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There is no Formula

July 19, 2012

There is no giant life formula when it comes to relationship with God. We cannot treat Him like a mathematical equation.

Last night I was having some drinks with two of my good friends; Ben and Dean. We were celebrating the fact that Dean has recently got engaged. Ben and I have both been married a few years and we were all sharing our thoughts about marriage and relationships in general. Many observations were made but probably the most prominent was to recognise that every relationship is different.

This got me thinking…

I wonder if I ever treat relationships like routines.

I am a creature of habit and every morning I have a very specific morning routine. I have a set order and a set way of doing things and most days there is little to no change whatsoever.

When it comes to relationships with people, most of us are aware that you cannot treat them like a routine. If I treated my marriage like that it wouldn’t take long before all life had been sucked out of it. Routine is boring and impersonal, there’s no life and little meaning.

And yet I have come to notice in my life and in the lives of others how easy it is for us to slip into this horrifying habit of treating our relationship with God as a routine.

When it comes to our day to day lives; we expect that God will behave the same way He always has in any given situation. Perhaps this is a slight misunderstanding of what it means for God to be immutable (unchanging). Yes God is the same yesterday, today and forever, but that is referring to His character and His attributes not necessarily to how He will choose to deal with us in that situation.

For example if my son were to ask me (as he often does) for an ‘Oaty Bar’ then I would gladly give him one. However if he were to continue to do so repeatedly in the space of an hour I would eventually say no – not because I am a spoil sport but because I don’t want to spoil his appetite for dinner later.

In this above example I am a living, thinking and personal being who is making independent choices for the welfare of my son. I am not bound by my son’s patterns or routine behaviour, I freely choose to give him the ‘oaty bar’ or not. This example is not too dissimilar to a relationship with God. He is a living, thinking and personal being who freely makes independent choices for His glory and our welfare. Our patterns and routines do not bound Him to make certain choices – He is God.

Here are 3 examples of what we can wrongly end up expecting of God because of our inability to distinguish between relationship and routine:

• We expect that God will always keep us rich, because one time he blessed our faith by providing for us financially.

• We expect that God will always keep us alive and healthy because one time, when we were poorly, we prayed and God healed us.

• We expect that God will always keep us prospering and successful because one time life seemed easy.

Now don’t get me wrong, God can do all of those things if He wanted, and He does promise to prosper us, but don’t forget that He knows best about what it means for us to prosper. If I had carried on giving my son his ‘Oaty Bars’ not only would he have been sick but he wouldn’t have eaten his dinner – I knew better than he did and so I refrained from giving him minor satisfaction in that moment so I could give him a more substantial satisfaction in the long run.

If we don’t remember this, we end up treating God like a vending machine. We put in our ‘tokens of faith’ and point to what we want – convincing ourselves that God is good and wants us to prosper by having a new car or no cancer. Now as far as God is concerned it might mean both of those things for you, but then again it might not. That doesn’t mean He’s no longer good, or no longer Sovereign it just means that He’s got a plan that you are not yet aware of:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55 v 8 – 9

The consequence to thinking like this is that if things don’t go the way we want them to, then we either blame ourselves for ‘not having enough faith’ (and so we pray harder) or we accuse God of no longer being good or sovereign. Both of these outcomes ignore how gracious God is, and both can end up causing long lasting damage.

In finishing, I think the other reason we can be so tempted to treat God like a formula, is because it feels safer to us. If we can box God in and make sure that He behaves in a way that we can predict and expect then we can build our safe little lives without fear of disruption.

But if we really want to know the maker of the heavens and the earth, the source of all creation, if we really want to know the fountain of all delights, if we really want to know how to live life to the full then we need to trust God to be God and not a formula – that’s where the adventure is!

  1. reverb1983 permalink

    A paragraph jumps out of the screen at me here:

    “If we don’t remember this, we end up treating God like a vending machine. We put in our ‘tokens of faith’ and point to what we want – convincing ourselves that God is good and wants us to prosper by having a new car or no cancer. Now as far as God is concerned it might mean both of those things for you, but then again it might not. That doesn’t mean He’s no longer good, or no longer Sovereign it just means that He’s got a plan that you are not yet aware of:”

    To summarise a specific element of this paragraph:

    As far as a good God is concerned, prospering me might mean giving me cancer?

    I think you would say “yes”.

    i’m certainly open to the idea of “god not getting me a new car, but causing cancer as part of “his plan” doesn’t fit AT ALL with how Jesus dealt with sickness.

    Can you point to an example in the new testament where Jesus tells someone who is sick that comes asking for healing, “Sorry, no can do! This is Gods way of prospering you! You should just accept his generous providence” if this was the case, any time Jesus healed someone, he’d be working against Gods will/plan?

    I suggest that when Jesus heals sickness he is manifesting the kingdom of God. He is taking back enemy occupied territory, asserting Gods love over evils torment. Jesus consistently reveals Gods love for humanity not by afflicting them with illnesses that will prosper them in the long run as part of a secret plan for Gods glory but by HEALING THEM! By reversing the suffering that sin and the fall and this broken creation and satan and his demons seek to perpetuate and inflict on humanity.

    Matthew 14:14
    And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.

    How is Jesus supposed to have compassion for something that God has decided will prosper (in the long run) for these people? Or was Jesus a bad parent, giving us the “Oaty Bars” as a treat when really suffering is better for us?! Would a Jesus that was able to resist the temptation in the desert to work against God, not be able to do so when confronted by the temptation to derail the good plans God had for the sick people he met? sure he could of had compassion, but you’d expect to read he was moved with compassion for them, because they didn’t understand this was all part of Gods great plan to prosper them. So Jesus preached to them saying “Gods ways are not our ways” God has a plan you are not aware of, be content with your sickness!”

    Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

    Matthew 10:1 He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.

    Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’

    In each of these verses, Jesus’ followers are commanded to HEAL THE SICK, not encourage them to accept the sickness as an integral part of Gods mysterious love and provision, or tell people that the blindness is good for them, it keeps them humble, or tell cripples, don’t worry, in heaven you’ll be all better!

    ” Heal the sick who are there and tell them “the kingdom of God is near you”. ”

    these are words from the mouth of Jesus. i suggest he has a good grasp of what sickness is and who it is from and what it’s cause is. Jesus NEVER suggests that people should accept their sickness as from God.

    When people suggest that he is casting out demons by the power of the devil Jesus tells them a kingdom divided against it self will not stand. If he heals the afflictions that God imparts then he is working AGAINST God. Simply by healing Jesus is demonstrating that sickness is not in line with Gods will.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on these points.


  2. One of the reasons I set up this blog was to promote healthy discussion on theology and in so doing cause us to improve our theology, and consequently our understanding of God and life as well as our relationship with both.

    Having read your comments, gone back to the bible and done a bit of digging. I think I need to repent.

    Out of a desire to veer away from a damaged understanding of God and healing it would appear I have wandered into murky waters.

    I still maintain that the majority of this particular post is sound, I do think that we all too often treat God like a formula, I think we need to remember that there are things that we cannot understand but you are very very very right to challenge my comment about cancer.

    Below is a link to a paper written by a New Frontiers chap called Phil Moore. He highlights four views on healing: 1. The Liberal View, 2. The Cessationist view, 2. The Pentecostal view and 4. The Charasmatic view. My beliefs were totally in line with the charasmatic view – I guess that’s how I have grown up.

    Phil highlights the many strengths of the charasmatic view but then also the damaging weaknesses. One of which you have highlighted.

    I would definitely recommend you read this paper – not because I think you need to develop your theology of healing necessarily – but simply because it’s a very very helpful piece of work.

    Thanks mate.

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