“By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God.” Galatians 3:24
I heard it again this week, and it made me cringe. I think it’s a Christian cop-out. Over coffee with a friend, we discussed the failing state of the economy and, in particular, its impact on our own personal financial situations. Then she said it…“Oh, well, God is in control.”
Now let me most certainly state that I undoubtedly believe God is in control. There is no question in my mind that the God of the universe is sovereign and all-powerful. I am utterly convinced my life is in the hands and strong arms of a loving, reliably benevolent God. So what’s my problem?
First, it’s the way we say it. So flippantly. So…Ka sera, sera, what will be will be. We tout the familiar platitude, perhaps relieved nothing more is required of us than to assure ourselves of divine omnipotence. We imagine God is on his throne; “out there” in His heaven and all is right with the world. If things are not as we want them to be, we just hope He shows up when we need Him and make things better, especially those things that concern us. We walk away disengaged from God relieved to be free from any requirement or participation on our part. The great danger in all this is that we will live unaware, unresponsive, and unbelieving and miss the participation, conversations, and invitations in the actual redemptive, saving ways of God in our lives and in the world. This effectively pushes God to the periphery of our lives and reduces our faith to mere cosmetics.
Scripture, however, does not take this remote approach to God. What we see in Scripture is the story of a personal God acting in history and, specifically, in the people’s lives: Abraham, Moses, Gideon, David, Mary, Paul….God does not reveal Himself as a theological construct or idea, but personally, invading our lives with His presence and inviting us personally into his redemptive purposes.
God does not reveal Himself as a theological construct or idea, but personally, invading our lives with His presence and inviting us personally into his redemptive purposes.
Author Eugene Peterson notes, “God is nothing if not personal and can only be known by personal response. We cannot know God through impersonal abstractions or in solitary isolation. The only way God reveals God’s self is personally. Never impersonally as a force or an influence, never abstractly as an idea or truth or principle.”
“… The witness is frequent and insistent that God is inherently relational and personal. So God cannot be either received or understood apart from our being personal and relational as well. That most emphatically excludes the detached intellect as a way of knowing God. It excludes programmatic work as a way of knowing God. It excludes the cultivation of the ecstatic and visionary as a way of knowing God. God is not an abstract idea that can be mastered, not an impersonal force that can be used, not a private experience that can be indulged.” Eugene Peterson, Living the Resurrection, (106).
In other words, God is not something we use to make life better, but a person to respond to. God enters into actually living with us and is intimately involved in the ins and outs of our days.
In other words, God is not something we use to make life better, but a person to respond to.
All of this made me think of Jacob wrestling with the angel at Peniel (Gen 32:22-32). Although I have never wrestled with anyone, I do know you cannot remain unattached in the struggle; and it requires all of you, body, soul, and mind. The wrestlers’ bodies are fully engaged and there is intimate contact. It seems very personal! God seems to enjoy wrestling with us.
However, we often just don’t want to get involved with the struggle. We don’t want to wrestle with God; we just want Him to make life better. But then, we miss the contending of what it means to follow a God who actively orchestrates our lives; whose ways are higher than our own; and whose agenda includes helping us recover our lives. God is in control. Don’t miss the blessing of what comes out of that engagement. You may walk away with a limp, but also with a new name.
What does this have to do with Lent? Everything.
If we live from a reality of a distant God, then Lent, and all the other spiritual practices will only prove to be obligatory or burdensome and lead us into life ritualism and legalism.
But…if we live into the reality of a dynamically present God who constantly and actively calls, directs, restores, guides, redeems, reveals Himself, woos, invites, and …then Lent (and all the other spiritual practices) becomes the environment and opportunity to notice, respond and return to God with all our hearts.
Take a minute to think about what you read. How do you see yourself in relationship to God?
What is your response?
What opportunity do you see?