Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Silly Things to Say..."If it doesn't work out, then God must have something better."
"I guess it wasn't meant to be."
"When God closes one door, He opens another."
It works in the reverse too:
"I guess God was looking out for me."
"That must have been the Lord."
I could go on, but you get the idea. These sorts of things are usually said either after a disappointment or after a success. It doesn't really matter how big or small the event is; people see God's activity pretty much everywhere.
And usually, people say these things as though they're particularly spiritual or astute. The problem is, there's usually not much reason to think they're true. And sometimes, there's good reason to think they're not.
What all of these slogans have in common--aside from being overly simplistic--is that they assume that God is a micro-manager. And it's not just that He micro-manages the present either; usually these statements imply that He has an extensive control of the future.
Another interesting thing about these statements is that they always seem to reinforce God's involvement in given circumstances. Whether the circumstances are for the better or not, our tendency is to attribute their occurrence to God. It is much less common to hear someone say, "God had nothing to do with that."
And to me, that is a scary thought.
Now, fair warning: I'm showing my theological cards a bit here. There are theological systems that can incorporate these statements pretty easily. In fact, they might even entail them. I've heard theologians that I respect a great deal express that they feel comfort in knowing that whatever happens, God is always in control.
If you're one of those people, and you're confident that you can use these statements and justify them within your system, then this post is not really for you. I love you, and I'm not trying to change your mind. But that just ain't me.
I find it a bit odd, though, that people who otherwise wouldn't associate themselves with one of the theological systems just mentioned still say these sorts of things. And that tells me that they're probably not aware of the assumptions they're making. If you're one of those people, then this post is for you.
The easiest way to see that attributing this level of control to God is a problem is with examples. Here's a scenario:
I really wanted that job. I prayed for it for a long time. I sought counsel about it. I had a great interview. It fit in with my 'calling.' I had peace about it. All the factors seemed to point toward me getting it. And then I didn't.
The slogan response here would be, "It must not have been God's will (even if it really seemed like it was). He'll give you something better."
Or imagine it ending a different way:
I did get the job. It was great for a week and then the boss decided to embezzle everybody's money. Now I'm unemployed again and in worse shape than before.
The response here would be essentially the same: "God doesn't like that you lost your job, but it must not have been His will in the first place. He'll give you something better."
Or what if it ended like this:
I got the job. I love it. It's exactly what I wanted.
Any guesses as to what the response would be this time? Probably something like, "Great! Praying really paid off. God is good."
Do you see the problem? No matter what the outcome, the answer is the same. God is in control. And the way that we tell whether He is on board with something or not is how well the circumstance corresponds to what we expect Him to do. If it goes well for us, it was His will. If it doesn't, then it wasn't. If we thought it was, then we were mistaken. You heard God more clearly than ever before, you say? Well, apparently you misunderstood.
The point is, these statements leave no room for free will. They also leave no room for God to change His mind in response to free will. Maybe you didn't get that job because there was a better applicant and the employer chose them. This need not imply anything about God's will. Sometimes, maybe He leaves things up to people.
Or maybe it was His will for you to get that job but not for your boss to hurt you like that. But He loves your boss too; He can't revoke his freedom just so your life will be easier. Circumstances change and we adapt to them. Why can't God?
Or maybe you got the job and it's great. This doesn't imply God intended for this to be so. Maybe He did. Maybe He didn't. Maybe He has no feelings on it either way.
All these sorts of statements imply that God has a very specific and well-defined 'will' for everyone that can be discovered with enough effort. But why do we think this? Maybe His 'will' is actually pretty simple. General things, like faith, hope, and love. Community. Creativity. Using our abilities as we see fit. If that's right, then expecting Him to direct every little thing is actually against His will.
Let's apply the God-must-have-something-better assumption to another kind of case:
My uncle molested me when I was a kid.
Do you see where the micro-managing view of God could go very wrong? Did He just shut the door on your sexual fulfillment so He could open another one somewhere else? The theology that would rejoice in God's complete control can't say much here. Only that we can't know why He allows some things. But maybe our whole assumption is wrong to start with. Maybe He hates that this happened as much as you do. Maybe He had nothing to do with it. Maybe He leaves things up to us.
Now before you accuse me of being a deist, I do think that God is as intimately involved in our lives as we want Him to be. But it's the sort of involvement you would expect from a deep friendship. He nurtures, gives advice, pushes toward the good. But He doesn't control. He interacts.
So the next time you're tempted to attribute some occurrence to God, stop and ask yourself, "Have I really thought this through?" Because it might just be silly.
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