A couple years ago, I was talking with a friend who had troubles. He was dealing with financial instability, serious health issues in his family and addiction. All of this was also challenging his faith and causing him to engage God… differently. He shared with me (at-length) some very honest things he’d been saying to God recently. He hadn’t “lost faith” per se, but his pain was very raw and it was hard for me to see him going through all this.
When he finished, I had a sense of a major theme in his rant. I remember saying, “It sounds like you feel abandoned by God and you want God to take some responsibility for you.” He thought for a moment and then said, “Yeah. I guess I do.”
I could tell he was a little sheepish about this. I sense that he was affected by a major strain of evangelical thought and preaching, namely, “You’re a sinner. God doesn’t owe you anything except judgment.” That’s the point of GRACE isn’t it? If God owed us something, it wouldn’t be grace! We’re sinners, and we aren’t entitled to anything from God. Okay. Maybe. But is this the only way to think about it?
Normally, we assume that people are responsible for the things they create. Furthermore, the greater the ‘distance’ between the creator and the thing created, the greater the responsibility of the creator. Parents are responsible for their children and that responsibility moves from greater to lesser as the children “grow-up” and close the gap, and responsibility shifts to the “child.” Of course, only God knows the true extent of the difference between God and us and how much of that great gap we ever really close. MacDonald’s over-arching idea about God (it seems to me) is that we ought not ascribe to God anything that we would not ascribe to a truly loving human father. In the end, what God wants for us and what God wants from us are the same, to be reconciled and united in righteous fellowship.
I hadn’t read MacDonald on this yet, but I remember telling him, “That makes sense. God made you. In scripture, God seems to want us to know him and trust Him as children ought to be able to know and trust their Father. I think God does want to take responsibility for you in some sense.”
I leave you with MacDonald’s lengthy exposition on this, from his sermon on Job (the entirety can be found at: http://www.online-literature.com/george-macdonald/unspoken-sermons/22/ ):
"The grandeur of the poem is that Job pleads his cause with God against all the remonstrance of religious authority, recognizing no one but God, and justified therein. And the grandest of all is this, that he implies, if he does not actually say, that God owes something to his creature. This is the beginning of the greatest discovery of all--that God owes himself to the creature he has made in his image, for so he has made him incapable of living without him. This, his creatures' highest claim upon him, is his divinest gift to them… Perhaps the worst thing in a theology constructed out of man's dull possible, and not out of the being and deeds and words of Jesus Christ, is the impression it conveys throughout that God acknowledges no such obligation. Are not we the clay, and he the potter? How can the clay claim from the potter? We are the clay, it is true, but his clay, but spiritual clay, live clay, with needs and desires--and rights; we are clay, but clay worth the Son of God's dying for, that it might learn to consent to be shaped unto honour. We can have no merits--a merit is a thing impossible; but God has given us rights. Out of him we have nothing; but, created by him, come forth from him, we have even rights towards him--ah, never, never against him! His whole desire and labour is to make us capable of claiming, and induce us to claim of him the things whose rights he bestowed in creating us. No claim had we to be created: that involves an absurdity; but, being made, we have claims on him who made us: our needs are our claims. A man who will not provide for the hunger of his child, is condemned by the whole world.
'Ah, but,' says the partisan of God, 'the Almighty stands in a relation very different from that of an earthly father: there is no parallel.' I grant it: there is no parallel. The man did not create the child, he only yielded to an impulse created in himself: God is infinitely more bound to provide for his child than any man is to provide for his. The relation is infinitely, divinely closer. It is God to whom every hunger, every aspiration, every desire, every longing of our nature is to be referred; he made all our needs--made us the creatures of a thousand necessities--and have we no claim on him? Nay, we have claims innumerable, infinite; and his one great claim on us is that we should claim our claims of him.
It is terrible to represent God as unrelated to us in the way of appeal to his righteousness. How should he be righteous without owing us anything? How would there be any right for the judge of all the earth to do if he owed nothing? Verily he owes us nothing that he does not pay like a God; but it is of the devil to imagine imperfection and disgrace in obligation. So far is God from thinking so that in every act of his being he lays himself under obligation to his creatures. Oh, the grandeur of his goodness, and righteousness, and fearless unselfishness! When doubt and dread invade, and the voice of love in the soul is dumb, what can please the father of men better than to hear his child cry to him from whom he came, 'Here I am, O God! Thou hast made me: give me that which thou hast made me needing.'
The child has, and must have, a claim on the father, a claim which it is the joy of the father's heart to acknowledge. A created need is a created claim. God is the origin of both need and supply, the father of our necessities, the abundant giver of the good things. Right gloriously he meets the claims of his child! The story of Jesus is the heart of his answer, not primarily to the prayers, but to the divine necessities of the children he has sent out into his universe.
Away with the thought that God could have been a perfect, an adorable creator, doing anything less than he has done for his children! That any other kind of being than Jesus Christ could have been worthy of all-glorifying worship! That his nature demanded less of him than he has done! That his nature is not absolute love, absolute self-devotion--could have been without these highest splendours!
I protest, therefore, against all such teaching as, originating in and fostered by the faithlessness of the human heart, gives the impression that the exceeding goodness of God towards man is not the natural and necessary outcome of his being. The root of every heresy popular in the church draws its nourishment merely and only from the soil of unbelief. The idea that God would be God all the same, as glorious as he needed to be, had he not taken upon himself the divine toil of bringing home his wandered children, had he done nothing to seek and save the lost, is false as hell. Lying for God could go no farther. As if the idea of God admitted of his being less than he is, less than perfect, less than all-in-all, less than Jesus Christ! Less than Love absolute, less than entire unselfishness! As if the God revealed to us in the New Testament were not his own perfect necessity of loving-kindness, but one who has made himself better than, by his own nature, by his own love, by the laws which he willed the laws of his existence, he needed to be! They would have it that, being unbound, he deserves the greater homage! So it might be, if he were not our father. But to think of the living God not as our father, but as one who has condescended greatly, being nowise, in his own willed grandeur of righteous nature, bound to do as he has done, is killing to all but a slavish devotion. It is to think of him as nothing like the God we see in Jesus Christ.
It will be answered that we have fallen, and God is thereby freed from any obligation, if any ever were. It is but another lie. No amount of wrong-doing in a child can ever free a parent from the divine necessity of doing all he can to deliver his child; the bond between them cannot be broken. It is the vulgar, slavish, worldly idea of freedom, that it consists in being bound to nothing. Not such is God's idea of liberty! To speak as a man--the more of vital obligation he lays on himself, the more children he creates, with the more claims upon him, the freer is he as creator and giver of life, which is the essence of his Godhead: to make scope for his essence is to be free. Our Lord teaches us that the truth, known by obedience to him, will make us free: our freedom lies in living the truth of our relations to God and man. For a man to be alone in the universe would be to be a slave to unspeakable longings and lonelinesses. And again to speak after the manner of men: God could not be satisfied with himself without doing all that a God and Father could do for the creatures he had made--that is, without doing just what he has done, what he is doing, what he will do, to deliver his sons and daughters, and bring them home with rejoicing."
for more great material on George MacDonald, visit: http://www.george-macdonald.com/index.html_