Is God just laughing at our expense?
Question: Why doesn’t God make things more evident, such as important life and death decisions, or directions to take in life or in ministry. I’m not saying that God would do so with miraculous signs or anything, but why not at some point in the process of trying to figure out the next best step, at least tip his hand a little. Does God enjoy sitting back and watching us screw things up?
Naturally, I’ll start to answer this question with….psychology!
Donald Winnicott (1896-1971) was a British psychoanalyst who researched differing parental styles and their effects on children. To sketch out the points relevant to this cool question, at one end of the parenting spectrum is authoritarian parenting; at the other, attachment parenting.
Children raised in a household with authoritarian parents have little, if any, opportunity to develop their own selves. Instead, they are forced to craft their being according to the parental demands and expectations. The primary parental goal is obedience; when the child is perceived as being disobedient, they are punished. The parent determines everything, e.g., when and on what basis the baby gets fed, gets affection, and gets affirmation. The relationship created is based on fear and/or obligation; less on love and respect. The child conforms into what the parent wants, and develops into what Winnicott named “a false self.”
On the contrary, children raised in a household with parents who invest themselves in attachment parenting are not only allowed, but encouraged, to develop their own identities. They are expected to make mistakes, and are loved in spite of them and through them. The primary parental goal is love, and the relationship created is based on trust and engenders respect and investment in each other’s lives.
Enter Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament theologian, who likes Winnicott. In a fantastic book called Israel’s Praise: Doxology against Idolatry and Ideology, Brueggemann wrote, “I propose that if God is experienced in doxology as always unqualifiedly good, fixed, sovereign, in charge, never acting, never impinged upon, it leads worshippers who are docile, passive, and who finally act in bad faith to please God, whatever they may in fact feel.”
So the upshot is that Bruggemann sees that just as some children learn to appease the parent preemptively, so too do some people of God. That is, out of fear of being damned or punished even in the here and now, people do what they think God wants. Even praise can become “false” because it is based on doing what God demands as opposed to welling up out of thankfulness and trust. Lament is not an option, anger, questioning, dispute unthinkable.
Yet in that process, the children/people of God have little if any ownership of the task at hand, let alone in their relationship to God. They become automatons, puppets, of their parental figure.
Now, I imagine that it is possible that God could have chosen to script our lives for us, or to give us absolute direction.
But would that not have created something like a world of chess, with one player moving “us” inanimate, wooden pieces around?
Or, even if one assumes that the “pieces” can lift up their heads and receive a hint of a nod from the divine player, would the chess piece have real ownership in the move, or take pride in the win?
And in point of fact, one doesn’t know what the best move is until one sees what the next player does…which is impossible until the second player sees how the first moves….or unless we’ve got a player who can see into the future, who knows a plan.
In short, I think that are troubles with hoping for a God-of-the-billboards (and who hasn’t wanted that on occasion….):
1) We could easily become passive participants in life–and even the word “participant” would be called into question, as we would lose ownership in our own choices, waiting for the “dictate” to come from on high;
2) The implications of a God who would give us clues, if not out-right directives, would include a God who then also knew the future…which would imply a God who already had life all laid out…which would also imply that we have no choice, either in small things (do we cross the street at this corner or the one up the block?) or in big things (do I take this job/marry this person/have children).
Of course, this raises the interesting question, ready for another blog….does God know all things? Does God know the future? Or is God on the edge of God’s divine seat too?
3) We would lose out on the dynamism of a living relationship, developing into Winnicott’s and Brueggemann’s “false self.” We don’t know our uniqueness, our own quirks, our own complexity, because we are so busy trying to appease God’s threatening anger and judgment.
4) Sometimes, life is messy. There might not be clear-cut, black and white answers in a given situation. Sometimes no choice is purely good…or purely bad. Sometimes we have to do as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did (German theologian who has been elevated to saint-like status in the Lutheran church–for participating in an assassination attempt against Hitler) and do what we think is best in a messy, messy world, trusting humbly in God’s grace.
What do you think?