I was reading the gospel of John in a different translation than usual, and came to chapter four, featuring the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well. Jesus, with a great attention-grabbing opening line, says that he can offer the woman living water.
And she responds, “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket, and this well is very deep.”
For some reason, this struck me as hilariously funny. The Son of God is sitting right next to her, promising her an eternal source of life and refreshment, and she thinks he’s going to be stopped because he doesn’t have a bucket.
Except I realized I say things like that. All the time. And I actually know who Jesus is, unlike this woman.
Basically, I want so badly to feel like I’m in control that I’m okay with limiting what God can do.
Not seeing the connection to the woman at the well story? Okay, let me explain. My need for control usually shows itself in two different ways: first, I try to get God the right supplies on my own.
Sometimes I say, “Hey God, I just remembered that you need a bucket. Wait right here while I go and get you a bucket.”
So I scamper off, running everywhere, trying to come to God’s rescue. Meanwhile, he’s standing there saying, “Um…I’ve got a bucket. In fact, I have access to a lot of buckets. I could have the whole backorder—any size, color, style—that Menards has in stock in about two seconds if I wanted. Just come back here and do this thing that I want you to do.”
|ALL the buckets.|
But I’m not listening because I’m off in a mad quest for the perfect bucket for God. Usually I come back, tired and panting, only to realize that the bucket I got leaks and is too small and doesn’t even come with a warranty.
God knew all along the best way to get something done, and he didn’t need me to go off on my own and try to accomplish it my way. He already has a bucket.
The second way I limit God is by saying the well is too deep. I have, in this past year, made the following statement: “There is no way this situation is going to teach me about grace, because some relationships aren’t going to be fixed this side of heaven.”
In a strictly theological sense, this might be true. On the other hand, it shows a pretty big attitude problem on my part in telling God what situations he can and cannot redeem.
I got to this point at least partially because I am a big fan of the idea of free will. I think it does a better job of explaining why our world is as messed-up as it is. I also believe pretty firmly that people are not “basically good,” and that includes me.
Sometimes, though, when there’s a theological idea I’m really excited about, I go a little too far. With these two issues, that looks like this:
I am a terrible, sinful person, and I willfully choose to do terrible, sinful things. This hurts other people. Since God lets me choose to hurt those people, he’s probably not going to step in and fix it later, so I’ll have to deal with the consequences.
Not a bad theological base, but a completely false conclusion. Does God have to step in and heal every broken relationship? No. But can he? Yes. Yes, he can.
That completely irredeemable situation I was talking about? It did teach me about grace, and was eventually restored despite my mistakes and stupidity.
I was wrong. The well was not too deep.
That makes me feel a little bit small—to know that, despite my sound theology, I can entirely miss the point. To admit that I have overstated true things in order to make myself feel more powerful, more in control. To realize that my theology is boxing God in just as much as the theologies I make fun of, just in a different way.
God’s sovereignty is not necessarily about whether or not we can choose to do evil. Sometimes it’s about saying that he is the source of living water, that he has a bucket, and that no well is too deep for him, even the ones that we dug ourselves.