We are the Reason God Cannot be Free!

By Ulrick Dam

God cannot be free, because we lock up God in relationships instead of partnering with the infinite being.

Some years ago, a friend of mine told me how he stopped believing in God. He was raised in a Christian family, had attended Sunday School, and had a beginning relationship with God. When he was around ten years old, he wanted to know for sure if God existed. At Sunday School the previous week, they had heard that God will always provide for us and that if we pray for something we really, really want, God will provide.

So that night my friend sat down next to the bed, folded his hands and bowed his head, and prayed with all the passion that his ten-year-old heart could muster: “God—if you really do exist—fulfil my deepest wish and let me wake up tomorrow as an awesome tiger!” Then he crawled into bed and fell asleep.

Do I need to tell you, he did not wake up as a tiger?

So, God did not provide what he really, truly wished for. Therefore, he decided God could be nothing other than a mere fairytale.

What happened here was that my friend has locked God up in his little, limited understanding of the universe and all the divine. It was waking up as a tiger or nothing! He had stuffed God into this little human-made birdcage where “God will provide.”

This is a potential consequence when we seek a “personal relationship” with God. God has to be locked into a certain understanding, a certain set of concepts, which means God cannot exercise the infinite nature of God’s being. God is locked in a closed totality of just me and God!

The French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas wrote a fantastic book on just this called Totality and Infinity, where he tries to address this problem. His subject is to discuss how we seek the infinite nature of each other—as well as God—instead of locking each other in a totality. He beautifully writes:

To approach the Other in conversation is to welcome his expression, in which at each instant he overflows the idea a thought would carry away from it. It is therefore to receive from the Other beyond the capacity of the I, which means exactly: to have the idea of infinity.

When we interact in an open conversation, we are opened to the possibility of partnering with the infinity of the other. In the same way, prayer can open us up to partner with God’s infinite nature. This is only if our prayer truly is a conversation and not one-way communication.

Telling God to “Let us wake up as a Tiger” is not communicating. That is a direct order, indicating that God is under your control. Indicating that your finite world can control and rule over God’s infinite being. In the same way, the personal relationship with God lets you define how and where God should meet you and work with you. It builds birdcages for God.

But naturally we cannot contain the infinite being, that is God, in our finite universe.

We need to see that God can and will work in a multitude of ways, ones that we cannot even comprehend. From working with the cells in our bodies or the feelings in our hearts to the cool summer breeze and rattling leaves. If we want to partner with God, we must see that God works through and in all of creation.

This is a significant shift! It is realizing that God is free to act in ways we do not intend or plan on. It is realizing that God is a free agent that we can partner up with, but cannot control.

So how can we work to partner with God so that we set God free to work in God’s infinite nature? This could quickly become a doctoral dissertation. Not to worry; we will not go there here!

I want to take a moment to challenge your mindset. When we seek a relationship with God, we seek to meet a real, maybe even physical, being. We seek to meet with a heavenly Father, a friend, or a savior. Naturally this being would be infinitely larger than ourselves. But nevertheless, the mindset is meeting with some form of existent God, a being of sorts.

But what if we did not see God as an actual being, but more of a persistent calling in our lives? What if God was not defined by the limitation of being a being, but only existed and acted through an unrelenting luring in our lives? What if God was less “You’ve got a friend in me” and more “Use the Force, Luke”?

The American philosopher John D. Caputo wrote an interesting little book called The Folly of God, where he discusses just that thought. He writes:

The folly of the unconditional [God] is not to exist. The unconditional calls, lures, solicits, provokes, spooks, and haunts—but it does not have the good sense to exist, so do not rush to the conclusion that there is a reassuring entity up there or down here which does the calling, luring, spooking, etc. The Folly of God is that God does not exist. God insists, but God does not exist.

God, then, is not an existence in our lives, but an “insistence.” An insistence to choose Love and create the greater Good. A constant luring to be part of creating God’s kingdom right here and now. That being the case, we should not seek a relationship with God, but to partner with the unconditional luring God.

When we seek a relationship with an existent being, we need to define what that being is. This is my wife, my friend, my plumber, etc. But with the divine, we can’t define. We cannot bring the infinite, divine, transcendent God into boxes build by our finite human minds. We should instead seek to partner with the infinite God and act on God’s insistence and luring, to choose the good, to create a world full of love, passion, and grace. In the partnership, we do not seek to define God or to put God into any of our finite boxes. We seek to be part of God’s work in this world. To tap into the divine force and be part of creating God’s kingdom—whatever that may look like.

In 1 John 4:7-12 the author beautifully writes about the working of God’s Love:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (emphasis mine.)

It is in acting on the insistence of God to love one another that we partner with the very being of God. By that I mean we can tap into the ever-flowing power of God’s Love and Grace, to redirect that outward towards the world. That way God will be able to act through us, and God will be made complete through our actions!

In the partnership, we reach out towards the surrounding world. This differs from the personal relationship where we focus on just me and God. Best friends. A pure relationship with just the two of us.

Through the partnership we act on God’s insistence to love, to do good, to create the kingdom of God right here and right now.

God moves us, challenges us, and insists on our partnership. A relationship is only about the two subjects in that relation. A partnership is about acting together to reach a greater goal.

In conclusion, I will leave you with a bold statement: We are the reason God cannot be free! That is, when we seek a relationship with God, we lock God to our view of the life and the universe. Of course, God cannot be limited to such a narrow, shallow, and finite reality. God always seems to work in ways we do not understand and in ways we cannot always comprehend. Instead of seeking a relationship with God, we should seek to partner with God. We should seek God’s movement and action throughout all of creation.

To hook onto and partner with God’s ongoing creation, is to create the kingdom of God.

So let us seek the insisting partnership with God!

Questions: In what ways have you experienced divine action in your life that comes from or in places you did not expect? God’s insistence will often come through an unrelenting passion. What’s the greatest passion in your life?

Ulrick Dam is a weird name. But that’s just life for the Danish Theologian. Ulrick is currently studying a Master in Church leadership and development at Ansgar University College in Norway. His first book is being published this year in Denmark. Befriend him on Facebook to follow his work.


For further reading I would recommend Martin Buber I and Thou. It is a short but powerful book. And for the more academic mind; Do read Emmanuel Levinas Totality and Infinity.

To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.

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