Have you have been following the situation in Oroville California regarding their nearly 8 story (770’) dam? Just in case you have been in a coma California has had some amazing amounts of rainfall. This rain fall has caused the operators of the dam in Oroville to use the spillway in order to lower the water level behind the dam. The spillway designed to channel water away from the dam without weakening the dam’s structural integrity began to malfunction. Water eroded the spillway and cut new channels into the same earth holding the massive dam up.
It created a massive problem. When water begins to move on a large scale it has the potential to create problems that can quickly get out of hand. If the dam were to break the potential catastrophe would be hard to imagine. We have a tendency to minimize the size of our potential problems in a first world country because of our own ability to accomplish amazing things through engineering, science and helpful governmental structures. But when a 770’ foot dam threatens the lives and lively hoods of more than 200,000 people well, its size actually made Trump not interesting for awhile.
Thats the way life is when something really overwhelming comes along I can’t process it. Not because I don’t want to but because I cannot. My little 5g thumb drive of a brain cant handle too large of a data dump. So I move about as if life is normal when I receive a data dump and in my ignorance I say right things to other people at the wrong time like “God’s gotta plan”, “God’s got this”, or “relax, God’s in control” because its all i know.
Yes I might hate these kinds of minimizing statements. I think we should hate them and embrace them though at the same time. Why? Because they are true. A diamond lodged in a horse turd is still a diamond.
Yes truth hurts, it is often used in a way that could be much less painful and often times without regard to empathy or timing but the truth of “God’s got this” is still one of the most theologically true and pure statements any human could ever utter whether they believe understand it or not. Like snot pouring out of my cute infant daughters nose is an indication that her sinuses are overwhelmed with an ugly problem these little trite statements, though seemingly out of place, are often an indication of just how frail our human condition is. Behind all of the pretense we carry about we are all vulnerable all the time. Like a pufferfish in a room full of narwhals things beyond our control and things that have the potential to reveal our weaknesses scare the hell out of us.
Is the sovereignty of God an outdated theological topic anymore? Is it like some kind of theological security blankie we should grow up and leave behind? Is it just pretty much understood by most mature Christians today that God’s sovereignty is no longer beyond measure? Are we to drop the silly idea of a “magic” God (as the article mockingly says) because we are so fascinated with what we can do that He doesn’t amaze us anymore? God in Christ condescended, incarnated and participated with us in such a domestic way that important people ignored him, despised him, made fun of and even killed him. Today it seems popular to kill Jesus theologically because we worship what makes sense to us and because can grasp or understand Jesus as human but not God. When we make so much of ourselves that we cannot imagine a very big God we are in trouble. When we are so underwhelmed by God that our articles actually have titles like “Christians, Stop Saying God is in Control” and we are not joking… we are in trouble.
If God comes to us as a lamb He does not cease to be a Lion. And in the same way if water comes to us in the form of a water drop on a drizzly day it does not cease to be 1.1 Trillion gallons waiting to bust free behind Oroville’s dam. We are foolish to allow our limited perspective create within us an unlimited sense of confidence.
When I read an article about how to say something true in better ways I enjoy them. If i want to come alongside someone grieving or suffering its always wise to learn HOW to say the truth with sensitivity and skill. An article that helps me know when and when not to say something is great as well. I have read many good articles helping me to be a better help to people in times of crisis. Some articles give poor “how to” advice. I recently read an article by John Pavlovitz here http://johnpavlovitz.com/2017/02/22/christian-stop-telling-me-god-is-in-control/ that seemed to go far enough outside the realm of “how to” and into the realm of defining what is and is not true about God that I felt compelled to comment. At first glance I thought this was going to be another “what not to say when people are suffering” article. As I continued to read I thought okay this is an article calling people to action. But as I finished it I realized that he was actually saying something about who God is. He had my attention.
John’s depiction of the God of the Bible is foreign to me. It seemed more like the god of a Beetles song. His view of God’s sovereignty is wrong actually its just missing. His confusing call to Christians to take action because God wants us to take responsibility and clean up our own mess with his love, goodness and power seems kind of noble concerning little problems like a messy bedroom or poor financial decision but absolutely insane from a birds eye view.
Can we really distill the message of the Bible into a story in which God has chosen to give us the gift of “free will” so that we might save ourselves? Is God really sitting back waiting for me to pull myself up by the bootstraps and fix this mess?
The author (John) imposes upon the Biblical story an interpretation of God as one… “granting humanity the power over their choices; giving them the ability to be co-creator in this world by the decision they make”
The article ironically and actually uses the word heresy for folks that believe and rest in the belief that God has a plan in the midst of failure, pain, sorrow or suffering. I use the word ironic because from a historically orthodox point of view it is actually much closer to a heretical breakaway from 2000 years of Christian conversation and Biblical interpretation to deny the sovereignty of God by implying that maybe God doesn’t have as much control as he says he does.
In his article John states,
“There’s a similar refrain I hear from the lips of many Christians these days, whenever the subject turns to the growing dumpster fire in DC and the resulting unrest in our nation: “Relax, God is in control.” The words are designed as a conversation stopper; an iron-clad, sanctified mic drop, exempting them from further discussion on the matters at hand and supposedly assuaging all my fears in four simple words. The only problem is—it’s not true, at least not in the way they might like it to be right now. In these days, with so much that is untenable and threatening and worrisome, tossing off a quick “God’s got it” is a subtle bit of heresy”
Trusting in God because we are completely overwhelmed and at a loss for words is not heresy. It is what we should do. Saying “God’s got it” though cliche and often used flippantly is not a subtle heresy even if you don’t mean it. It might be lying and dishonest to say in a meaningless mindless way but it is not remotely heretical. If God actually doesn’t “have it” then John’s Revelation for example reads like a massive lie.
Here is the humbling truth. God does have control. He has not called us to fix anything. He has called us to participate in his solution, providence and sovereignty. I am called to action so that i might participate. God is descriptive not merely prescriptive in how he teaches us. He has not called us to be the solution. He has not called us to be both participants and solution either. Why? Because we are made to receive and reflect revelation from him as our source not become independent sources of revelation trying to get him to reflect us. We are the reflecting moon to his blazing sun. God’s commission in light of the incarnation is more like a call to come and learn of Him, see and participate from His perspective. He has something to show us show me of what he can gain through suffering, through pain and hardship.
My dad (for example) would call me to his lap when i was little to hold the steering wheel of his big truck I would be a fool to believe the truck was mine and that I could drive it. A call to participate is not a call to fix. We are called to show up and learn by faith not force what he would like us to do.
I think the Oroville dam situation can be a useful illustration here. The power that moving water can display even at seemingly small quantities blows my mind. Anyone that has every logged, handled a firehose or worked in construction can attest to this first hand. Im not sure we really get the feeling of how big the issue in Oroville is until we have actually experienced first hand what moving water can do to objects that seem almost immovable. Like Alexander The Great’s sword to the Gordian knot John’s article seems naive in it’s simplicity and troubling because it flippantly disregards the size of the big complex horrible problems life can throw our way like a 38 year old mother of eight suddenly loosing her husband to an unknown blood clot. People seeking understanding will ultimately in their own time be comforted by the reality of God’s overarching plan, bigger picture and sovereignty.
The problem presented by the Oroville damn is huge beyond reason. So to take this a bit further suppose (again by way of illustration) while watching the news the President of the United States calls me personally to grab a bucket and head to Oroville. What would motivate me to take up his commission? A personal sense of personal importance? Perhaps I might think “wow the president thinks I can fix this?” Upon reaching the dam with my small bucket of arrogance the fist thing that would cross my mind would be the very small size of my bucket compared to the immensity of the problem. Now the presidents commission to me looks like some sick mean joke, and you are left wondering “why was I so foolish to think I could fix this problem with a bucket?”
Is this why God calls us or commissions us? Like the president in my illustration does God need our help dealing with the big stuff like elections etc? Or could it be that God is calling us to participate rather than help him out in his sovereignty? Could He be asking us not to fall asleep so that we might share in something of what he sees and knows.
By saying “participate in” I do not mean God has given us his sovereignty or made us sovereign but wants us to share in the experience or perspective he has. This is the very Biblical distinction I want to make and by by using the term “Biblical” I mean a distinction that is so stubbornly pervasive that it’s seen in almost every page of the book. Again there is a big difference between God calling and allowing us to participate in his sovereignty and God giving us his sovereignty. When God calls his people to action in the scripture he is calling them to participate with him. He is not calling Moses, Giddeon, and David for example to save, free or fix something or anyone as much as he is calling them into the fellowship of redemptions story so that they might experience it for themselves. For an example of what this looks like take a moment to read Joshua’s commission in Deuteronomy 31:14–22 (NLT)
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “The time has come for you to die. Call Joshua and present yourselves at the Tabernacle, so that I may commission him there.” So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves at the Tabernacle. And the Lord appeared to them in a pillar of cloud that stood at the entrance to the sacred tent. The Lord said to Moses, “You are about to die and join your ancestors. After you are gone, these people will begin to worship foreign gods, the gods of the land where they are going. They will abandon me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will blaze forth against them. I will abandon them, hiding my face from them, and they will be devoured. Terrible trouble will come down on them, and on that day they will say, ‘These disasters have come down on us because God is no longer among us!’ At that time I will hide my face from them on account of all the evil they commit by worshiping other gods. “So write down the words of this song, and teach it to the people of Israel. Help them learn it, so it may serve as a witness for me against them. For I will bring them into the land I swore to give their ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey. There they will become prosperous, eat all the food they want, and become fat. But they will begin to worship other gods; they will despise me and break my covenant. And when great disasters come down on them, this song will stand as evidence against them, for it will never be forgotten by their descendants. I know the intentions of these people, even now before they have entered the land I swore to give them.” So that very day Moses wrote down the words of the song and taught it to the Israelites.
Joshua’s commission here is like being called by the president of the united states to grab a bucket and head to the Oroville dam spillway. What a bummer that would be if you are convinced of how incapable you are on your own. Unless you back up and say to yourself, “Did I just get a call from the president of the united states?” Wha? Wow! Joshua must have been somewhat excited to be called by God not because Joshua was going to finally fix what Moses couldn’t but because he was being called to sit on dads lap and see what things look like from God’s perspective. He was being called or commissioned to successfully participate in the leading of his people into one of many failures and that was a part of God’s plan.
My point is this if Joshua say’s “God’s got this” its because he is being called to sit on his dads lap. There is a certain confidence that can come over you in knowing that when your name is up and God is calling you to go through some tough and difficult stuff that he is actually calling you to experience it with him. He is calling you to participate in the story and gain wisdom from the perspective he has. If I take the trip to Oroville dam with your little bucket thinking that God needs you to fix the dam and I say “God, I got this” I will learn how small my bucket is. However if I act on Gods commission to go to the dam with my little bucket thinking to yourself i wonder what big things God will do with this little bucket I will be surprised how small the dam is.
Im bothered by what Pavlovitz say’s here so I acted. I hope it causes him to reconsider some things. But in the end hey “God’s got this”.
“And that means far more than prayer and platitudes. Praying for God to move, and remaining stationary isn’t admirable—it’s cowardice.”
It’s alarming the author would call it cowardice to seek comfort and ultimate understanding God’s greater plan when we live in a world in which we are inundated everyday by thousands of alarming problems, floods, earthquakes, crimes and abusive leadership alongside all of our own personal problems. Im constantly looking at the size of my bucket much like David probably compared the size of his stones to the size of Goliath. But ultimately the size and power of our God and the greatness of His plan should be what compels us to take action toward big problems and nothing else.
It’s possible Jesus wanted the disciples to not fall asleep in the Garden so they could see and understand the immensity and importance of the problem. Thank God that there was a plan of redemption and recapitulation in Christ that didn’t completely depend on whether or not the disciples fell asleep. Thank God that even though the disciples fell asleep in the thought that “God’s got this” it still somehow all worked out for them. Even In and through my inaction God mysteriously moves.