yet he seems to understand that the egg did not in fact pose any threat to humanity. Of course, the parallels between the Doctor and the Christian God is not perfect. And unlike the God of Christian theology, the Doctor does not in fact know everything. However, in many ways that makes this understanding of God seem even more appalling. God knows that thousands of people will die an agonizing death by Ebola in West Africa, this after experiencing horrific decades of civil war but God chooses not to do anything. When thinking of all the pain and suffering in the world, it seems to be a cop out to absolve God of any responsibility.

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DOCTOR: No, that was me allowing you to make a choice about your own future. That was me respecting you.
CLARA: Oh, my God, really? Was it? Yeah, well, respected is not how I feel.

Nonetheless, even though many hold onto the theology that God let’s bad things happen in order to respect our free will, when painful and horrible things happen in their lives, they will more often than not continue to pray for God’s intervention. It’s as if when it comes to worldwide disasters God will not intervene in order to respect humanity’s free will (or when it comes to disasters that effect other people God will not intervene) yet the hope and prayer is that God will still personally intervene in their specific situation. God might allow thousands to die of Ebola, but save one person from a horrific car accident, God might allow one kid to be beaten to death, yet save another. This presents a picture of a fickle God, choosing to intervene and “respect” humanity’s free will in some cases, but in others deciding to intervene. Why does God decide to intervene in some situations and stand back in others? Why do people praise God for saving their lives but seem indifferent about the deaths of other people?

The Doctor decides to step out of this situation, placing the responsibility for deciding what happens to the egg, on the shoulders of others. When Clara confronts the Doctor, she is understandably angry. Here is someone who has intervened in countless of situations, who initially refused to get back on the TARDIS when Clara asks him to earlier in the episode. He even states that whatever happens in the future is up to us. Meaning he would be involved in the decision making as well. Yet the Doctor chooses this moment to not intervene, and Clara rightly points out he was being condescending. He was essentially saying, “oh well, time for humanity to grow up and make a choice for their future.”

CLARA: I nearly didn’t press that button. I nearly got it wrong. That was you, my friend, making me scared. Making me feel like a bloody idiot.
DOCTOR: Language.
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For Christians, one of the biggest examples of God’s “intervention” or active participation in the events of human history is the incarnation. Now, like the resurrection, there are various ways to understand the incarnation, either literally, metaphorically etc but in its various understandings, God somehow becomes intimately involved in human affairs through Jesus Christ. That story is used as the prime example of God’s love for humanity, yet what happens after the incarnation? God gets involved in the affairs of humanity and then backs away, until deciding to randomly intervene again? God becomes one of us, suffers, dies, resurrects, and then what? Goes back to the heavenly realm beyond the fluffy clouds?

Clara finds the doctor’s answer that it was humanity’s decision to make the right choice inadequate. The Doctor is not a dispassionate observer, he gets involved with humans on a regular basis. Gallifrey, his planet of origin, was never home in the way earth was. He ran away from Gallifrey. And while he travels through time and space, he keeps coming back to earth. A majority of his companions come from earth. She is effectively saying, earth is your responsibility as well.

Doesn’t God have an even bigger responsibility towards earth?

DOCTOR: I was helping.
CLARA: What, by clearing off?
DOCTOR: Yes.
CLARA: Yeah, well, clear off! Go on. You can clear off. Get back in your lonely, your lonely bloody Tardis and you don’t come back.
DOCTOR: Clara. Clara.
CLARA: You go away. Okay? You go a long way away.

For the longest time I held onto this notion of God. An all powerful all knowing God, who sometimes intervenes but more often than not wants to “respect” humanity’s free will. Yet after a while, I could no longer adhere to such an understanding of God. I couldn’t read about children being slaughtered in a senseless war, or dying from starvation or abuse, and nonchalantly say, “well that’s just humanity’s fault not God. We choose to do that to one another. If God intervened God would be turning us into unthinking robots.” But why is it when another human intervenes to stop someone from committing murder, they aren’t accused of impeding on someone else’s free will? If another person has the power to stop someone else from harming others, they are expected to do so. And yet questioning such an understanding of God often results in the argument, “well God is all powerful and all knowing, who are we to question God. We don’t understand God’s ways.” I don’t want to believe in a God, who for whatever reason, can justify not intervening in the suffering of millions of people. I don’t care what noble purposes this God has, for me this God is nothing more than a monster arbitrarily deciding if and when to intervene. Deciding which lives are more valuable than others.

I understood Clara’s anger towards the Doctor. If the Doctor had the knowledge of what was going to happen or at least theories that could have swayed their decision, why would he keep it to himself? Humanity had chosen to kill the egg, Clara had to decide against it. Humanity often makes the wrong choice and it results in massive amounts of death and destruction. Shouldn’t one who has the ability and knowledge to prevent it, do something? Yet unlike, more Orthodox notions of God, the Doctor at least could not be 100% sure of what could happen. In more orthodox understandings of God, God does know everything-God knows what actions human will choose, God knows what the consequences will be, and to be this makes God’s non-intervention or sporadic intervention to be a much more grievous offense than the Doctor’s.

Now if we get rid of this understanding of God what other options are there? Well thankfully smarter people than I have wrestled with this issue for years, and there are a variety of responses. And in another blog post I will briefly examine said alternatives.

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5 thoughts on “Kill The Moon: A Theological Reflection on God’s Intervention and on Free Will

  1. Thanks so much for tackling theodicy – or in Clara’s case here,’ Protest Atheism,’ which says ‘if that’s the best God can do, it’s more moral to not believe in such a God.’ One third of the Bible is people lamenting at God something like ‘wtf are you playing at?’

    Despite the Doctor saying clearly that he can’t make everything alright, it’s dangerous, I won’t always do what you want me to, Clara still can’t resist travelling with him. Faith in the face of innocent suffering is always a case of ‘despite all the pain and problems, my experience of You is undeniable, and better than anything else I know.’

    The Doctor isn’t like God, not matter how often RTD portrayed him as a messianic figure.The nearest we get is something like the white light/power at the core of the TARDIS which somehow holds everything together, and is linked with all space and time. But is unknowable to humans.

    the best we can do is
    (ITD) hold onto what’s good: ‘beauty, endless divine perfection,’ ‘Take it inside yourself, make it a part of you.’
    Continue to hold God (whatever you conceive her to be) to account for what’s bad: ‘respcted is NOT how I feel.’
    and set a better example: ‘You don’t just sit there, you DO something!’ (TPOTW)

  2. Upon first watching “Kill the Moon” I sided with Clara. How could he just abandon her? Why did he offer no emotional support? Was he lying when we said he did not know what was supposed to happen? But I have been changing my mind and now I am completely on the Doctor’s side. It is not easy being the Doctor. Clara is going to get even more of a taste of this in Flatline. He is not cold and heartless. A bit numb probably from all that he has been through and all the death he has seen. (Remember that to him Trenzalore was 900 years but only one day to Clara.) Yes his body and mind has been through a total reboot and maybe there is some kind of catch yet to be revealed with this new set of lives, but at heart he is still the same man. He is not a moral monster.
    This brings to mind some similar questions that people ask about God. Where is he when bad things happen? Is it merely just a matter of God allowing us free will? I think there is a much bigger picture here than what people are seeing. It all goes back to some accusations and the very origin of sin itself. Can God be trusted? Why does he not intervene to stop all this badness? God’s very character is being questioned. Is he really a God of love or some kind of sadist? When sin first appeared he could have instantly wiped it out and started over. But then what? Would not created beings then worship him out of fear instead of love? Through our inherited epigenetic tendencies for disobedience we became part of a universal demonstration. We are on stage and the whole of the cosmos is watching how it unfolds. Most of the time things have to be allowed to be played out so that the full effects can be realized. Sometimes suffering is the direct result of your own sin and sometimes you indirectly suffer by being caught in the crossfire. It is the nature of iniquity. This does not mean that God is impotent or he does not care. There are times when he does intervene or provide special revelations. One day however at just the right time we can expect a major intervention. Then we will get a chance to go over all the books, see that God is fully justified and has always had our best interest at heart. The Accuser and all who side with him will be annihilated. Then all will be made new and sin will never arise again.

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