For the Sunday Muse prompt #235:


Breath by breath, bead by bead,
the prayers of this parched heart rise.
Lips quivering with the yearning of a
thirsty heart, pursed to take the blood
and flesh, blessed, transubstantiated.
Kneaded by hands washed seven times-
stripped of yeast and the things that beguile-
we come to take the bread in hope
to shed our turpitude, arise anew.
In the ritual of rest and reset,
we speak our words into the world,
lingering in the liminal space
between asking and accepting

On God and Control

The question of God’s sovereignty has a different heft when what lies at stake is the health of one’s nears and dears as opposed to the navel gazing satisfaction of an academic exercise. Not to say that academic exercises have no point – being able to dispassionately assess a subject on its merits without the cloud of emotion and peril has its place – but when the stakes relate to matters of life and death, hope and desire sometimes trump cold hard facts. Implicit here is the assumption that God exists, that he is reasonably well depicted by the Bible and that some objective truth about his character can be deduced from that book. The orthodox Christian (Calvinist?) position is that God is Sovereign and in control, and that he “freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass“, to quote the Westminster Confession of Faith. Tim Gombis, Professor of New Testament at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, offers a rebuttal of that position in a four part series [Part 1, 2, 3 & 4] from last year, one that I read in the middle of my season of rethinking. L’s arrival and the ICU trips which followed have afforded me the opportunity to re-read the arguments from the perspective of someone with skin in the game. As I understand it, the core of Dr Gombis’ argument is that there is a distinction between God’s identity as sovereign and the manifestation of that in the world today. What guarantees there are, if any therefore, relate to a final transformation of this broken world not control over the minute details of our lives. Until then pain, sorrow, chaos and the likes are part and parcel of our experience this side of the divide.

It is not the concept of God being in control that Dr Gombis’ has a problem with per se, I don’t think, but rather the wrong responses, actions/ inaction and decisions it can engender in our lives. The second part of his essay identifies five such responses:

  • Inaction, in which we fail to consider ways in which we can positively affect outcomes, instead folding our hands waiting for God to act,
  • False hope, in which we conclude that if God is in control then the reality of the pain/ undesired outcome that stares us in the face is somehow not real and that things will work out
  •  Discerning a divine logic, ie if God is in control and something manifestly wrong has occurred then there must be a meaning to it
  • A refusal to engage grief and lament, instead focusing on trying to learn the lessons in the pain ‘God’ has sent our way
  • Speculating on God’s purposes in the pain

The problems articulated in the article and summarised above are ones I recognise, several of them being core beliefs of the American brand of Charismatic Christianity exported to my native Nigeria many moons ago. In that worldview, if you sow seeds, name things and claim them, life will be all honky-dory with nary a cloud on the horizon. That this is a manifestly warped view of the world is not in doubt – even the most cursory of glances reveals the falsity of that. What we have to hold in tension with this on the other hand though is the question of prayer, and what we hope to achieve by prayer.

If God is not in control, then what does prayer seek to achieve? Is it merely preparing and changing us to accept whatever outcomes come our way or does it/ can it materially affect outcomes? Fortunately or unfortunately, I have more questions than answers, a consistent theme I see in these musings of mine.

On praying, and changing…



One day you wake up with a sense of hunger, as though someone  – or something  – dredged the innards of your soul and all you want to do is talk to Him. The tug is so strong – and insistent – that you think nothing of kneeling on the cold, hard floor and pouring out your heart. It seems to work because by the time you’re done, you feel light headed and ready, ready to take on the world, bad guys, ghouls and all.

Some other days your prayer feels like an intense coffee date; playful, happy, somewhat giggly and intimate. You come away at the end of it all feeling like you’ve sat in your favourite corner of your favourite coffee shop;  ginger bread latte and waffles to hand, swung your feet beneath the table with the odd knee touch, your voice only a smidgen above a murmur and caught up on life, love and everything.

Sometimes the beauty of a sunset or an unexpected rainbow will knock you out and like a flood of words to the lips, prayer will rise, the sense of presence and of being near somehow convincing you that there is a wider meaning to everything, and that the show – colours splashed as though on your canvas – has been crafted especially for you. Maybe you might cry, or sing a little too loudly with gusto, but all told you’ll come away with the unshakeable sense that He was there.

Some days you’ll find yourself floating, lost in the crowd, the collective drone of shared ablutions dragging you along like the receding tide drags an unwilling swimmer out to sea. Unlike the swimmer you don’t resist, allowing yourself to be carried along, soaking in all the energy in.

Some days it will feel like a war of attrition. You, and what you want on one side, Him and his sovereign will on the other. You plead your case, the same words you’ve used every day for the past nine lives. You might rant a bit, about being the good guy, and about how the bad things which seem to insist on happening to you and yours speak the lie to his being good. You moan about the existential crisis his failings are bringing on. You might cry yourself hoarse, and come close to shaking your fist in his face in anger. Somehow you won’t. You’ll stop just short of the line between despondence and plain rebellion. You’ll convince yourself that there must be a bigger point to everything.

Tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, you will return in quiet contemplation. Whether He will or He won’t, you realise that life goes on at a steady clip. You find acceptance, difficult as it may be.

I didn’t get the one thing I prayed most about last year. At times there was an overwhelming sense of faith that it would happen, at others it felt like I was chatting up a brick wall. What I can not deny however is that with time I am finding acceptance, and the niggling thought at the back of my mind that maybe that was the whole point of everything, changing me.