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Let go and let God? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s involvement in our lives. Part 4]

21 Mar

I would like to recommend that you not say the following to people going through pain: Let go and let God.

This is popularized in Carrie Underwood’s song, “Jesus Take The Wheel.” 

Before I explain why this might not be a helpful statement, it is important to note that there is much to commend about “Let go and let God.”   Especially the idea of relinquishment, which is encapsulated in the common Christian sentiment: “Lord, have your way in my life.” 

Furthermore, this idea is biblical! My favorite expression of relinquishment is found in John 15:1-4.  There Jesus teaches that not only should we depend on God, but he also says that we humans need to see our powerlessness, and therefore depend on his power.  In other words, we have to depend on God because we are unable to accomplish the kind of life God desires for us apart from him.  God wants us to give up control of our lives to him, making him Lord of our lives.

So what could possibly be wrong about this statement? 

First, it might not be appropriate for certain people you are trying to reach out to.  A friend of mine told me a story about a fellow soldier in his National Guard unit.  This guy was a very typical alpha male, my friend said.  A “Get ‘er Done” guy, who could handle anything you bring him.  He is the kind of person who would receive “Let go and let God” as a weak statement.  We Americans have a tendency toward individualism, and it can be hard for us to give up control of our lives.  If you know you are talking with a person like that, it might be a bad idea to say to them “Let go and let God.”  It could even come across as offensive to them.  I would recommend looking for another way to reach them.

Second, this statement needs clarification: “Let go and Let God” does not negate the responsibility we have.  “Let go and let God” does not absolve us of effort on our part. It is very much connected to what we said in the series fact-checking common phrases dealing with difficulty when we talked about the phrase “God helps those who help themselves.” Take a look at how these two phrases could be in direct contradiction to each other: 

“God helps those who help themselves” emphasizes human responsibility to obey God.

“Let go and let God” emphasizes human dependence on God.

They could be conceived as contradictory, but I would like to suggest that these two phrases actually work together well.  Both are needed, providing checks and balances on each other.

God does not ONLY help those who help themselves.  As we saw last week, sometimes God helps people who are incapable of helping themselves, because he is merciful and gracious like that.

Likewise, when we “Let go and let God,” we must still be actively depending on him, and working to serve him and grow and become like him.  Depending on God, at least in part, means letting go of our ways of thinking, or our cultural ways of thinking, and doing things God’s way.  Following the way of Jesus.  Learning from him how to live. 

My conclusion is that “Let go and let God” needs some explaining. Avoid using it as guidance for those going through a difficult time, unless you balance it with further explanation about what it means to depend on God, and why that is so important. By itself, “Let go and let God” could be very vague and confusing, and as a result, counterproductive. At it’s root, though, is a wonderful concept of relinquishment that is vital for disciples of Jesus.

Check back in to part 5 as we fact-check our final phrase about God’s interaction with the world: “God works in mysterious ways.”