I was sitting in a hotel lobby in Orlando, Florida, having a conversation with my friend K, from Germany. Her world-class young athlete friend was recently paralyzed as a result of an on-camera stunt that went horribly wrong. K was distraught. She dried her eyes and said, “I struggle believing this is all part of God’s wonderful plan.”
So do I!
Do we actually believe we honor God by declaring Him the author of all this mess in the name of Sovereignty and Omnipotent Control? Some religious people—and Christians are often among their ranks— believe in grim determinism, which is fatalism with personality.
“Whatever will be, will be. It happened. And since God is in charge, it must be part of God’s plan.”
There is an impassable chasm between a God who takes ownership for Creation along with the havoc we have produced—and One who authors the evil itself. The first you might learn to trust, the latter… twisted lip service at best.
Admittedly, we humans are control freaks, wanting to control everyone and everything around us so that the things we fear won’t happen.
We inherently know that control is a myth, that one rogue cell or another person’s choices can instantly change the direction of our lives, but we still fight for it and even demand it.
So if we can’t have control, we want a God who does.
How often have we heard the well-intentioned words, “It must be part of God’s plan”?
Or might it be that many things are simply wrong?
There is no justification for much of what we have brought to the table, what has been done to us, and what we participate in ourselves. It is wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!
Yes, God has the creative audacity to build purpose out of the evil we generate, but that will never justify what is wrong.
Nothing, not even the salvation of the entire cosmos, could ever justify a horrific torture device called a “cross.” That God would submit to our darkness and then transform this dark machine into an icon and monument of grace speaks volumes about the nature of God, but it does not justify evil.
Does God have a wonderful plan for our lives? Does God sit and draw up a perfect will for you and me on some cosmic drafting table, a perfect plan that requires a perfect response? Is God then left to react to our stupidity or deafness or blindness or inability, as we constantly violate perfection through our own presumption?
What if this is about a God who has greater respect for you than for “the plan”?
What if there is no “plan” for your life but rather a relationship in which God constantly invites us to co-create, respectfully submitting to the choices we bring to the table?
And what if this God, who is Love, will never be satisfied until only that which is of Love’s kind remains in us?
My German friend Martin Schleske, a world-class violin craftsman, puts it this way:
“Scriptures show me that God has the heart of an artist, not a grim construction planner. If the world were the work of a cosmic engineer, he would be in a constant state of discontentedness. We would all suffer from the constant nagging of a dogged designer whose plans just never work out like he intended or expected. Reality could never live up to his spotless construction plans. But a true Creator knows he not only has to shape, but also endorse and allow. Wisdom allows things to grow and unfold.”
The sovereignty of God is not about deterministic control.
So how does God reign? By being who God is: love and relationship.
Kim and I may be sovereign in our home, but once the first child was born, any sense of control was out the window. If anyone was in charge, it was this new baby. He dictated everything—when we slept, when we woke, our state of mind, and how often we could visit with friends. Six pounds of humanity reduced a grown man to a weepy mush, ready to forgo usual and taken-for- granted pleasures, like sleep, in order to serve. It made us crazy, and it was sometimes incredibly hard, but we loved it, enough to do it five more times.
Love and relationship trump control every time. Forced love is no love at all.
I don’t believe that the word control, in the sense of deterministic power, is part of God’s vocabulary.
We invented the idea as part of our need to dominate and maintain the myth of certainty. There is no sense of control in the relationship among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When God chose to create humans—a high order of being who could say “no”—we were created inside the same love and relationship that has always existed.
Control does not originate in God, but submission does. Domination does not find its source in God, but other-centered, self-giving love does. As our children’s choices affect our relationship with them, so too do our choices affect our relationship with God.
God submits rather than controls and joins us in the resulting mess of relationship, to participate in co-creating the possibility of life, even in the face of death.
PS) This is the 3rd chapter of my new book, Lies We Believe About God. Learn more, preview or purchase it here!
PPS) ALSO! On April 1st, I will be speaking at The Shack Seminar in Longwood, Florida. I will be joined by theologians John MacMurray and Dr. C. Baxter Kruger to answer your questions about some of the controversial passages in the book as well as sharing little-known facts about the making of the film. Join us here!