…on my terms.
This is a thought that has come at me from different angles today, as I’ve read two very different books. One is actually so small as to barely be considered more than a booklet–Understanding Who You Are: What Your Relationships Tell You About Yourself, by Larry Crabb. The other was written in 1972, with an era-appropriate orange, brown and mustard cover–No Pat Answers, by Eugenia Price (a Christian who wrote historical novels back before Christian fiction was its own popular genre).
In her introduction, Eugenia Price says,
Some of us, at least, have been restricting God by demanding that He give us “pat answers” to the disappointments, hardships, failures, and suffering from which no one is totally exempt. Freed of any attempt to explain God or to restrict Him by refusing to ask or admit to honest questions, I remain free. Once I make even the slightest effort to force Him into a “pat answer” concerning a crisis which may have happened to me along the Way, inevitably the space around me narros, my step slows, and my feet become entangled in the tough old vines and briar hoops of my former confusions.
(pgs. 9 and 10)
Reading her book, I’ve been thinking about how my honest questions are not signs of my doubt about the goodness of God, as much as my pat answers are.
Larry Crabb is challenging me to my very core with how much of my effort that goes into “making life work well,” fixing my problems, learning how to relate better, etc. is my way of micromanaging my life because I do not fully trust God to come through for me adequately enough. (Ouch, that was a lot harder to say than it looks.)
When I try to make sense of the goodness of God on my own terms, He, well, sort of falls short. And I’m left with a sense of terror that He might not be good enough or, indeed, not even be enough. I’m left with a fear that His provision for me might not be sufficient, and that I’d better get on with figuring out the system for getting and giving what I should be giving and getting, in the most healthy and least dysfunctional ways yet discovered to humankind.
Larry Crabb says,
Our determination to look after ourselves [and I would add, to get all the formulas right for doing so in as healthy of relationships as we can conjure up] is a deeply felt passion that seems entirely reasonable–not on theological grounds, but because it seems to be our only chance for survival. And the root sinfulness behind that determination is the ongoing suspicion that God is not good enough to fully trust Him with our lives….
We are passionately determined people–determined to make life work for us. And when it doesn’t, we hate God for doing so little to cooperate, we hate others for their indifference, and we hate ourselves for not being able to arrange for our comfort. (p. 29)
Truly, if my perception of the goodness of God is tied into His cooperation with how I assume (or is it presume) that life must work, then God is not good (enough).
I think this is why I have a hard time defending not only the goodness of God, but even my trust in Him. Indeed, if my trust in God seems crazy to you, I cannot defend that choice to you, because sometimes it looks crazy to me, too. The best “defense” for trusting God out of the context of my doubts (and it really isn’t actually a defense, but it does articulate some of they whys behind my persistent choice to trust God, however weakly and imperfectly I do so) I have read was a post called “Doubt as a Spiritual Discipline” over at Beyond Words. I’ve already linked there before, but I keep going back to it myself.
If I try to trust a God who makes sense on my own terms, well, it’s certainly not actually God I’m trying to trust. And if I try to make enough sense of God and His ways so that I naturally and easily see Him and trust Him as good, on my terms, I can’t. Sometimes I deal with that by shoring up my own resources as a safety net to make sure I’ll be safe and get my needs met, where God fails to pull through on my terms. But, sometimes, and I think it is His grace when it happens (though I acknowledge how to you it may look like I’m delusional,) I’m able to let go of “my own terms” long enough to catch a glimpse of the goodness of God on a whole different dimension than “my terms” could ever dream up.
In those moments, when I can stop trying to (1) conjure up pat answers and do mental gymnastics to make the goodness of God “fit with reality” or (2)frantically search for the right answers, solutions and fixes to “make life work,” I catch a glimpse of the hope that comes out of being able to trust God and His goodness. When I am bound by “my own terms” not only is it hard to believe God is good, but I think hope is hard to come by. When I let go of my terms for understanding the goodness of God, I am thinking that might be the place that I am freed to hope.