To What Extent Do We Control Our Life?

controlChristians often talk about “God’s timing” and His divine will and providence over our lives.  If something is meant to happen, it will happen just when God has directed it to.  This general mind-set is helpful in easing anxiety and allowing us to realize the plans are orchestrated beyond our control, but it also begs the question “to what extent does free will play a role?”

I have to admit, I am a huge control freak.  The worst part is, I didn’t even realize this until a year ago.  I have always tried to control what I was going to do and when.  I would make plans about where to study, what job to get, and where to travel to.  In my mind, everything had a start and finish date and I became obsessed with pursing my goals.  This was good in the sense that nearly every goal I have ever set out to seriously conquer has now been achieve.  It is bad in the sense that I likely went through most of life on auto-pilot not allowing the Holy Spirit to move.

I was recently doing some “pub theology” with a new friend when we began discussing this topic.  Non-Christians might call it “fate”, Christians tend to stick with terms such as “pre-destination”, but in reality, it’s kind of all the same thing.  Yes, I believe that there are many choices I’ve been able to make in my own life – we are not puppets and God allows us freedom to move around and to make bad choices which then have detrimental consequences.  But I also believe that there are certain life events that just happen upon us which we did not choose for ourselves, and yet which truly end up having a life lesson attached to them after the fact.  And then I believe that there are some things which I truly find very difficult to reconcile in terms of whether or not there truly was a point in it at all.

Take the first instance – free will.  We all have made choices in our lives which have ended up wonderfully or tragically.  Perhaps you knew that spending time with a certain friend was not beneficial for you, but you continued to do it anyways.  This friend then led you down a bad path which ended up affecting other aspects of your life.  This was not fate.  This was a poor choice.  Suppose you chose to eat only doughnuts and to fill yourself up with sugary sweets giving into every conceivable craving and you developed diabetes or other health conditions and became overweight.  Yes, God may have a lesson to teach you in your health struggle – and that lesson probably is to take better care of yourself and change your bad habits!  Or suppose you had the option of going to church on a Sunday or sleeping in and you chose church.  You then heard a sermon that really impacted you and changed the course of your life.  Was it free will or fate?  Likely a bit of both.  It was free will which enabled you to hear that timely message, but it was also likely predestined that you heard that message at the exact moment in time in which you would be readily able to accept it.  Perhaps if you heard that same message 1 year or even 1 week ago, you might have let it pass through you without giving it much thought.  Perhaps if you heard that same sermon one year later your life would be on a different path and so it would no longer be as relevant, but for today, it’s exactly what you needed to hear.  God used your free will decision to bring a special blessing out of it.

The second instance – Life Events Which Take Place.  We all have experienced these in our lives.  We’ve met someone that we never would have crossed paths with before and they have ended up blessing our lives tremendously.  We’ve found ourselves in a new location or in a new job that we didn’t know we would be in.  Or take one of the most common examples of all – marriage.  My own parents met 10 years before they began dating.  I know of another woman at church who could have met her husband 20 years beforehand, but due to a series of unforeseen circumstances it just never happened.  Why not?  If God knew the two partners were meant to be together, why not just speed things up?  There could be several reasons: maybe God was preparing one or both of them, maybe one or both of them were not yet ready, maybe there were still lessons to learn or ways to serve as single people which needed to happen first, and maybe there was a small element of spiritual warfare involved.  The old expression says, “Life is lived forwards but understood backwards.”

When I look at my own life, I can often see how even the most difficult and painful seasons have played a role in propelling me forward towards being more of the person Christ desires for me to be.  I remember being in university and applying for a transfer.  I had all my credits lined up and had spoken extensively to the dean at the new school.  At the last minute, I felt in my heart it wasn’t the right choice and so I stayed.  Was it God’s will?  I don’t know for sure, but I do know the people I then proceeded to meet who are now some of my closest friends whose paths I wouldn’t have crossed if I would have left.  I suppose the argument could then be made that I would have made other friends, but who knows?  I had a somewhat difficult time in my first year of seminary, and left to pursue a year at L’Arche before going back to my old Alma Mater to finish up.  Was that first year worth it even if it didn’t end the way I had hoped?  Yes, because it was in that year that I developed my passion and interest in disability theology.  If I had never have gone to that other seminary, who knows if I would now be doing what I am today.  I begged God to let me go back to Edinburgh after my first year there and the door was shut.  It took nearly 2 years to arrive back in Scotland, and sometimes I wonder why.  Yet, I think of all the lessons I learned in Canada (there were many), friendships strengthened, and a new identity forged.  I still don’t entirely know the reason why it took 2 years, but I believe that there might have been an element of God’s protection.  Who knows what might have happened had I been back earlier.  Possibly nothing, but then again, maybe something could have occurred which thankfully didn’t because God was keeping me safe in my home country.

And then there are those moments which seem to be utterly pointless.  I have to admit, I find a lot of tragedies difficult to explain away why they happened.  Yes, there are those who have risen victoriously and are now ministering to the hurt and broken as a result of their own pain, but then there are just some life events I cannot fathom the true meaning for.  And perhaps I never will this side of heaven.  Maybe the glory is in the fact that we simply don’t know and all will be revealed to us in time.  Perhaps the whole point is to live in that tension of shame, doubt, and confusion, urging us to trust in the One who does have all power and control.

I have learned that as much as I enjoy having full control over my life, my life goes better when I give that control up to Someone else.  I may make my own plans for the future, but God determines my steps.  Like the Psalmist says, “Unless the Lord builds a house, you labour in vain who make it.” (Psalm 127:1).  We potentially may have SOME control over our own life’s destiny.  We may choose to place ourselves in a position that brings us more of what we want or to position ourselves to achieve our goals at a younger age, but we cannot force the greatest mysteries of life to happen to us outside of the realm of God’s control.  When we surrender to His leading, we find that great events come to pass for us and countless others.  This is the great fact for us.

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Templeton Revisited: A Salvation Case Study

billy-graham-charles-templeton-full-v2 Canada – a country known for its multiculturalism, liberalism, open-mindedness, tolerance, and etiquette.  A country large in land mass, but small in population which prides itself on apologizing, friendliness, and warmth.  Yet despite these stereotypical clichés of the Canadian mindset, this country once held one of the world’s most influential evangelists – Charles Templeton.

Templeton was born in 1915 and as a young man became a prominent evangelist and the forerunner (and mentor) to the late Billy Graham.  He was an avid preacher, evangelist, and revivalist.  It was often said that he was a man whom God had anointed and placed His hand upon.  Through Templeton’s charisma and passion, church attendance in North America skyrocketed and thousands came to an understanding of salvation found only in Christ.

Yet, something drastic happened.  In 1957 at the age of 42 (and less than 20 years after he entered the ministry), Templeton chose to renounce everything he once stood for.  He said that he no longer believed in the infallibility of Scripture – in fact he did not believe in Scripture at all.  It is almost entirely normal for every believer to have a moment of doubt at least once in their faith journey, but for Templeton this moment was ongoing.  It was not just a few days or even months full of pondering and questions, it was not a year full of disillusionment and bewilderment in which he eventually saw God’s Hand coming through, it was a complete reorientation of his life, his theology, his philosophy, and his passion.  The water of evangelism had completely dried up from Templeton’s soul, the fire that once burned so brightly smothered from a slow flame into ashes.  Eventually, Templeton wrote a book that now has been widely circulated entitled “Farewell to God.”  Templeton, a scholar and very well-educated, reasoned out his viewpoints academically and rigorously.  He blamed his newfound lack of faith on science and religion not being compatible.  He had serious issues with many questionable Bible verses.  But was his intellect alone what truly led him to abandon the God he once loved and aimed to serve?  Or was there a deeper reason that never really became public knowledge and which he never allowed to surface?

The story of Templeton has often been used as a wonderful case study among theologians debating the possibility of predestination.  Myriad questions abound from his life, ministry, and then gradual departure from the faith.  Questions such as: Was Templeton really saved?  Did he lose his salvation?  And what then happens to those who were saved under his ministry?

Shockingly, statistics show that even when Templeton himself departed from the faith, very few of those who were part of his evangelistic crusades recanted.  In fact, while perhaps a few of them were troubled, it did not seem to shake their general understanding and awareness of Scriptures in any major way.

This is a topic that I have often considered and then come back to.  I consider myself a Calvinist, but yet, I am not entirely in-line with the traditional views of predestination.  I have read many articles and books on this topic, but despite its general tendency to divide and disturb, I truly believe this is one area in which we will never fully receive an answer this side of heaven.   Yet, here is my best attempt at summarizing how I generally feel about the question of whether one can lose their salvation:
When I lived in Edinburgh, I attended an evangelical church that stated if one “lost their salvation” they were never truly a Christian to begin with.  In this case, Templeton was never really a believer.  Yes, he might have said all the right things and paid lip-service to God, but he never truly had Christ in his life.  If he did, he wouldn’t have walked away.

I don’t like this mindset because to me it is too clear cut and I don’t think salvation ever works that easily.  Firstly, we have no right to choose who is in and who’s out.  We don’t get to decide who truly is a believer and who isn’t – that’s only up to Christ.  My pastor recently told me that when she conducts funerals she will always refrain from saying “This person was such a Godly [wo]man”.  There may be some people out there who are living a “picture-perfect” life.  Their marriages, families, and professions seem to show that they are Godly examples, but we don’t know what they are doing behind closed doors.  We don’t know what kind of lives they are leading when no one is looking or what kind of secret addictions they may be harbouring.  On the other hand, someone could be seriously struggling in their faith, but trying to get by and do the best they can.  In the end of the day, we can’t tell someone’s moral and spiritual status simply by what we have in front of us.

Secondly, in Templeton’s case, the real reason for his departure to the Christian faith was a lot more personal.  Oftentimes, the arguments that people present have to do with intellect and knowledge.  They struggle with religion and science meshing together, they see inconsistencies, but in many cases, the real reason why someone departs from the faith is a lot deeper.  When I was in seminary one of my professors said that Templeton really lost his faith when his daughter passed away.  He found this extremely difficult to reconcile and this led to his anger and frustration.  There might have been lingering doubts prior to that, but this was the “jumping off place.”  We don’t really know what happened to Templeton when he made this bold declaration and didn’t back down, but I think my professor had a point.  Perhaps when Templeton gets to heaven, all of this will be worked out.  Perhaps when he meets Christ face-to-face his crisis of faith will be resolved.  We can only hope.

When meeting someone who has walked away from the faith due to personal or family crisis, our first reaction should not be to theologize about whether they were legitimately a Christian or not, it should be to show compassion.  Throughout Scripture, we meet characters like David (he was known as “a man after God’s own heart”) and yet he freely spoke about anger and injustice.  We meet men like Job who in the heat of fury challenge God, but then when God shows up, humbly submit to Him.  Life can throw some very difficult and challenging times at anyone and we should not forget that there are real people involved in real faith struggles.  Stories like Templeton should not just be used as case studies.  We should not strip these stories of the full weight and impact they had on the individual’s life.

So, is it possible to lose salvation?  No, but it is entirely possible to walk away from it.  Salvation is a gift that is offered to us and will never be revoked.  But we can choose how to honour that gift.  For example, if someone gives you a prized item for your birthday or Christmas, chances are they will not take it back.  But you can choose to use that gift on a daily basis so that it benefits you and brings joy to others around you, or you can simply hide it in a closet and forget all about it.  In either case, you will still have the gift, but in the first instance you will be able to get a lot more use out of it and it will be more meaningful.  Our sole aim in life should not be theorizing about others’ salvation, but working out our own with “fear and trembling.”  We can’t choose how others will use and accept the gift they’ve been given, but we can choose what to do with our gift.  Let’s tear the wrapping paper off, fling the box lid open, take out the gift, and show it off to all those we meet!

I first wrote an article about Templeton back in May 2016.  However, I recently decided to re-visit the issue and write a more up-dated version.  You can read the original here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/05/30/templeton-testimonies-and-traps-is-it-possible-to-lose-your-salvation/

Finding Joy By: Morven-May MacCallum Book Review

43218836_10160845604505291_7721555727315107840_n Joyce (Joy) is a 16 year old high school student who likes parties, boys, and all the typical things teenagers enjoy.   She is living her life, doing well in school, and making plans for university, when suddenly her body and mind start revolting against her.  Joy is then thrown into a dizzying array of unexplainable symptoms which doctors do not seem to have any knowledge about.  Joy and her Aunt, Beth, visit numerous doctors throughout all of the UK and each one gives a different answer: moody teenager, depression, ME.  But nothing seems to make total sense, and nothing offers Joy that full relief.  As the days progress into months, Aunt Beth takes matters into her own hands.  She does some research and discovers that these symptoms align with Lyme’s Disease (a chronic illness caused by the bite of an infected tick).  It is not until Aunt Beth and Joy take the route of private medicine that this in finally uncovered and Joy is able to begin her journey back towards full health.

I met the author, Morven-May MacCallum this past summer at the Ness Book Fest in Inverness, Scotland.  The seminar she helped to lead was entitled “Writing and Health.”  The general theme being how writing can be a powerful tool towards bringing awareness to various health struggles and also can be therapeutic towards the one suffering the physical, emotional, and mental consequences of illness.

Truthfully, I did not know much about Lyme’s Disease before this seminar nor was I entirely particularly interested, but I was drawn to the general theme.  I am a writer myself and having suffered from an unexplainable illness for over a year, I do know how isolating it can be.  Writing can be a very powerful tool to make one feel like they are still connected to the larger world out there and to put on paper or on computer screen their deeper thoughts and feelings of when they are in and out of doctor’s rooms.

Although Morven’s book centres primarily around Lyme’s Disease and its co-infections, the general style of the book which addresses issues such as how someone feels to be ill for so long, how illness does not just affect the patient but their family and friends as well, and how to be more sensitive and compassionate to someone undergoing testing and treatment, can be helpful to anyone undergoing a serious illness.

Joy’s story is one that sadly all too many people of different ages and backgrounds are experiencing.  Not being totally taken seriously by medical professionals, being misunderstood as “lazy” or “unmotivated” when there is actually something physically wrong, and feeling helpless due to being so unwell.  This is a great book that is a wonderful play on words.  Finding Joy is about finding the true person whom disease and illness threatens to take away from us as well as finding joy even amidst the various trials and hardships we may face in life due to ill health.  This book is definitely worth a read if you are working in the health or disability sector.