Over at The Gospel Coalition, Erik Raymond wrote how the cessationist position concerning gifts often receives the rebuttal, aptly titled for his piece, Don’t Put God in a Box. By cessationism, he means that the operation of certain gifts as normative practice have ceased. Since he uses the word normative, I can’t tell whether he means it can’t happen at all or rather there is no need for God to move this way in general today. I think this is an important clarification since the cessationist position often gets interpreted as not believing in miracles. Though there are some cessationist who take the position, I think it safe to say they are in a small minority. The rest of us would contend that God can work as he pleases but does he really need to on a regular basis?
Nevertheless, this gets to the thrust what interested me about Raymond’s piece that I want to connect to a couple of other areas in which some say God must move. He rightly asserts that the God in a box argument is actually limited because it restricts movement of God to extraordinary events instead of seeing the whole of what God does in his divine Providence.
Now we see the issue clearly. It is not so much the gifts as the activity of God. We also see something of the reflex of 21st Century, particularly Western Evangelicalism. The thought is that the evidence of God working in the world is the miraculous. God shows up and we all know it. We know God is working when tragedy is averted, disease is healed, life is spared, and the occurrence of personal experiences that cannot be explained.
But, what if God’s work is far more than this? What if his activity in the world is not limited to our perception of the miraculous? What if God’s activity in the world is less like Superman—rushing in to ‘save the day’ and then rushing out before he is spotted—and more like Atlas—holding the weight of the world on his shoulders? What if God is not actor in the story of our life but that we are in his story? What if God is the writer, director, producer, main character, and set designer?
The doctrine of Providence helps us here. Providence is God’s infinite power that upholds and governs all things that come to pass. As the Heidelberg Catechism says,
“God’s providence is his almighty and ever present power, whereby as with his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures and so governs them so that: leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed all things, come to us not by change but by his fatherly hand.”
The main things you need to know about this is that God is not disconnected from what is happening in the world today. God is upholding, governing, and ordering all things as with his very hand.
Raymond asks a pointed question of exactly who is putting God is a box and I couldn’t agree more. If we say, God MUST move this way, then we’ve confined his movement to ways in which we deem it necessary for him TO move. But I wonder if it’s not so much about what God must do than we want to see. After all, if everyday life looked like the spectacular events of Acts, that would be pretty exciting and keep our interest in the ways that God moves. Because if we’re honest, our Christian life can get pretty mundane and we get bored.
I can’t help but ask if this is not pertinent to a couple of other areas in which I’ve seen many claim that God must move. As I wrote in Hearing God Speak, I discuss my master’s thesis in which I spent many, many months writing it, confronting the idea that God needs to provide more information to us to know and obey him than what has been provided in Scripture. Books like Jesus Calling are wildly popular, because I think it touches this need to keep things fresh and exciting. Who wants to read a boring Bible when Sarah Young can touch your soul? Why plod through the tedium in knowing what God has already spoken in consideration of his redemptive history when we can get that “word” delivered by a prophet or hear a voice in our head?
Then there’s what I wrote here in How Exciting Does Your Corporate Worship Need to Be? Leveraging my own experience of spending much time in church circles that operated under the premise that church MUST have some kind of exciting element to accomplish it’s purpose, I ask why ordered worship that infuses our soul with the work of the triune God on our behalf, that informs our identity in Christ, is not enough.
I think we can see a common thread in all this. We need excitement. We need new and fancy. We need for God to move in certain ways to appease us to maintain our interest. Perhaps it is so we can say ‘oh look what God is doing’ not realizing that he is moving and doing whether we recognize it or not. And that’s where I have to ask what is all this about, what God does or what we want?
What if what pleases God is for us to live in everyday life setting our affections on him, learning to love him with all our heart and loving neighbor as ourselves? What if what pleases God is growing through routineness of life when it doesn’t go our way, and doesn’t seem to interesting, and doesn’t look like much of anything? What if what pleases God is for our worship gatherings to look more like temples of reverence than chaotic, amped up concert venues? What if what pleases God is to absorb what he’s already done and already spoke so that we can grow up together in him without needing extra bells and whistles? What if what pleases God is for us to submit to his way of moving in his Providence whether it’s how we think it’s how he should be moving, in recognition that yes, God does do as he pleases? And what he pleases may not always please us.