“Blame God, who, by definition, must be pulling the strings”

August 22, 2016

Pity us Methodist pastors!

We are simply not well-equipped to handle questions of God’s sovereignty. We rarely if ever use the word, in part because we know that Calvinists use the word a lot—and we’re certain we’re not Calvinists. We might be Arminian, but we can’t say for sure: we studied Arminianism in seminary even less than we studied Greek or Hebrew, which is saying something.

Here’s yet another blog post by yet another UMC pastor complaining about the expression “Everything happens for a reason.” Read it alongside his response to a commenter. I wrote the following:

Jason, I understand why your previous commenter was confused. You begin by talking about our need to be in control, when (of course) we’re not in control. That’s true enough. Then you conclude by saying we need to “live in trust,” presumably to God our Father, just as Jesus did.

If we’re going to live in trust, what are we trusting in if not the fact that God is in some sense “in control”?

The moment we concede that God can and will, even occasionally, grant our prayer petitions, then we run into a problem: What about those many times when God doesn’t? Unless God’s answering our prayers is arbitrary, then we must conclude that “God has a reason” for not answering them.

At this point, it’s just a matter of tracing the logic toward its conclusion: everything does happen for a reason in God’s providential plan. I’ve done it many times on this blog—here, for example.

But if I’m right, here’s some good news: If you don’t like a situation in which you find yourself, you have someone (or Someone) to blame other than yourself—however much such blame will be warranted. You can blame God. You can even be angry with God. In fact, God is probably the only target toward whom it’s safe to express anger without falling into sin.

Paul Zahl makes this point in the January 28 entry of the Mockingbird Devotional:

I recommend we express our anger at God. He can take it. He is in the “business” of absorbing it. “No one does it better.” Jeremiah expressed his anger at God. Paul expressed it in a plaint concerning his “thorn in the flesh.” Jesus almost did it—but not quite. Rather, Christ expressed his dereliction to the Father. The psalmist seems often on the verge of expressing anger at God. Oh, and Studdert-Kennedy did it, that old “Woodbine Willie,” in his immortal spiritual poems from World War One.

Try it. For a second, stop blaming the “SOB” ruining your life, and instead blame God, who, by definition, must be pulling the strings. It will be for your good to have done so, even though I don’t expect anyone to pick up on that until… “Afterward” (Edith Wharton).[†]

Paul Zahl, “January 28” in The Mockingbird Devotional (Charlottesville, VA: Mockingbird, 2013), 57-8.

4 Responses to ““Blame God, who, by definition, must be pulling the strings””

  1. Grant Essex Says:

    The Book of Job is God’s magnum opus on this subject. For chapter after chapter, Job rails at God. By Chapter 23, he is wailing that God is not to be found; that God is avoiding him. Then finally, in chapter 38, God shows up. He makes it perfectly clear that He is in control of all things, and that He doesn’t have to explain himself. Ultimately, Job is rebuked and contrite.

    What a great example of God’s sovereignty even in times of trouble. I have found that the Book of Job grows in it’s importance and clarity for me, as I grow in maturity in my faith. We should all read it at least once a year.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, I am not sure I am completely following your own opinion as to the excerpts you give. Are we supposed to be angry with God (the one in charge), or not? I might say rather that we are tempted to be angry, but that we should, instead, acknowledge that God has good purposes behind the “bad things” that happen to us. Exercise faith, in other words. I recognize the Psalmists and Job, but note as Grant does the ultimate “rebuke” of Job in that regard. And the Psalmists who start with being “upset” generally before the end of that Psalm acknowledge God’s goodness. So, we definitely should recognize that “God is in control,” but though we might be “hurt” by God’s ordained circumstances from time to time (indeed, I think virtually all of us are on occasion), I think we should rather express “puzzlement” and prayer than “anger.”

    • brentwhite Says:

      Anger isn’t a desirable emotion to have in the first place. But once we have it, what do we do with it? Denying that we’re angry or wishing it away won’t help. So, instead of directing it to someone else, direct it to God. He can handle it. That seems like pastorally helpful advice.

  3. Grant Essex Says:

    Tom, Bottom line is that man doesn’t like it one bit when he’s not in control. That’s at the root of our rebellion. Control. God has it; we want it.

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