WHY DOES GOD ACT?
“The problem arises when we begin to acknowledge God only by His deeds and action, without contemplating who He is so as to understand why He acts in those ways.”
THIS SONG IS often heard during Christmas:
We are the reason that He gave His life
We are the reason that He suffered and died
To a world that was lost He gave all He could give
To show us a reason to live
Yet there is a line from another source that seems to contradict these words. The first sentence in Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, was: “It’s not about you.”
So, are we the reason, or are we not? If we are not the reason, then what is?
Among Christians this apparent contradiction seems to represent two schools of thought. On the one hand, there is the man-centred view and on the other the God-centred perspective.
In the former school, it is “all about me”. The man-centred view does not mean that there is no faith in God. However, even in the view of God, as in the words of the song, it is all and still about us, we, and me. Even when Jesus died on the cross, it was for me, as “we are the reason that He gave His life.”
The other school views it from the opposite angle. God is the first cause. He is the initiator. He loved us first. We love, only because He first loved us. He triggers all the other things that follow.
As in any school of thought there are the extremes. Liberal and liberation theologies are the extreme consequences of the man-centred universe. It is the plight of man that moves the agenda and motivates action.
On the other extreme, there are those who would go as far as to say that even ministry like making altar calls is wrong because it places the human being as the initiator and the key factor in spiritual transformation, when in their view God is actually the one who is to be acknowledged as the prime mover.
Is there a way in which we can balance such apparent contradictions? There is and it is found in Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:17 says “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” In the context of the passage, the primary reference is to the fact that Jesus holds all of creation together, visible and invisible. Among those invisibles that Jesus holds together are the thoughts of those He created.
It is true – it’s not about you (meaning us, human beings). It is all about Jesus Christ. He is the Creator and initiator. Yet, if we were to ask Him, “Is it all about You?” we might be surprised at His answer.
This was what Peter found out. He did not ask the question. Jesus did, when He asked him, “Do you love me more than these?” By “these” Jesus probably meant the disciples. Peter’s response was, “Lord, You know that I love you.” As if to overlay and heal the pain of the triple denial by the apostle on the night of the betrayal, Jesus asked the question three times. Peter’s response was the same, and Jesus response to his replies was also the same, “Feed my sheep.” In other words, when Peter professed his love for Jesus, the Lord redirected Peter to the others around him.
If we could rephrase our question to Jesus, “Lord, is it all about You?” we might just hear Him say, “Yes, and if you really accept and believe that, then you must turn your attention to the other people around you.”
There is an aspect of God’s nature that we might at times overlook. God is community – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – one God, three Persons. To know and love God deeply is to be directed towards community, that is, to the other people around us that He loves.
Therefore, to sing “we are the reason that He gave His life” is fine and true. That, however, has to be framed in the context of who He is, not just what He did by giving His life for us. The problem arises when we begin to acknowledge God only by His deeds and action, without contemplating who He is so as to understand why He acts in those ways.
The acts of God are very visible clear indications pointing us to His power at work. Yet to depend only on the acts of God to move us to love and worship Him may subtly and insidiously, over time, incline us towards superstition. One meaning of superstition is “a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief”.
In other words, when God works in a same and certain way over time, we may tend to believe that He works that way all the time. When we also connect what we do, either before or after the event happens, we may eventually erroneously believe that if we do things in a certain way, we will get a certain effect. God then becomes like a dispensing machine that responds to our actions.
It is true that God will act as He promises in Scripture. His actions, however, cannot be dependent solely on our initiative as a precondition. If we believe this, then we have moved into a man-centred universe again, expecting that when we push the button of claiming a biblical promise, we trigger God to act in a certain way, like a dispensing machine.
If we have “claimed” promises before, or taken a certain direction based on certain promises, we might have known that God does not always work that way. We pray or act according to a certain promise, and then events do not turn out as we expected. Not immediately. Not over time. Not yet.
Our faith is to rest on the One who gave the promise. It cannot be based on our action alone. When we believe and act that way, we are in bed with superstition. In Christ alone, we must place our trust.