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Decoding the Bible

What does God do?

By Trisha Elliott

Five years ago, I was at a local pizza joint with two girls who were enrolled in my confirmation class. The subject: the Bible. When I mentioned how the Bible is often referred to as “the Word of God,” one of the girls scrunched up her nose and shook her head. “I don’t think about the Bible that way,” she said. “When I think about it,” she continued, “it’s more like the work of God than the Word of God.”

The Bible is an account of the work of God. It paints a portrait of a very busy God. Of course, the problem isn’t so much with what God does, it’s accounting for what God doesn’t do. If God is capable of creating the universe and everyone in it, why doesn’t God fix it and us when we’re broken?

On one extreme, there are those who think that God magically intervenes in human affairs. A member of my husband Mike’s former congregation holds this belief. When the church was about to run out of noodles at the annual spaghetti dinner, she asked Mike to convene a prayer group so God would send more pasta. Instead of praying for noodles, he used his noodle and went to buy some.

On the other hand, there are those who believe God created the world and stepped back to let it run its course — took an early retirement, so to speak. Proponents of this position believe that God no longer does anything in the world. But what kind of divine parent would abandon its baby?

The nature of God’s action is to work in and through us. I believe that as a human being, I am genuinely free to act as I choose, but that God created the good at the core of me. In that way, God’s creative activity inherently defines and shapes my goodness.

A couple of months ago, a man named Raheed attended a chapel service I was leading, after which he asked that I say a prayer for him. He wanted to get his truck-driving licence so he could earn enough money to bring his family to Canada. Not long after, Raheed attended another chapel service. He said my prayer changed his life: he got his licence. Did my prayer get him his licence? No. But it might well have given him the sense of calm and confidence he needed on the day of the exam. And was God spurred to action because I tossed a prayer God’s way? I hope not. I’d hate to think that God is any more my puppet than I am God’s.

But even though I doubt God answers prayers the way the tooth fairy leaves a toonie under my son’s pillow, I don’t doubt that God acted at all. The intellect God invested in Raheed caused him to seek help. The goodness God invested in me inspired me to be there to offer it. What did God do? God created the circumstance in which the prayer could be voiced.

Some take the presence of suffering in the world as a sign that there is no God. I see it as an indication that humanity has not embraced the divinity God has created in us. We could end famine and war tomorrow if we put our collective heart into it. We could address global warming. We could prevent the poor and marginalized from having to build their homes in areas more prone to landslides. We could change the workweek so the stress of our jobs didn’t disrupt our relationships and kill us prematurely. We could put more money into researching the causes of illness and disease than padding the World Bank’s coffers.

Instead we, as the Adam and Eve story goes, succumb to worldly temptations, pick the wrong fruit from the tree and suffer the consequences.

The metaphor might sound trite, but I think that God continually plants seeds of goodness in our hearts, and provides all that is needed for their growth. It’s our choice to see that the seeds are nurtured. In this way, we are completely dependent on God and yet completely free to make decisions. Every good deed, act and experience can be understood as originating in God.

As the Bible says, God is at work in the world, creating, redeeming and sustaining. Humanity can’t limit God’s creativity any more than we can tell the sun to stop shining.

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