God Desires Partners for Change
By Mike Edwards
God genuinely seeks partners to make for a better world.
Am I being too bold to suggest we can truly know what God wants? Most atheists and believers would agree that the only God worth believing in and having a relationship with is a perfect, loving God. In this essay we will seek to understand how God loves, and the implications this has on how he acts in the world. We can’t prove whether or not God exists since either stance involves faith in God’s existence or lack of it. If a loving Creator God does indeed exist, and mankind is created in His image, perhaps it makes sense to conclude that understanding perfect human love enables us to understand God’s love.
Consider the fact that most people born into this world have never owned a Bible. It would therefore make sense that a loving Creator gives humans common, moral sense to understand good from evil. Note that criminals don’t defend but deny their actions. As Christians, we would say that God’s Spirit resides within them, for they are made in God’s image. The Holy Spirit may talk to us in an audible voice, but we can also discern the Spirit’s voice by examining our moral intuitions, our consciences. We aren’t always certain how to best love, but most of us would agree that we ought to love others as we want to be loved or as God loves.
Can the Bible help us understand the nature of God?
Many take a literal view of the Bible, upholding biblical inerrancy, despite contradictions and moral challenges within the text. Perhaps factual discrepancies are trivial, but moral challenges are not so. We need to wrestle with these ideas. Did God really inspire acts or language such as 1 Samuel 15:3 which says God told Israel: “Now go, attack the Amalekites . . . put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” Hundreds of passages in the Old Testament advocate violence in God’s name. Did God really approve of laws that burned alive sexual offenders (Lev. 20:14; 21:9)?
The truth is we can’t prove every word in the Bible is inspired by God. To argue the Bible is inspired or God-breathed because the biblical writers claim that is circular logic. The assumption that the Bible is inspired can lead down the slippery slope toward “inspired interpretations.” Many people glibly state “The Bible says” without adding “according to my understanding.” The Bible can be used to defend opposing views regarding topics such as attitudes towards homosexuality, women’s roles, and the traditional understanding of Hell. However, we must not forget that all literature requires interpretation and that within the Bible there are different writing genres. In fact, we can view the entire Bible as God’s love story, beginning in the Garden of Eden, and culminating in the end times when God finally draws all things to himself. We therefore do not need to read the Bible literally the whole time. Rather, we should read it with the template of a loving God.
How then does God love?
Many would say that a Deity can only claim to be God if it is perfectly good or loving. We need to ask what this goodness and love look like. Can we understand God’s love and goodness with our limited human understanding? Interestingly, the Bible exhorts us to “Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Parent is perfect” (Matt 5:48), and to “Follow God’s example . . .” (Eph. 5:1). We may not always know how to describe perfect love or what it always entails in minute detail, but we can ask ourselves in the immediate present “Am I loving like God loves: self-sacrificing and other orientated?” This is what we have been called to do.
It would seem that God’s love and human love have many similarities. I would argue that the love many parents show their children is a reflection of God’s love. God and parents risk creating, not knowing what the future holds. Parents who control their children’s decisions when it comes to future partnerships or careers cannot truly love their children because freedom must exist for true love. Freedom is necessary for authenticity and love in relationships, but one consequence of such freedom is suffering. If God did not create us as free agents, God would not have created the most loving world. God risked disappointment for genuine relationships, just as loving parents do. God is Love!
If God is “Love,” then God depends on our partnership.
What does it mean that God is love? God’s love surely is the same as uncontrolling parents who put their hope and trust in their children. Parents must partner with their children in hopes to make the world a better place. We commit to relationships, not knowing how they will turn out. God too! If you claim to love someone, you suffer when things don’t turn out as you hoped. God too! God, like all loving parents, believes in us, builds us up, depends on us for a better world. If he does not, He doesn’t love us at all.
God also needs a partner because an all-powerful God can’t.
Declaring God is all-powerful doesn’t mean God can do all things. God cannot do the logically impossible. God can’t lie (Titus 1:2); God can’t be tempted (Jas 1:13); God can’t control and love perfectly; God can’t force true love. In fact, the Bible says that God made regrettable decisions. Genesis 6:5-6 says, “God saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on earth . . . God regretted that he had made human beings on the earth and his heart was deeply troubled.” This suggests that he does not know what will happen in all future events. If he did, he would not regret the decisions he made.
I would argue that the future is an unknown future. The good news about God not knowing an unknown future is that a relationship with God doesn’t come with strings attached. God’s guidance isn’t some mystery. God isn’t hiding a “known” future for important decisions. We don’t have to live in fear of making “right decisions.” We are free to make decisions based on past experiences, current circumstances, and future aspirations. Our conscience helps us know the mind of God when it comes to making moral decisions; we can ask ourselves, are we adding joy and goodness to the world by our actions? There may be several ways we could do this s we partner with God.
The beauty of our partnership with God!
A good partnership inspires and motivates. As mentioned before, we are told to “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” In the Christian life, good enough isn’t enough. I am convinced many marriages end in divorce because one partner accepts only being good enough or not as bad as other partners they know. But the goal of marriage or any relationship should aim for perfection. My God allows me to pursue perfection while not being paralyzed by guilt when failing. I have the “want to” to be perfect. The rest is on God! God empowers me on such a journey.
My partnership with God makes me a much better person than I would otherwise be. I am energized to reflect God’s love to others. I may fail but I am going to die, trying. That is on God! In fact, I often fail and my loving intentions don’t always translate into actions, but I cannot imagine the man I would be without God. The love I feel from my God is the love I had always desired from my parents. The biggest reason for being a God-follower is the continual inspiration and encouragement I receive as I strive to be the person God wants me to be. The world depends on such a partnership for a better future.
Question: How does understanding that God wants to partner with us impact our relationship with Him?
Mike Edwards earned his M.Ed. in Counseling at Georgia State University. Mike blogs at https://what-god-may-really-be-like.com and https://donewithreligion.com. He asks questions to challenge beliefs about God that discourage pursuing God. Mike loves to play tennis, read, and spend time with his family.
Wm. Curtis Holtzen, The God Who Trusts: A Relational Theology of Divine Faith, Hope, and Love (2019).
To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.