Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Are we better off if God controls people?

Then the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet. He spoke to me and said: “Go, shut yourself inside your house. And you, son of man, they will tie with ropes; you will be bound so that you cannot go out among the people. I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, for they are a rebellious people. But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ Whoever will listen let them listen, and whoever will refuse let them refuse; for they are a rebellious people.

Ezekiel 3:24-27 


So it sounds like God’s going to control Ezekiel. I have a lot of thoughts about that. Brace yourselves.

Obligatory. Image source.
A long time ago, when I loved God so much and constantly thought about God and prayed all the time and did everything I could to follow and obey God, sometimes I wanted God to control me.

Why? Well, because I thought there was some specific “plan”, some one thing I was supposed to be doing, and if I was just connected to God enough, I would be able to know very clearly what it was. But, you know, it’s hard to hear God and know if I’m understanding God correctly. Sometimes I prayed and God didn’t seem to be saying anything- which clearly meant I needed to pray more. If I don’t know the one specific thing that God has planned for me to do, the problem is somewhere on my end. Really really committed Christians hear God all the time.

So, I don’t know what I’m “supposed” to do. But if God could possess me, control me, then God could just do it and we wouldn’t have to deal with any communication issues or my own weaknesses and mistakes.

That’s what I wanted.

(And by the way, the two areas where I felt I was incompetent on my own and really really needed God to control me were evangelism and dating. If I just knew the one perfect thing to say at the right time to the right person, it would convince them to become a Christian. And if only I could just control myself and force myself to have zero romantic feelings or experiences until God gave the signal and I could start dating the one perfect guy destined for me... otherwise my heart would be permanently damaged.)

I don’t believe that any more. I don’t think there’s one specific plan that each person is supposed to be doing. I don’t believe God wants God’s followers to be cogs in a machine- a machine which would run much more smoothly if the cogs would quit thinking for themselves. I don’t believe that the kingdom of God is compatible with individual people losing their freedom.

I believe we all have choices and skills and creativity, and there are a lot of directions we could go with it, and a lot of them are very good. And the freedom to make those choices is a core component of the world as God intended it to be.

Image source.

There have been times when I did feel like God was controlling me. It was always in situations where I was telling people about Christianity, which, you know, was THE MOST IMPORTANT thing for me back then, because I thought that the one thing people need more than anything else is to believe the correct information about God.

My Christian friends and I prayed and prayed for “opportunities to share the gospel.” Those conversations were the most important things we did. And sometimes, I really did feel like God was controlling me. I said stuff, and then afterward I would think, “What exactly did I say? What was I thinking at the time? Where did that come from?” and it felt like it wasn’t me that said it, but God.

You know how sometimes you’re really nervous about something, and then you can’t think clearly, and you just say stuff and you don’t know what you’re saying? It was like that.

I no longer think it was “God speaking through me.” Because it doesn’t make any sense. Did God really agree with me that those conversations/monologues were so ridiculously important? Did God “give me words to say” that I don’t even agree with anymore?

Related to this is the idea that putting less thought into something means that it’s coming from God instead of me and is therefore better. I remember back in college, I used to have several non-Christian friends that I would meet up with to read the bible together. One week, I was meeting with this one friend, and I didn’t have time to plan the bible study first- I just picked a passage and we read it. And the bible study went really well! My friend said it was actually really meaningful for her. Great! And I concluded that since I hadn’t put in the work to prepare, the only explanation was that the Spirit of God was doing that work.

A lot of Christians have this idea that giving a good sermon or leading a bible study has two parts: first, doing the work to plan it, and second, God helping you, perhaps by giving you ideas or helping the listeners understand. There has to be a balance. You gotta put in the work, but you also gotta pray a lot and be open to God telling you to change your ideas. But on some rare occasions, God decides to step in and do something huge- then it’s all God and the stuff you planned (or didn’t plan) doesn’t end up happening at all.

Then you have some Christians that distort this and decide that if they don’t plan at all and just say whatever pops into their head, they’re being “led by the Spirit.”


And let's talk about another idea floating around in Christianity- that if you do something which doesn’t make much sense and you didn’t really think through, but you believe “God wants me to do it” then it’s a good thing.

I remember one example when a blogger wrote a post that made a lot of people angry. Her response to the criticism she received was something along the lines of “This is what God told me to write” and “I’m being persecuted.”

And it’s not okay, because some things in her blog post were actually really hurtful and harmful. But I really can sympathize with the idea that “This is what God told me to do.” It’s hard to know how to argue with that, because it’s a theme that shows up SO MUCH in the bible. God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Doesn’t make sense, but Abraham obeyed and was totally about to do it before God stepped in to say “okay you passed the test.” And Christians read that and say wow isn’t Abraham such a great strong example of faith and obedience to God?

God told Gideon to send the majority of his army home. It didn’t make sense, but Gideon obeyed. Wow isn’t that great?

God told the Israelites to just get enough manna for one day, each day, except before the Sabbath they can get two days’ worth. Didn’t make sense, but people who disobeyed got in trouble.

God told Joshua to march the Israelites around Jericho instead of attacking it. Didn’t make sense, but they did it. Awesome, huh?

Joseph had a dream that said to get up now and take Mary and Baby Jesus to Egypt. So he did.

And did you read the story about the prophet who took the wrong way home so God sent a lion to kill him?

All throughout the bible, we have examples of weird commands from God, and characters who obeyed, whom we Christians hold up as role models. Look at their faith! Look at their obedience! (And at the same time, we believe God was right to kill people in the bible who disobeyed some little command. The idea that God did something wrong is unthinkable, so we blame the victim.)

And given this belief, how can Christians criticize someone who wrote some harmful words on the internet because “God told me to”?

Even if she agrees. Even if she said, yeah I get what you’re saying, I understand why what I wrote was hurtful. Even so, God’s ways are not our ways, yes? This is what God told her to write. And that’s all there is to it.

It’s hard to even know what to say that’s not going to be interpreted as “persecution.” And really, I get that. I’ve said and done things that I wasn’t sure about but I believed God wanted me to. That’s what faith is, right?

Ohhhhhh dear. I have some opinions about this. Because sometimes "God" actually means "my interpretation of God." Image source.
This post has been all over the place, so I’ll just end with discussion questions:

When the bible seems to be talking about God controlling someone (as in Ezekiel 3) or “giving them what to say” (as in Matthew 10), what does that actually mean? And are we okay with that? (Being a Christian doesn’t mean you have to be okay with that!)

What are we supposed to do with those stories in the bible about people who obeyed God when God said to do something that didn’t make sense?

Does God actually step in and lead bible studies way off topic?


  1. I want to be a clone!