I am generally not a fan of any sort of thinking about God that is too deterministic. I don’t tend to think that God scripts everything in advance and then just leaves us to run through the paces. It is not just that those systems don’t appeal to me, but that they are deeply at odds with my own understanding of Scripture. I grew up so intensely wrapped up in the narratives of the Old Testament, where the relationship between God and his people in the world seemed so open and dynamic: the way not only that God’s creation responds to Him, but that God responds to His creation. I’ve also grown to dislike it when various notions of God’s providence or sovereignty make people feel like they are left out–or they at least wonder if they are the sort of person who might be left out, the sort of person who just drew the cosmic short straw and are stuck with a destiny not of their choosing.
I maintain all of that, and yet cannot ignore the sort of inevitability of grace I see in my life and the lives of people around me. I don’t believe God chooses some and not others for salvation–that for me is a wrong understanding of the word “election,” which I will not go into here today. For me it is very much possible to reject that sort of elite pre-determinism and yet still recognize the vast, conspiratorial nature of grace to bring about good in our lives against ridiculous odds. God’s intentions to bless his sons and daughters is an overwhelming thing, even given our most clever attempts to escape Him. I don’t know that I think grace is irresistible (that it literally cannot be resisted), but that grace absolutely is inevitable. That the grace of God when released moves with fearsome velocity towards happiness, peace and blessing–towards our good. That grace that is not gentle but hard and substantive, less like a wind or breeze and more like a midwestern tornado.
I’ve lived much of my life in fear that I was destined to mess everything up. And while I don’t doubt my capacity to create a mess, in light of the sheer scope of God’s grace and mercy at work in my life, I may not be big enough to derail things as much as I once thought. Who I am to stop a cyclone of love? I’m a big guy, but I don’t think I’m big enough to stop the beauty of God. In this way, I am diminutive compared to the swirling grace and destiny that surrounds me.
Thus, in our staff meeting today, my text was not from Scripture but from Tolkien’s The Hobbit:
“Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”