There’s is not a sharp dichotomy between God working and our working. They go hand in hand. God works through our initiative.
I attended a lecture by Dr. Scott Rae from Biola University about reproductive technologies. It was more of a discussion format than a lecture. By and large, many of the people there have taken classes from me at the church. I’ve really tried to enrich them with some of the things that I’ve learned. I guess I was a little bit frustrated by some things that were said during that evening that had to do with how we approach ethical problems and how we approach issues that pertain to the Scriptures and our lives.
Part of my concern over the last fifteen years, more and more so of late, is the way Christians take a very one dimensional approach to problems. This one dimensional approach can be summed up with the phrase “Just trust God” or “The Bible says it, I believe it and that settles it.” Now, obviously there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with trusting God. And there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with believing the Bible because it happens to say it and that would settle it. The problem is that those aren’t usually the only factors involved. The concept of trusting God may be a little bit vague in some circumstances. But what it actually means to trust God and what the relationship is of our trust to God and our own personal responsibility to behave and make decisions in the Christian life has to be worked our more carefully.
I will tell you something, when I first became a Christian this was something that absolutely drove me nuts. As I was seeking to try and walk the Christian life and to do the things that I was supposed to do, I would frequently get comments from other people who said, “Don’t try to live the Christian life, just trust God. Let Jesus do it through you.” It drove me nuts because I’m the kind of person—you can probably guess—who likes to sink my teeth into something. If I’m going to get directions, I want them to be clear and do-able. To me those kinds of comments were simply too broad and general. They were just like cotton candy. You go for a big bite of this huge fluff and you snap your teeth on your teeth because that which was there dissolves into nothing in your mouth. This kind of advice was that way for me.
“Let Jesus do it.” What does that mean? When my alarm goes off, do I get out of bed? Do I stand up, brush my teeth or do I say, “Okay, Jesus, do it for me.” Do I get up and pray or does Jesus pray for me? Sometimes that very one dimensional kind of response, which ultimately tells us nothing and teaches us nothing, and equips us in no way, is something that Christians often fall back on when faced with difficult ethical decisions. Though I understand the motivation in many cases is to honor God, I think that often substitutes not only for clear thinking but also for genuine Christian thinking and a genuine Biblical response.
That evening Dr. Rae was talking about reproductive technologies. He posed a question to the audience. “If you were my pastor and my wife and I could not have a child through the normal processes, how would you counsel me?” I was really surprised by the number of people who responded simply by saying things like, “God is the one who opens the womb.” “Trust in the Lord and spend time praying on your knees.” It was suggested that if you appeal to some kind of reproductive technology then you are taking matters into your own hands. You’re getting ahead of God. One person said, “Barrenness was a disgrace in the Old Testament. Back then they ran to God, but now we run to technology.” See the contrast there? The contrast is whether we run to God or to technology. The suggestion there is that we ought not run to technology because that would be a failure of faith and what we ought to do is get back to God. Another person quoted Philippians 4:5–6 which says, “Be anxious for nothing, but through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” That may have been an admonition that we not be anxious, but I had the feeling like this was the answer to the whole problem. Pray about it and let God do what He wants. But don’t take the matter into your own hands.
I see that approach not only in this issue but on many other situations. I mentioned earlier that I was a member of a Christian dating agency. Some people are offended by the notion of a dating service because they say it’s doing things just like the world. In the Old Testament people trusted God. We see that dichotomy again.
One might well ask me, given their response that the Bible says it, I believe it and that settles it, that we should just trust God. Why take it further? Am I suggesting that trusting God isn’t good enough? Isn’t the Bible adequate? We have to add to the Bible? We have to do things man’s way? My answer is maybe.
The reason that we ought to take it further than simply trust God and pray about it is this: the Bible doesn’t just say that one verse. The Bible says many other things as well. The assertion that we ought to just trust God doesn’t answer the question: just precisely what does it mean to trust God? Does Biblical trust in God relegate me to inactivity in dealing with other areas of my life? Other ways of trying to conceive, for example. Other ways of finding a mate.
In Matthew Jesus talks about prayer and says, “Ask and it shall be given to you.” But Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to say, “Ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door will be opened.” So it’s not just asking, there’s seeking and knocking as well. In the same passage Jesus gives us this famous promise. He tells us not to worry about food and clothing because food and clothing will be provided by Him. He says, Look at the lilies of the field, they don’t toil or weave. Look at the birds in the field, they don’t plant and harvest. The Father takes care of them. He’ll take care of you as well.
Now, are we going to read that verse and conclude that God doesn’t expect us to weave or till the soil? Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3, “Anyone who does not work ought not eat.” It seems to me we could say to Paul, “Why should we work? Jesus has promised to take care of us.” We all understand that in a verse like there is a corporate effort. God has promised to take care of us, but we have to couple that command with other commands that God has given us to toil and weave, as well. To work, as well. And, I would say, to try and find ways to get pregnant that are morally acceptable. The same thing with dating and getting married. We have the liberty to find a mate, and I don’t see in any way, shape or form that that’s not trusting God.
Now, in any of these things there may be a sense of franticness in getting a job, or getting pregnant, or getting a mate that represents an attitude that’s wrong. It can be taken to extremes, but then our Christian ethic would inform our attitudes. The very act of taking the initiative in itself is not unbiblical.
In fact, the way I would put it is that it’s 100% God and 100% man. What does that mean? It means that God, even though He is in control and we must look to Him, still delegates a portion of active responsibility to us so that He can see to it that we’re fed and clothed, but it’s our responsibility to go out and look. You can do the act of looking with confidence that God will provide. I think that that obtains in all of these other circumstances, as well.
So there’s is not this sharp dichotomy between God working and our working. They go hand in hand. If God expects our initiative in the area of food and clothing, though He has promised to provide, by what standard do we disqualify taking initiative in the ares of reproductive technology and dating? It appears that He’s in control here, too.
I was troubled by the comments because the people acted like there was no relationship between science and faith, like there was no relationship between our trust in God and our seeking and knocking and finding. Until we work out that relationship fairly precisely we are going to be stuck in this one dimensional thinking. I wanted to see more hard work taken to figure out just how God uses our wills and our actions to accomplish His ends and do real Biblical analysis.
100% God and 100% man is one way of putting it. Lee Ezell said, “Pray toward Heaven. Row toward shore.” I like that.