God, Grace, and Goulash (by Ronnie McBrayer)
“Do you believe that God is in total control of this world?” Someone asked me that question the other day. We had been discussing the difficulties of life and the trajectory our planet so dishearteningly seems to be headed. Being asked about God’s control of the universe is a lot like being asked, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Either answer you give condemns you. So rather than answering “yes” or “no,” I opted to talk about my Aunt Betty’s goulash.
Goulash is supposed to be an Eastern European stew of sorts. For my Aunt Betty I think it is more a way of cleaning out the refrigerator. She puts meat in it; noodles, tomatoes, paprika, onions, coffee grounds, peanut butter, grass clippings from the last time Uncle Joe emptied the bagger on the lawn mower. Everything. It consists of all these strange, typically unrelated ingredients. But my Aunt Betty is a good cook. Her dish tastes pretty darn good in the end. In the hands of a lesser cook, however, I’m sure goulash would be a culinary disaster.
This is my chosen metaphor to explain God’s “control” over the world. God takes all the ingredients of life as they jumble together in the pot: Heartaches, triumphs, failures, and accomplishments; bad decisions, injustices, and hope; our creativity and our stupidity – all these things. We can’t imagine how any of this fits together. How can this be worth anything? Yet, God is able to make something wonderful out of it. He masterfully brews this magnificent gumbo we call life, and it will taste pretty darn good in the end. But don’t dip in your spoon and taste it too early. It’s not done yet. It still has a ways to go. God is still bringing it all to a boil, waiting for a few essential ingredients to be added to the mix before it’s put on the table.
This then, is the Christian hope: God is redeeming the world through his Son, Jesus the Christ. We believe God is putting his creation to rights and will accomplish this purpose no matter how gloomy life sometimes appears. So, does God control this world? Sure he does, just not in the mechanical, unconscious way we may have always imagined. I don’t think he is pulling levers and punching buttons dictating the minutia of life. He seems to have left a great deal of autonomy for us his creations.
See, in the greatest act of grace short of the cross itself, God has given us a role to play in the redemption of creation. His good pleasure is, amazingly, to do his will and work through us.
That God is all-powerful over his world, masterfully cooking in his kitchen, does not diminish, negate, or marginalize our role and responsibility in the least. God will do what God will do. You and I must do the same. Now, if I was God, and you should thank God I’m not, I would have never entrusted my good creation to beings so irresponsible, so short-sighted, so corrupt and depraved. Yet, this is exactly what God has done. We haven’t earned this glorious responsibility. We don’t deserve it, but it is ours. What will we do with it?
Frodo, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic “Lord of the Rings” series is that little hobbit on whom the One Ring falls. He and only he must bear this terrible possession to the fires of Mount Doom to save Middle Earth. He protests his assignment, having not asked for this awful burden that has fallen into his hands. He says to his mentor and guide, Gandalf, “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” And how we wish our world was different, just like young Frodo. But Gandalf wisely responds, “So do all who see such times. But that is not for us to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that we are given.”
If given an audience with God we might be so bold as to ask him, “Why don’t you do something about starving children, genocide, the violation of the innocent, and unending war? Why don’t you intervene in your world?” Such queries are dangerous. Not because God can’t handle it; he certainly can. But he just might ask us the same questions.
Ronnie McBrayer is a nationally syndicated faith columnist, speaker, and the author of multiple books including “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus” and “The Jesus Tribe.” Visit his website atwww.ronniemcbrayer.net.