During the course of my life there have been several moments of insight inadvertently revealed through unintentional words of wisdom. It has taught me to choose my words more carefully, because we never know how sometimes even our casual statements can affect the thinking of others. It's particularly interesting for me to reflect on statements I've heard from friends and family that have greatly impacted me, especially when they end up influencing me in a way that is contrary to their own intentions.
One such statement came from my evangelical Christian father, back when he was still preaching. 'Sometimes you just have to do things yourself,' he said. 'Some people spend a lot of time waiting on God, but life doesn't work that way.' I remember that this comment startled me at the time, because it was perhaps one of my first realizations of how life experience conflicts with the idea of an intervening god. I suspect my dad's point was that God doesn't accommodate slackers (though at least he pestered some of them, like Jonah, enough to show his intervening ways), but I took his remark a bit further.
God may not be in the business of giving handouts to the lazy, but what about the active and faithful? Why doesn't God roll out the red carpet for them? Even beyond matters of assistance, why does it seem like prayers so often fall on deaf ears? I'll admit, I had a pretty magical conception of God at the time. My god was one who worked miracles all the time, helping more than just those in need. My god was one who I could ask for anything with some real hope of getting it. I did not consider this naive or selfish, because scripture was on my side (Luke 11:9, John 14:13).
I never understood why life doesn't work that way if God exists. My Christian view of God was that he is reaching out to all of us in love, to save us and bring us into a relationship with him. This is not unusual among Christians, I've found. Yet if God is trying to get us on his team, why isn't he making more of an effort to impress? Is God not a theatrical deity anymore? Why are there less angel appearances these days? Can't God pop in occasionally to brutally murder a rapist right in the nick of time? Maybe shield poor regions from being hit by hurricanes? Hey, if he could stop the sun in the sky for an entire day (Joshua 10:13), none of this should be outside his toleration.
I used to pray a lot - almost every hour of the day. When my wishes would not be fulfilled, I'd typically chalk it up to selfishness or impurity on my part, or as part of God's 'mysterious plan' that's simply not for me to comprehend. This was all well and good until I started noticing that God's batting average was practically zero for thousands. Not only is that indistinguishable from random chance, but it doesn't seem like smart behavior for a deity that wants to bring everyone to faith in him. It seems like God couldn't give a damn whether or not people notice him... or, more likely to me, he doesn't exist in the first place.
Personally, I think this acceptance makes for a wonderful difference in how life is approached. I no longer believe God is protecting me wherever I go, so I mind my safety more these days. I no longer believe God is guiding me along in his calling for my life, so I take more initiative and work my hardest to get what I want out of life. I no longer believe God has some secret plan behind it all, so I do my best to learn what I can to make sense of things. Some will point out that a lot of Christians live this way too, and I don't doubt it. I might venture to say that the majority of Christians are atheist in practice, when it comes to relying on God in their lives. Life doesn't work that way.
The funny thing about all of this is that, in essence, worry is what I have without reliance on God. I used to think worry was the last thing I needed in my life, feeling comforted and grateful that I could surrender it to God, never able to go wrong with him in control. But worry is healthy. It keeps us from being self-destructive, keeps us from drifting off in thoughtless apathy, and keeps us generally grounded in reality. This also seems at odds with Christianity.
In Matthew 6:34, Jesus encourages his followers: "do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself." A few verses prior, Jesus imparts more of his curious wisdom: "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" (v.26) Don't worry is the message; God is in control. But the irony is that birds starve on a regular basis and many of the young die upon leaving or falling from the nest. Are we any different than they?
I think I would rather worry about tomorrow than wait on the graces of a god who seems largely ignorant and incompetent. Worrying and concerning ourselves with things has led to progress, while sitting back and relying on faith has not. No diligent believer was given the polio vaccine through prayer or revelation, and no one survived polio under the protection of God. It was our worry over the disease that drove us to investigate a cure. Life works when we take the reigns. It comes to a halt when we do, no matter how convinced we may be that invisible otherworldly hands have taken up the reigns for us.