Yesterday, I was trimming my beard using a small pair of metal nail scissors, and I very nearly cut my ear. It’s always a little treacherous trimming around the ear area because the way the mirror reflects light means I sometimes think left is right and right is left. Dear reader, I know you understand!
When the ‘near miss’ happened and I stopped the scissors from cutting — with my earlobe already between the blades — I immediately gasped with relief and spontaneously uttered “Thank you, Lord!” out of relief and gratitude that I didn’t injure myself.
But let us look at this event a little more closely, and examine what was really going on.
My gratefulness to God would seem to imply that God stopped me from operating the scissors in such a way as to prevent me from cutting my ear. So God must have been in control of my hand, and its movement (or lack of movement!), at that moment.
But was God also controlling the trimming process leading up to the moment of my close encounter? To deny this would mean God’s involvement in my beard trimming activity was very strange indeed. It would mean God was not at all involved in moving my hand as I trimmed my beard, up until the very moment I was about to cut my ear, and then He entered into my body and seized control of my hand and held it still, preventing a bloody lobe-rupturing mishap.
Reader, is this what you believe was happening?
An alternative view would be that God is in control of all human activity, and that we are simply like puppets in God’s metaphorical hands, so God was in control of the entire beard trimming process, as well as everything else I have ever done. This is not what Christians believe, as the majority of Christians insist that we have free will. But if I freely stopped myself from cutting my ear, what would be the logic in thanking God for saving me from injury?
My beard trimming example can be expanded outward to important theological matters such as sin and salvation. Is it the case that we freely sin throughout our lives, but then God steps in and takes control only at the moment of salvation, so that we thank God for salvation, and say that it was a work of grace and solely God’s doing? In light of my beard trimming example, does such a perspective really make sense?
The key question is whether God is sovereign over all events, or only some events. My personal perspective, as elaborated on in detail in my book God’s Grand Game, is that God controls every aspect of our lives, and this can be understood by considering His omnipresence, which leaves no room for free will.
If the reality is that God was in control of the entire beard trimming process, then perhaps, rather than thanking God for saving me from cutting my ear, I should ask God why He almost made me cut my ear in the first place (Was it perhaps so I had inspiration for today’s blog post, I wonder?!) In a similar way, instead of simply apologising to God repeatedly for our sins, and thanking God for our salvation, we might like to ask God about the reasons why He caused us to commit those sins in the first place.
In summary, then, while the Christian might simply thank God for saving them from mishaps and disasters, someone who understands God’s sovereignty over all events may well question why it is that God put them in the way of danger in the first place. This is a significant difference, as while the Christian will simply say “Thank you, Lord!”, the person who believes in God’s control will say “Thank you, Lord, but why?” The latter question makes more sense to me, and would seem to accord better with the nature of reality and the truth regarding God’s sovereign control of everything that happens.
In this series, entitled Praise and Prose, I offer a daily reflection on the way we use language, with a focus on faith and spirituality. For each post in this series, I focus on a different example of how I believe language could change in order to better accord with reality. I warmly invite you to share your thoughts on each post in the comments section, and feel free to subscribe to this blog to follow along with the series. Thank you for reading.
(Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash)