A theological pet peeve of mine is the easy indictment. By this I mean that causation is assigned to either God or Satan with a bare reading of the circumstance. Children get killed in a Connecticut school and easy assertions are made about spiritual causes. This happened because we “kicked God out of the public schools” or due to Satan’s evil purposes. A bad things happens, so there must be an immediate cause. It’s an easy indictment.
It happens on a much smaller scale as well with our individual lives. Something good happens, God must be blessing us. A challenge comes our way, there must be some action of “the enemy” causing us harm.
Now, I believe that spiritual forces are in play in our world. I am particularly drawn to notions of principalities and powers that mold and shape our lives in a myriad of ways. My pet peeve is the straight line reasoning with which many people make assertions about God. In other words, just by looking at outcomes we can assign a spiritual cause. This is a direct cause and effect logic that I think is a poor explanation of most phenomenon which are usually very complex and best accounted for with a logic other than simple causation. It usually reveals a poor view of God and how God relates to the world. Namely, it confuses God’s sovereignty with control, God’s reign as being principally about “control over” rather than an ordering that comes from a God who is love. All of this can result in pastoral care that is disastrous and is prone to spiritual malpractice.
I’m very careful about my language about God’s involvement in the world. I agree with the wisdom of the old hymn, “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.” (though not with some of the later lines in the song). And I take seriously the command not to take God’s name in vain, which I think is less about cursing and more about besmirching God’s reputation in the world. Not to mention the dire warning about blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
I have often said there are two kinds of unhealthy churches. The first has no idea that God is doing anything in its midst. The second can tell you at any given moment exactly what it is that God is doing. I’m trying to walk the the space in between those two realities. To practice what Luke Johnson calls a “modesty before the mystery.”
So, over the next few posts. I want to give you some theological reasons why straight line logic won’t work in most cases in assigning spiritual causation. And I want to affirm a different view of God’s sovereignty in the world than one rooted in notions of control.