The message of the bumper sticker “Let Go and Let God” used to resonate with me. That’s probably because I’m a recovering achievement junky.
That simple phrase—let go and let God—suggested to me several principles that still guide my life and return me to sanity when I relapse into trying to justify my existence with hard work and glittering results.
For example, God has pretty good ideas about how things should turn out and will be actively involved in seeing that things really do turn out that way.
To get personal—which God routinely does—God is absurdly interested in and involved in my day-to-day life. Those of us who worship Jesus know him as a personal Lord, Friend, and Savior. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus offers counsel and guidance and strength along life’s way.
To offer an embarrassing confession, I can be unsure about what to do or what is best in various situations. Even when I do, I’ve been known to do something obviously stupid and counterproductive. It’s best to rely on Jesus’ teaching and example instead of my “gut.”
There you have it. “Let Go and Let God” suggests truths that I stand by to this day. So why do I say that it used to resonate with me? Why does it no longer crank my theological tractor?
One interpretation of “let go and let God” summarizes an approach to the Christian faith that utterly misses the Gospel mark.
The Gospel misfire I have in mind usually comes out of people’s mouths in statements something like this: “It wasn’t me [that preached that sermon, played that piece, hit that homerun, or saved that child from the fire], it was God working through me.”
Now that half of my readers are angry at me for criticizing you, let me be clear that I’ve done the same thing and ask you to take a deep breath and hear me out.
When we say such things, we suggest that the height of the Christian faith is to get rid of our own will and to let God replace it with his own will. To put it another way, this popular bumper sticker phrase suggests that we have nothing to do in the Christian life. We just have to get out of the way and let God do what God wants to do.
This is not what Holy Scripture teaches. Do you remember the story of Adam’s creation? God breathed life into him and gave him something to do. Adam tended God’s garden (not so well as it turns out).
Consider two of Jesus’ well-known parables: The Parable of the Talents and The Parable of the Wicked Tenants. In each case, the Master charges people with a specific task. In the first parable the servants receive talents with the expectation that they will invest them while the Master is away. Servants in the second parable are supposed to tend a vineyard in the Master’s absence. In both parables, upon his return the Master holds the servants accountable for what they did or did not do.
It is certainly true that God wants to accomplish something with his Creation. But he does not tell us to get out of the way so that he can do it. Instead, by his mercy, he gives us the opportunity to do some things in his name. He forsakes doing some things himself in order to let us do them.
So, to turn that bumper sticker around: God Lets Go and Lets Us.
Here are some things to keep in mind.
There are things that God, and only God, can do. Only God can save us through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Only God can restore the Creation through the power of the resurrection. Only God can truly transform the human heart.
The Holy Spirit has preliminary and ongoing work to do with the human will. We like to do things our own way and resist God’s authority. Only God can remake our will. It’s not just that obedience can feel unnatural. We can be downright allergic to it.
God takes our finite, imperfect acts of will and amplifies the results beyond what our own powers could possibly have achieved. Still, we decide. God does not expunge us of a will and make his own decisions through us.
God gave us this will of ours, even it suffered distortion in The Fall. The sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit in time restores our wills. To use another common phrase, the perfection of the will is to be willing, not willful.
You see, the Christian life is about obedience. There is much that we simply cannot do (save ourselves, redeem the Creation, and so on). Only God can do those things.
And still, God has things he wants us to do. He refrains from doing those things so that we can do them. He designed us to have the joy of exercising our own wills freely to obey Him.
So as for me, I’m opting for a new bumper sticker: God Lets Go and Lets Us.