(witty subtitle: the Life-driven Purpose)
One very late night, my wife asked me to read two pages from “A Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren. It discussed how God planned the circumstances of our birth: our parents, race, DNA and even how long you will live, etc. It was supposed to be a trigger for a discussion on some of the positive moments of our lives. She was right: the words in the book made me laugh!
But even if I kept my laughter to myself, I couldn’t hide my thoughts especially when expected to provide a response to the text I just read. As you can imagine, it lead to a discussion that even made her cry. I really hated Rick Warren at that moment. But afterwards, it got me thinking about this blog post, so I guess I should thank him instead. Besides, what can I do now? He has already gained fame and fortune from his book and nothing I can say will change that.
But I can still let my thoughts off my chest, right? So let me lay down the assumptions: WE BELIEVE IN GOD WITH ALL OUR HEARTS. HE IS GOOD AND THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT HE INFLUENCES OUR LIVES. Now, the cause of confusion in my marital situation is HOW God chooses to influence our lives. Does He (1) lay down a lot of policies and guidelines to help us achieve a target or does He (2) just intervene whenever He likes but lets us live our lives mostly on our own?
To elaborate, God the super planner works like this: He supposedly has a plan for each and every one of us.
I’ll just let that thought simmer for a moment…
…Now, because He has a plan for all of us, everything that has led to your birth was also planned…
…You were meant to be…
…OK enough of the suspense. Does that come a little too close for comfort to “Destiny” for some of you? Well, I heard that God the super planner does not literally control everything. You are supposedly still free to decide on many things. According to parts of Mr. Warren’s book that I’ve read, we should then use this freedom to fulfil God’s plan for us. After all, Mr. Warren conveniently acknowledges that not everybody gets to fulfil God’s plan for them.
On the other hand, the laissez faire God works like this: He created the conditions for the Big Bang and just let science do the rest of the work for Him. Infinite permutations from countless trials and errors of circumstances produced just enough juice for us to get to where we are now. But the free market God is not an idle observer either, just like many Central Banks: He intervenes every now and then. I can’t claim to know the decision rules God uses to determine whether He will interfere this time on this matter or not. But it is clear that this version of God does not control everything (or most things, for that matter), even if He easily can.
I guess you can already guess which kind of God I believe in. This is only because I am having difficulty having my free will taken away from me, even if the amount deducted is just the size of a mustard seed. I think at my core, I really believe in the laissez faire God. Let me explain my reasons through the age-old technique of weighing the pros and cons of something as abstract as this.
Pros of the super planner God: (1) if something is meant for you, it will come to pass no matter what happens; (2) your life has a purpose and you should work toward it; (3) even some of the wrong things in your life are part of the plan so no matter how hard it gets, you will make it through.
Cons of the super planner God: see pros of the super planner God #s 1-3 above. No, really. Seriously.
Pros of the free market God: (1) free will; (2) infinite possibilities; (3) the chance that God will intervene every now and then (whether when you pray or if He just feels like it, doesn’t matter) and (4) even more free will.
Cons of the free market God: even if you work your ass off, it is no guarantee that you will succeed in life. I guess that’s why they call Life a Bitch.
I hate seeing my wife cry because of me. So I figured that if I get her to believe my version, she won’t be sad any more. So I explained to her my imagined economic reason for the message and tone of Rick Warren’s best-seller: PEOPLE WHO MAY BE MORE LIKELY TO BUY AND READ THE BOOK MAY NEED GOOD NEWS MORE THAN THE PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT INTERESTED IN READING THE BOOK IN THE FIRST PLACE. The super planner God fits in this strategy and story line very well. He seems to say: “There is a plan for you, don’t worry. Nothing is by accident”. This, I think, is the ultimate consuelo de bobo: BECAUSE OF THE TRIALS THE PERSON IS GOING THROUGH BEFORE OR WHILE READING THE BOOK, THIS REASSURANCE WILL MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD THAT YOU BOUGHT THE BOOK, EVEN IF THE BOOK IS WRONG.
As you can guess, this argument did not win her over to my side of the fence. I think she got even more depressed after hearing this. But my wife is strong: after being sad for a while, she now transforms that thought into anger and then pity for me. I think she believes that I am very misguided and we should just accept our difference. That’s fine with me, just as long as we are not fighting anymore.
But can you imagine a God that sets everything up so that most of the things that should happen will actually happen? It is a scary thought but I shouldn’t be worried because that approach is NO FUN AT ALL (not that I think God’s first consideration is fun, but still, you know what I mean…). In contrast, adopting a laissez faire approach is like watching a movie for the first time: you’re never sure of what to expect. That is definitely better than watching the same movie for the second time, when you already know the plot. And the best thing about being God is that if He wants to, He has the power to intervene (again, whether He actually intervenes or not is a whole other matter which we cannot pretend to understand).
THE SUPER PLANNER GOD IS A LOT OF PRESSURE: first, we need to know His plan for us. Second, we need to work toward that plan. Third, we usually fail at fulfilling this so-called plan. From a writer’s point of view, I can see the sense in predicating the book around the existence of a plan. It gives a lot of things meaning. But if the readers would open their minds and not accept everything the book declares, they would see that the existence of the plan produces a set of very complicated rules and generalizations, as well as seemingly random exceptions to these same rules. Believing that there is a plan for each and every one of us is not just complicated; it is too much work for something that is so unsure.
But then the opposite is not much prettier: without a “purpose-driven life”, we would all be drifting in randomness and chance. Shit, it’s too much to try to comprehend. Could it be that God just lets us live our lives while all the while knowing where conditions (both controlled and uncontrolled) will eventually lead? I like to think of Him as a wise grandfather who tries to guide us in our daily lives and says “I told you so” every time we commit mistakes, rather than a scientist that has laid down a maze for us rats to solve. I know God has been described as Omniscient, Omnipresent and Omnipotent, but nowhere in that description says Control Freak. There is no need to wrack our brains proving if there is indeed a plan for us or not.
Again, this is all too abstract. I think it was Isaiah who discovered a good escape clause for all this complexity: we cannot understand the mind of God (and yes some of you Bible nuts will counter with having “the mind of Christ”; feel free to rant in the comment section below). So my advice to her is to try a “Life-driven Purpose” instead: Just make the most of what God gave you and He will decide if you deserve what you desire or not. If we go to bed at night knowing that we did the best we could for ourselves and for others, there is a big chance that we are making God happy. JUST LIVE YOUR LIFE WELL. If despite all of these efforts we still do not get what we want, well, SHIT HAPPENS.
Ps. Dear God, I hope this is not a sin – me writing about you like this. Please don’t strike me down with lightning or take away the blessings you have given and will continue to give me. I believe you are fair and that you do not begrudge me for wanting people to contemplate both sides of the story. You know that I honestly believe in what I wrote here. I hope this amuses you. Have a nice day =)
Pps. Dear Mr. Warren, I’m sorry for challenging you like this. I know that you are used to critics: you know that what I wrote here won’t matter in the long run. Please tell all your followers to keep an open mind and not crucify or excommunicate me. I am just practicing what we call free speech. Who knows, maybe this is also part of God’s plan for me. Anyway, congratulations on the brilliant strategy of selling books and I hope you enjoy the fruits of your labor. May you get what you deserve.