Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Does God Make Mistakes?

I've seen a lot of stuff from the conservative side of life in light of the recent Vanity Fair cover. For the most part it's coming from a very specific set of definitions and understanding on how people exist and who they are. I spoke a little bit about the dangers of such grouping and stereotypes in an earlier post. In short, I think expecting anyone to be anything other than a unique individual is pretty short-sighted (not to mention cruel).

What troubles me most, though, from those conservative reactions, is the line that keeps cropping up, "God doesn't make mistakes." It bugs me not because I disagree with it. I don't. I agree wholeheartedly. What bothers me is that this phrase seems to indicate the user knows how to define someone else's mistakes.

If my wife asked me to move the clothes from the washer to the dryer and I didn't do it, there are three basic explanations - throwing out some unforeseen occurrence physically preventing me from doing it, we're left with 1) I remembered, but was too mean or lazy to do it; or 2) I forgot. Only the latter is a mistake, but from my wife's perspective, there's very little way to truly know if it was option 1 or option 2. She may be able to guess given my past performance at such tasks and what she knows of me as a person, but she can't really know.

I say all that to say, whether God makes mistakes or not, we don't know that Olympic hero Bruce Jenner believing from the time he was very young that he should have been born a woman is, in fact, a mistake. Even if we go so far as to say such transgender persons (along with anyone else whose biology and inclinations don't line up with religious or cultural norms) are sort of evolutionary byproducts (this sounds really harsh, but hopefully I explained it a little better and in more depth elsewhere), there's no indication that anyone turned out differently than God intended them to be.

No, there's no more reason that what I've just said is "right" when describing God's intentions than those who believe Jenner suffers from a comic mistake - and that's precisely the point. Invoking that notion in this context, as if there's some absolute understanding of God's intentions is trite and irresponsible. I get that some people believe there are very specific gender and sex roles - it's a valid opinion because people hold it - at the same time it seems proper to at least allow for a difference of opinion when it comes to judging the intentions of almighty God.

I tend to see a lot more of God's purposes in a world where people are different from each other. In fact, it seems one of the big contributions of Christianity to the world is the notion that radically different people could possibly live and worship and love each other without ever becoming like each other. I don't happen to believe the kind of uniformity hinted at in this particular use of "God doesn't make mistakes," really represents a Christian understanding of God at all. You are, of course, free to disagree.

What it seems to do is downplay the notion of identity and our responsibility to act. I know they got in trouble showing this in our local high school this year (and perhaps, in context, with good reason), but Hank Green really breaks down some of these identity pieces quickly and simply in this video. If you watch it, you'll see a visual aid used with two people - one representing identity and the other representing action.

It seems to me the heart of any conversation between people who care for each other should involve some real discussion of how we act and why we do what we do. If we love people, we want the best for them. Having a person to think through our actions with and providing that same sounding board for another is really key to living life well. For Christians, this is sort of the ideal goal for relationships - something mutually beneficial and beyond the superficial. But, of course, this is only possible if we accept the person for who they are. We can't be going around harping on that left hand person if we expect to have any influence on the right hand person - we can't be skeptical of who people are, if we want to have enough respect to be invited to speak on how people act.

Yes, I get that there are some legitimately dangerous identities out there - various body dysmorphic issues that will kill people if not addressed. (I also get that some people believe a homosexual or transgender identity falls into the same category of dangerous.) But even if you disagree with how someone identifies (and there are certainly good reasons to do so), making this known or a priority in the relationship is foolish, because, well, if you do that, there is no relationship. You can't help someone with anorexia by telling them they look great. If it were just as simple as changing how one feels or identifies, they'd've done it already.

The notion that someone must fit into a box I've created is pretty ludicrous. The retort may be, "I didn't create the box, God did," but of course, that's up for debate (and you better bring something better than, "see... the bible says it" to that fight if you don't want to get laughed out of the ring.

I imagine, a God who is so powerful as to make no mistakes is also powerful enough to let people know when they're outside the box. People may need nudging now and then to listen to that voice, but it's a nudging they ask for once they know someone loves and accepts them completely.

Call me crazy, but it seems like the kind of peace and calm people like Caitlyn Jenner experience when they're finally true to themselves to friends and family (and maybe the world) is pretty close to the kind of peace God intends for all of God's beloved creations. Yes, as a pastor, as a Christian, I've got a lot of opinions about how people should act - what things might be wise or unwise, helpful or harmful, having positive or negative effect on the world. I love sitting down and walking through future possibilities both in my own life and in the lives of others - it's part of why I feel called to be a minister. How do we act? How do we live rightly in the world? Those are important questions. I'd love to talk to you (or anyone) about them. I think it's the most important conversation in the world. I have opinions about how we should act in the world.

I don't have opinions about who we are. I can't. I know God doesn't. All people are perfectly loved and infinitely accepted just as they are in the eyes of God. I'll shout that one from the rooftops and defend it to the death. We are who we are. That doesn't mean there aren't parts of ourselves we have to work around, compensate for, or learn to discipline - nobody's perfect. But those are actions. They are the way we respond to who we are. The faults and failures that comprise our identities are no less mistakes than the blessings and successes that make us who we are. We may make mistakes (a lot of them), but no one and no part of anyone is a mistake.

As for Christians, we're never going to have a place in the world, never going to be able to influence people or support people or help people, unless we learn the difference between identity and action. Choose your words carefully. Don't back down from what you believe... even if it's different than what I believe, but, please, choose your words carefully.


Alan Scott said...

But if you want to change my actions, doesn't that mean you don't accept me? I think my actions are the result of my identity. If you accept me, you must accept my actions, right?

I would suggest that God loves and values us all. That is not the same as accepting what I do and how I choose to self-identify. My true identity is only found in relationship with the One who created me. To discover that identity I must know who He is. Knowing who God is, His identity as my creator, leads me to find out my identity, purpose and fulfillment as I live out His purpose for me and all persons. Self-identity apart from our Creator is deceiving by its limitations. Yes, we can be mistaken about our self-proclaimed identity and miss our true identity.

I feel sad for what Bruce Jenner has put himself through: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/04/14905/

Ryan said...

I don't offer advice to anyone unless asked. I think that's the difference we see too often. We say, "I'll love you, so long as you know I'd rather you were different." That's simplistic, yes, but it is important. I don't have any right to speak into someone's life unless they ask me to do so. I have a hard time believing anyone would ask me to do so, unless they were sure I cared for them.

And, just for the record, Jenner hasn't had sex-change surgery and isn't sure she wants it - maybe for some of the reasons listed there.