A Writer’s Problem with the Will of God

Today I’ll be leading a Sunday school class lesson on Adam Hamilton’s Why? Making Sense of God’s Will. Lots of Christians talk about “the will of God” or even “God’s perfect plan” as though it is a script or blueprint, and that everything that happens, every event in our lives, is either a) predestined (and we cannot depart from it) or b) prescripted (and we can depart from it, though it is inadvisable).

In general, I agree with Adam’s perspective that we are collaborators with God in shaping our lives and our world. But there is one metaphor he uses with which I take issue:

Here is another objection: what is the point of life if we are merely acting in a play God has already written? If every event and every line were predetermined by God, daily life would seem to have no purpose apart from entertainment for God. Yet how could God find this entertaining–milennia after milennia watching human beings do what he predetermined what they would do, and say what God predetermined what they would say? (p. 59)

By derivative work: Tadpole9 (talk) Romeo_and_Juliet_Q2_Title_Page.jpg: Thomas Creede (Romeo_and_Juliet_Q2_Title_Page.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Every time I hear people use the analogy of a play or a novel for the will of God I wonder, “Have they ever written a play or a novel?” Both Stephen King and Anne Lamott have written books about the craft of writing that have changed my understanding of this metaphor. Writers often have the experience of writing  fictional characters for a story they have in mind, only to find that the characters themselves change the story. Good authors write believable characters who have their own personalities, and often say things like, “I thought this was going to be a story about X, only the characters didn’t react the way I expected.” A mark of bad writing, on the other hand, is that the plot seems to be on rails and the characters are stiff and unbelievable. The process of writing, or of any creative art, really, is partially about giving up control. If we think about the actual process of writing, I think the play metaphor supports what Adam is arguing after all–we are collaborators with God, characters who interact with our author, sometimes arguing, “No, that’s not what my character would do. I would do this.”

This is the way it is for human artists, anyway. If God is an artist, how much more would God’s own characters have a life of their own? Imbued with God’s own breath, maybe they would even get up off the page and walk around. I’m only stretching the metaphor, of course, trying to see how far I can bend it before it breaks. I don’t really know what the creative process would be like for the author of creation. I just think it’s worth asking any artist: Have you ever created something that surprised you?

One thought on “A Writer’s Problem with the Will of God

  1. When I started my first novel, I had no idea how it was going to end. I only had an idea for the beginning scene, vague ideas about all the characters, and one conflict. Then I just let things happen. (I think of it as organic writing; no pre-planned script.)

    I think if writing a story is hard, it’s probably because you’re controlling it too much and making your characters say and do things they don’t want to say and do.

    Judaism has an interesting theory regarding God and human beings. God gave all human beings free-will; nothing else in creation–not even the angels–have free will. That’s what it means to be made in God’s image: to have the ability to chose things for yourself. Furthermore, God stopped creating the world before it was perfect (that’s why he “rested” on the seventh day; it wasn’t because He was tired, but because He was refraining from finishing) so that humans could have the opportunity to finish perfecting the world. The ability to freely create is also only given to God and us.

    “Tikkun olam” is a Hebrew expression which means to “repair of the world.” That’s what man is here for: to finish Creation. Why? Why didn’t God make everything perfect from the get-go? Personally, I think it’s because that would be pretty boring. It’s nothing for God to create perfect things and to create beings which will worship Him. But that’s like surrounding yourself with yes men; you can’t experience real love or have a real relationship with things that are preprogrammed to love you. By giving humans free-will, He gave us the opportunity to love Him or not. So, of those who come to Him, it’s out of a genuine desire to have a relationship.

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