God has already given us permission to love.

I’ve been reading J.B. Philips’ short book Your God is Too Small with a couple of colleagues. It’s a quick read and an interesting approach to helping us see who God is and all the ways we get God wrong. The first half of the book, which is as far as I’ve read, is about all the destructive, unreal pictures of God that people often have (the second half is about constructive views). The following paragraph stood out to me. It’s from a section on a god who we see as an entirely negative force in our lives, whose “whole Nature seems to deny, to cramp, and to inhibit” our own nature:

“They are bound by their negative god by their upbringing, by the traditions of a Church or party, by the manipulation of isolated texts of Scripture or by a morbid conscience. At last they actually feel that it is wrong to be themselves, wrong to be free, wrong to enjoy beauty, wrong to expand and develop. Unless they have their god’s permission they can do nothing. Disaster will infallibly bring them to heal, sooner or later, should they venture beyond the confines of ‘his plan for them.'” (p. 51, Epworth Press edition, 1975, emphasis mine)

“Unless they have their god’s permission they can do nothing.” Two things strike me about this:

1. I see this crop up among the youth at our church who want to be faithful to God in every decision, but who are stuck because they need God’s permission (or direction) to choose this job or that job, this college or that college. I’ve told the youth on a couple of occasions that they are free to make their own decisions about these things, as long as they are pursuing love of God and love of neighbour in their choices. That’s not to say they shouldn’t listen for God (that’s part of loving God!) nor that God doesn’t have a specific call for them. But the tendency is to think that God has one, single, narrow path laid out for our lives, and we had better find and stay on that path if we want things to go well for us. Instead, I think there is a wide field of potential and opportunity that lies within the scope of loving God and loving neighbour and we are free to wander and discover and live within it.

2. In spite of what I tell our youth, I also find myself wrestling with this negative vision of God, without whose permission I often feel I can do nothing. In a strange and dangerous way, I subconsciously think that because I was called to pastoral ministry, I somehow have to be in line with God (within his field of specific permission) for every step I take along the way. But why should it be any different for me as a pastor than for a plumber, teacher, doctor, mechanic, or student? It shouldn’t. And yet there I often live.

God has already given us blanket permission to love him and others, and within that permission there is room for creativity, growth, change, risk, and so on. But some days it’s hard to believe this.

10 thoughts on “God has already given us permission to love.

  1. Toni

    People want rules – you know where you are with a good rule.

    Without express direction and rules to follow you have to be responsible for what happens, within the freedom you have. As a kid one tends to spend ones life trying to find out what the rules are, so that you can live without getting it wrong, without some adult somewhere coming down on you, without being publicly humiliated by your peers. In some ways that’s not unreasonable, since kids tend to be driven by selfishness and whims, sometimes mixed with love & kindness, and need guidance so they don’t trash their own lives and those of others about them.

    When you grow up there should be a transition into responsible freedom, to be creative and productive as a person. But often childish motivation, over-powering feelings or simple dumb stupidity causes a measure of trainwreck. Sometimes people never progress beyond wanting a set of rules to follow, and life is much simpler without personal freedom & responsibility. Some people are naturally self-destructive, and without self-imposed rules they quickly descend into darkness.

    There’s also a measure of super-spirituality that can come with the idea “I won’t do anything unless God tells me to”.

    Freedom is good, but it’s also a continual challenge and brings the risk of actually having to be accountable instead of merely obedient. Much easier to be told what to do instead of deciding what needs doing.

  2. Toni

    Talking of freedom, have you smoked a joint yet?

    Interesting route Canada is taking. I oscillate between the thinking that governments should make drugs as cheap and carefully controlled as any other hazardous consumable product to drive the crooks out of business (although it won’t – they’ll just find new things to supply and morons will keep trying and buying the stuff) and ruling with an iron fist with severe punishment just for possession and life/capital sentences for dealing (except justice gets it wrong sometimes).

    I hope this works out well for your land, but time will tell.

  3. Marc

    Not sure how I missed these comments, Toni. The alerts must have been buried under a bunch of work emails!

    I have mixed feelings about the legalization of marijuana myself. It makes some sense to me that this will prevent the legal system from being jammed up with stuff relating to a drug that in many respects (though not all) is similar to tobacco and alcohol. Presumably it will save valuable resources. But then this morning on the news I heard an item about the Edmonton police budget needing to go up precisely because of the legalization. So who really knows.

    What I do know is that the legal pot is selling out and people have been lining up around city blocks to get some since it became legal a couple of weeks ago. That really surprised me!

  4. Toni

    You’re probably busy. 😉

    There was a radio program yesterday with a chap on pointing out that it’s really the middle class twits (in the UK) that keep the drug dealers in business by thinking it’s OK to buy drugs despite the very real human cost required to make those drugs available. The other guy they had on to argue that pot should be legalised could only try to suggest he was taking a step backwards by requiring the police to arrest and prosecute drug users – he didn’t have a single sensible or convincing reason why drying up the flow of money from fool to dealer wouldn’t put the dealer out of business.

    My neighbours smoke pot, though less these days than they used to. I wish that soft drug users could be made into pariahs the way smokers have been – that would be far more likely to reduse use, but of course we mustn’t make people ashamed for what they do, except when it’s socially acceptable to do so.


  5. Toni

    Apparently I can’t spell. :p

    I jusy dropped by a moment ago – I’m not stalking you until you reply, honest.

  6. Marc

    I’d forgotten that my post didn’t have anything to do with marijuana use… oh well. 🙂

    I meant to mention in my earlier reply that I have wondered about the fact that while North America becomes more “liberal” when it comes to soft drugs, I think I’ve heard reports that places like the Netherlands are actually pulling back from their earlier move in this direction. If this is true, I wonder if our legislators are paying any attention to what such European countries have already learned about these things?

  7. Toni

    I thought I’d said a lot more about your post than about drug use, but hey, it is (was) topical.

    I suspect North America is much more inclined to remember tales of people going to Amsterdam and being stoned all the time while enjoying themselves, than they are to consider the human cost in the background, and that earlier liberal decisions need to be unpicked. Some would say that the new narcotics are less harmful than the traditional ones, but I’d say that we still haven’t learned to cope with those after several millenia, without adding new ones to the mix. But drug use in Europe IS carefully controlled where it’s permitted, with use of marijuana only in specific locations (like the coffee shops of Amsterdam) where it is permitted at all, and certainly not legally sanctioned for general use.

  8. Marc

    You did say a lot more about my post than the marijuana thing. I just meant, I couldn’t remember what my post was about and had to remind myself. My comment wasn’t about your comment. Sorry for the miscommunication.

  9. Toni

    I just came across the following:

    In Canada, the government, in its eternal wisdom, recently passed two laws.

    They are:

    1. Legalised gay marriage

    2. Legalised marijuana

    Legalising gay marriage and marijuana at the same time now makes perfect Biblical sense.

    Leviticus 20:13 says: “If a man lies with another man they should be stoned.”

    Apparently we just hadn’t interpreted it correctly before!

  10. Toni

    BTW your paper about the pericope adultera was an interesting read. From what I know about writings in the times around the new testament, the loose treatment of ‘facts’ that we see presented on Facebook is nothing new.

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