Q&R with Brad Jersak – “If God consents to our freedom, what’s the point of the relationship?”
Hi Mr. Jersak,
I’ve been on a deconstruction of theology path the past couple years, as so many have, and have listened to many of your talks. I’ve been stuck for a while now and thought maybe it’s time to reach out. One of the big things that triggered my journey was my daughter getting hurt. My old theology could no longer stand. I have a good pastor who is on a similar journey and have been meeting with him as well.
I now understand that God has such high regard for human choices that he won’t intervene, and yet he is good all the time. But it seems like God is always submitting to peoples choices and standing by in inaction. So then what IS he doing? And if he submits to our choices, and that’s why there’s evil and pain in the world…. to be frank: what’s the point of having a relationship with Him? I feel like maybe he’s not willing to step in and do something about peoples choices, and when we do get hurt, yes, he’s with us in that, but somehow it’s not comforting that he’s just ‘with us’. Does that make sense? Likely you’ve already written or spoken to this somewhere and I haven’t found it yet. Any resources or words of wisdom would be most appreciated!! Thank you so much for your time!
An excellent question. The struggle you’re describing has to do with discovering the reality of divine consent to the order of his creation, where natural law and human freedom become the venue for great beauty but also great affliction. If we were to leave it at that–divine consent–we would basically just be echoing the one-sided theology of the Deists, who typically imagined God winding up his creation, stepping back and leaving it run without intervention.
But that is to miss the most important part of the story. The Christian revelation is of both divine consent and divine participation. Participation is different from
Intervention involves the contravention of natural law and violation of human freedom, while participation means God enters creation, suffers our affliction and most importantly, mediates his care into and within creation. How does he do this: through willing human participation, which includes our prayers, our creative acts and our loving care. This is saying much more than “he leaves it to us.” This is a real partnership. As God works in this world through human partners, we work in this world with a divine Partner, and the fruit of that can be profound. We call God’s participation in our lives “Grace.” We also know that transforming, empowering presence as the Holy Spirit and “Christ-in-us,” personally and collectively (“the Body of Christ”). This dynamic, through which we mediate God’s love into the world, “on earth as it is in heaven,” is the sense in which we are the image of God. That is, we image God to one another and to creation. He’s not merely with us, as if he were sitting idly witnessing our struggles. Rather, he is in us, co-suffering with us and also strengthening us with patient endurance and equipping us with overcoming grace beyond what we can appreciate.
Unfortunately, humanity has often imaged God poorly indeed and turned from this partnership. In so doing, we flow against the grain of the universe and against the grain of love (the highest natural law). But the good news of Christ is that in the Incarnation, God clothed himself in human flesh to partner with his Father, entered the abyss of human darkness and affliction all through way through the Cross, to the bottom of Hades, and came back as the Victor. This means that the power of death is now broken for us. A relationship (partnership) with Christ in this life means life and love get the final word. It means that bondage to the power of death (e.g. which generates our fear, our anxiety, our control issues, our dysfunctional coping mechanisms, etc, etc.) need not rule our lives. Real freedom is freedom from fear. Real belonging is knowing that I am not alone. A clean conscience that no longer accuses us is the inheritance of life with Christ. And in our affliction (because earth is not heaven), Christ and his family bear our sorrows with us. These are among the many responses to “what’s the point?” that I’ve experienced in my 55 years of walking with him.
Now where it hits close to home . . . Where is the love of God for your daughter? Who is mediating his loving care into her life? Is there a willing human partner who gives her the gift of compassion and empathy? Idea! Check your mirror! It sounds like you are a wonderful image to her in the kind of universe where God does not magically prevent every injury, levitate every randomly falling brick or handcuff every sinful choice. Somehow, here, in this place as really exists, he’s done something even more wonderful: he created you and you’re God’s willing partner in her life. And you’ve found another willing caregiver in your pastor. I’ll bet she’s grateful for both of you. Even in a world where sh*t happens, God is known as good because of your partnership with him and your willing acts of practical care in tandem with him.
I hope this gives some perspective? For more detail, I’ve written about both sides of the equation–consent and participation–in A More Christlike God.