Day 2: You Are Not an Accident – 40 Days of Purpose-Driven Life

What on Earth Am I Here For?

Point to Ponder: I am not an accident.

Verse to Remember: “I am your Creator. You were in my care even before you were born.” — Isaiah 44:2 (CEV)

Question to Consider:I know that God uniquely created me. What areas of my personality, background, and physical appearance am I struggling to accept?

[Read More] thoughts on Day 2 of Rick Warren‘s Purpose-Driven Life* including thoughts on open theism and the sovereignty of God.

This is one of those chapters where I agree with Rick’s main thesis, but find myself uncomfortable with some of his rhetoric. I suspect that is because this is one of those areas where theology and philosophy overlap — and our philosophies differ slightly, even if our core theology is the same.

The general thrust of this chapter is what theologians call the sovereignty of God — a recognition that God is completely in control of the universe, and thus there are no accidents. I agree with all that, but Rick glosses over a distinction others make between God’s perfect will vs. His permissive will. I can’t quite fault him for that — it is a subtle point, and I’m not even sure I understand it at all, much less well enough to squeeze it into four pages [which, by the way, seems the primary gripe about Rick Warren I’ve seen on the web, that he failed to squeeze four years of seminary into 40 five-minute devotionals; and that he has the nerve to teach any theology without teaching “everything” important. How dare he! :-].

But, as mentioned earlier, my goal is neither to critique nor to defend Rick Warren; nor, ultimately, merely to expound my own beliefs (though I occasionally get sidetracked…). Rather, I want to figure out where the relevant, transformational truth is within Rick’s teachings that I can grab hold of. Because, quite frankly, that is the genius of Rick’s writings: to focus in on those areas of theology and biblical knowledge with the greatest potential to create transformational change, and package them in brief, digestible snippets. That’s hard — very hard; a simple summary (“kenso” in Zen aesthetics) is always more difficult that long-winded explanation, because one must make difficult choices about what’s truly important.

Back to the chapter: yes, I agree that understanding God’s sovereignty is crucial to our sense of identity, and I am glad Rick brought it up. Yes, I agree that I am no accident, and that God has a sovereign, pre-existing purpose for my life. However, I am not necessarily willing to say (as Ricks seems to) that God explicitly chose every aspect of my life, or that he has predetermined the exact details of everything I am supposed to accomplish (even if He did do so for David).

Rather, I think it important to recognize that God permits things He doesn’t actively choose. I fully admit this is difficult to square with the usual definition of sovereignty — but that’s why I think this becomes a philosophical question. Philosophers worry about internal consistency and resolving apparent contradictions — which is a good thing (after all, I worry about those too, poor philosopher that I am). But, scripture (in general) does not: it merely records what is, whether we like it or can make sense of it or not. At some point, reality trumps philosophy — that’s certainly the lesson of the last several hundred years of scientific progress!

I should mention that some of these issues are being hotly debated under the name of “open theism,” which basically claims that God (because of the way He sovereignly set up the universe) doesn’t foresee everything with certainty. I wouldn’t quite go that far, but neither am I entirely comfortable with classical theism, in the sense of believing absolutely everything fully fore-known and pre-destined. My personal belief is that the crucial term “foresee” isn’t well-defined, and that much of the argument (some of it quite ugly, I regret to say) is largely meaningless.

My position is probably closer to Andrew Wommack, a somewhat maverick charismatic theologian who despite that (or perhaps, because of that) is deeply grounded in God’s word. He is a maverick, though, in the he actually has a higher view of God Himself than His Word and traditional theology. In other words, Andrew starts with the assumption that “God exists, and is a rewarded of those who seek Him” rather than “God exists to the extent we can describe Him using philosophical principles derived from Biblical language” — a subtle but crucial distinction lost to many theologians; including those who chide Rick Warren for glossing over subtleties!

Anyway, even with all that, the ironic fact is that I actually believe one of God’s purposes for my life is to defend people like Rick and Andrew Wommack against the “intellectuals” who have fallen so in love with their own knowledge that they neglect other people and God Himself! And that I do believe that “my personality, background, and physical appearance” were sovereignly ordained in such a way as to enable me to fulfill my purpose. Including, in some sense, the very sins and flaws that have shaped me to be what I am. Go figure.

Prayer: God, I must admit, thinking about these things gives even me a headache; forgive me for what this may do to my readers! The hard bit, I think, is giving you glory for the good you bring to my life — including the good you bring from evil! — while not blaming you directly for the evil. Or at least being able to forgive you for allowing it. That’s hard, God — much harder than I normally even allow myself to contemplate. Yet, ultimately, that is part of the message of the cross, as we saw so powerfully in Narnia yesterday. That from great evil — including the evil I bring on others — you through your own suffering bring forth good.

Teach me, dear Father, to embrace that sovereignty. Not one of passive acceptance, but of accepting passion. To not shy away from the ugly, painful, and evil aspects of life — or draw away from you because of them — but to draw near to You in and through them, that together we might see them redeemed. Help me to trust that you will not allow any trials greater than your grace can sustain me through — if I (sovereignly?) choose to admit my helplessness enough to receive it. Thank you for the gift of your son Jesus Christ, the sole (if paradoxical) answer of how God’s power can coexist with the reality of evil. And it is in His name that I pray, Amen.