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Rota Fortunae and the Robot Dream

August 13, 2015

I was an odd child. I was a kid who was obsessed with big questions. Being a PK (pastor's kid), my mind was wound up with ideas relating to the Trinity, to heaven. I have very vivid memories of hot Louisiana afternoons spent on the swing set, pop-sickle in hand, crying because I could not fathom eternity. Being the obsessive little girl that I was, I had this strange but very legitimate fear that everyone was a robot and that one fateful day at just the right moment some "programmer" in a control room would press a big red button and all of the people I loved would suddenly glitch, turn on me, and ultimately destroy me. I even had this strange dream of my parents busting through the door to my old bedroom twitching their way toward my bed. While this is an irrational, childish fear I think that it represents a very real fear that is embedded in the heart of every human.

 

The "Wheel of Fortune" isn't a term coined by the popular game show. It is an ancient philosophical concept. The "Rota Fortunae" was believed by medievals to be spun at random by the goddess "Fortuna". As the wheel fell, it was determining the fate of mankind. The wheel stopped, inflicting ill fate on an unsuspecting and at times undeserving victim. This is not Traditional Wisdom which says "those who do good deeds are blessed and those who do bad deeds are cursed," this is "Fortune," who is "cruel, flaky, and unstable; stupid because she can't distinguish between the worthy and the unworthy," as the Roman tragedian Pacuvius wrote. Thus fate is figured by the whim of a wheel. No certainty. No warning. No safety.

 

Bad things just happen. This isn't an opinion to be debated or argued. Rather it is a sobering, somber certainty. We all have or will experience this reality in some capacity. It is simply the human condition. In the process of walking through a circumstance of great uncertainty, I have felt as though I am stuck inside of this wheel of philosophical fear and fortune. I find myself hesitantly lurking around each corner waiting for the next mind-numbing news or disease or disaster, unable to prevent or predict what is to come. I feel like the young Abbie. I feel like at any point everything that is sure will be made unsure. It's happened before, so what's next?

 

The Rota Fortuna implies that we as humans are out of control. That we cannot do anything to protect us from ill fate. The Rota Fortuna and the Robot dream alike come from that common, age old fear. The problem of evil has become my favorite subject (more on that later). This is so because of this fear of mine but also because of my faith in Jesus, the Healer. Because of Jesus, Traditional Wisdom and the "Wheel of Fortune" philosophy just don't satisfy.

 

John 9

 

1 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” 3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. 4 We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.a The night is coming, and then no one can work. 5 But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”6 Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. 7 He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

 

Two things happen here. First, the idea that ones works correlate with ones fate is destroyed. It was not because of any sin that this man was blind, rather so that the "power of God could be seen in him." So what is Jesus' response? He heals him. He changes the fate of this man. This is the second thing that Jesus destroys. Later in this same passage the man is reporting the things that occurred and simply says “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!” Thus the man's ill fate, set in stone by those around him, set in stone at his birth, is destroyed with some mud and saliva.

 

I am not a theologian. I am still a kid who is obsessed with big questions and I approach this subject very humbly with many of my questions still unanswered. But when I examine the reality of suffering and its cruel uncertainty and then examine this Jesus who changes the reality of suffering with some mud, I just can't help but confess that He is the answer. He is the answer to the unfair circumstances, the unplanned diseases, the unreliable Rota Fortunae.

 

He is the answer, and I refuse to qualify His healing power with a cliché. He has the power to change everything. God is not the big bad "programmer" in the sky waiting to press that big red button to inflict and destroy you. He is not the "cruel, flaky, and unstable" Fortunae either. He is Jesus. The Healer.

I ask you to examine your picture of God. Which character does He look like to you? Is it the "Programmer" from my robot dream? Is it Fortunae from an ancient myth?

Or is it Jesus?

 

 

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