Friday, February 13, 2009

A Developmental God

I got another humdinger of a question from Lisa:

Do you think God would give us something we think we want even if he knows it's not good for us in order to teach us something? Or do you think maybe he removes his hand of protection when we ignore his voice and go after it ourselves?

Wow. These strike right at the heart of a couple of foundational questions of faith & theology--really important ones that will shape everything about your life with God depending on how you answer them.

  • Is God good?
  • How does God develop people?

There's no way I could adequately speak to these issues in one blogpost, but let me just riff on a couple of things about it. First, as to the question of whether or not God is good: It's a critically important and honest question that every Christ follower will (and should) struggle with at some point, primarily because God will not be boxed and will not act in alignment with our expectations. And when He fails to do (or not do) whatever we think He should (or shouldn't), we're faced with a choice: Do I hold to my belief that God is good, or do I reject Him?

I write at length about this question in my book Alone With God, but the great trap here is to get lost in the fuzzy limbo of neither fully trusting in God's goodness, nor fully abandoning the idea that He is good. I think this is the epitome of being "lukewarm" in your faith, and all it leads to is a relationship built on perpetual suspicion of God's heart and His motives. I wouldn't want to be in a relationship with someone who's perpetually doubting my intentions, and I'm pretty sure God doesn't want to be either. He would rather you be either hot or cold. However you get there is up to you, but you have to make up your mind about what you're going to believe about whether or not God is good, and put the question to rest.

Regarding how God develops people: The thing that I notice most often here is that people forget (or have never been told) that God is fundamentally a developmental God...that is to say, He is always, always focused on developing us--in effect, training us, growing us up. Often when we're confused by God's apparent failure to protect us from harm or danger or risk, it's because we've forgotten that we are in training, and that He is far more interested in our development than He is in our comfort.

Along with that is the reality that we are, in fact, developing. Growing. Who I was 10 years ago is not the same as who I am today. And so naturally, God's methods and approach for developing me will change as I grow. The way God engages with me will change over time--not because He has changed, but because I have. The way you train a 3 year old is worlds apart from the way you train a 14 year old, which is again radically different from the way you train a grown man of 35.

There's also the issue of free will. God works with the willing; He won't force Himself on anyone. So if you're clearly not willing to follow His lead, then out of respect for your free will, He will step of the way and say, "your will be done." How quickly he does this would depend on where you are on the journey (are you 3? 14? 35?), and the overall level of commitment in your relationship with him.

All of these elements--that God is developmental, that we are changing, that we have free will--play into the answer to the question of whether or not God will allow us to have something He knows is not good for us. Generally speaking, I'd say the answer is definitely yes. But how quickly He steps aside, how much resistance He puts up to hold you back from a destructive choice--all of that depends on a number of factors.

Again, this is far too short and inadequate an answer to such big questions. But I hope it's at least provided some useful fodder for further discussion, research and prayer.

1 comment:

Lisa @ said...

Thanks for addressing my tough questions, Michael. I must say I've been wrestling through a lot of things lately. I don't doubt God's goodness at all. I think I'm just wrestling through the fact that we live in a broken world and I would like everything to just be hunky dory all the time. I also needed that reminder that God is more interested in my character than my comfort. You're right on about that.

I also know that sometimes God puts me through trials so that others can see what it looks like to have faith in the midst of a storm. Not that I'm perfect at it by all means, but I know that in my life God has used those times to let his light shine the brightest. When he's given me that peace that transcends all understanding in the midst of suffering that's when the world gets to see that there's something truly different about me and hopefully in those moments I can point people to Christ and what it means for this world to not be my home.

Anyway, thanks again. Blessings to you, brother!