In an adult church school class recently, we were talking about “depending on God,” especially whether that meant waiting passively for help when we have trouble, such as being unable to pay a bill. We didn’t resolve anything in the brief time we had, but we did raise the issue of our responsibility for taking appropriate and timely action to take care of our own needs and for making thoughtful choices.

There’s apparently a whole school of Christian thought out there that God will rescue us from our foolishness and bad decisions. Isn’t that what the Bible says? We need only cite Psalm 34: “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles…. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.”

So the woman who overspends on her credit cards on stuff she doesn’t need and then can’t pay the bill when it comes due believes that the check her friend sent out of the blue “because the Lord told me to” is a sign of divine favor and a divine sanction to keep on running up the bills. Or the man who knows he cannot afford a new home unless his old one sells signs the contract anyway and sweats how he will pay. Then a relative at the last minute provides the money he needs  because “in my prayers last night, God laid it on my heart” to help out. And so the man continues thinking that God controls every little detail of his life and will never let him be in dire straits because God always cares for his sheep.

Surely these folk are favored by God! Which means the poor widow on a limited income must not be righteous because she has to watch every expense and even has some utilities, like cable TV, cut off because she can’t pay the bill. Or that the man who dies in a car wreck or from a shooting must have resisted God’s plan for his life and angered God, who abandoned him to whatever may come. Or if victims of a corrupt and/or selfish government would simply trust Jesus, they would have what they needed.

What sort of God is it whose “plan” consigns some to hunger, poverty, grief, and pain while others live charmed lives and get away with anything they do, no matter how stupid or irresponsible?  How can anyone believe in a God like that? If God is like Jesus, then God as he truly is has harsh words for the self-assured, the selfish, and the self-righteous who are certain of divine favor and gentle compassion for those who struggle on the margins, left-out, looked down on, and cast aside.

Besides, the Bible does not speak with one voice on the issue of rescue. Some of the poets may have believed that God delivered people from troubles, and all they had to do was wait on him, but the wisdom tradition differed sharply with such ideas. The sages emphasized good choices made at the right time with an eye to the future. The word “rescue” only occurs once in Proverbs, and then in a negative context (Proverbs 19:19). But over and over, laziness, foolishness, and irresponsibility are condemned.

So next time you get in hot water due to choices you made, don’t look to God to get you out of it. Bear the consequences, and then start making better choices. God gave you a brain; he’s depending on you to use it.

© 2013 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

And he [Jesus] said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52).

In my home town one of the main streets is called “Dawson Road,” because, uh, it goes to Dawson, GA. (Go figure.) But even though no one knows it as “new” Dawson Road, that’s in fact what it is, because there is the old way we used to get to Dawson, known for some reason now as “Old Dawson Road.” The two intersect about two miles from the house where I grew up.

As I headed back to Mississippi from a recent visit, I crossed the intersection of Dawson and Old Dawson, and as I did, my car’s odometer turned over to 150,000 miles. This has to mean something, I said to myself. Old and new, a significant mile marker, journeying home…. I was bombarded by archetypes right there in my SUV!

This experience reminded me of why I keep saying life is sacramental, revealing grace through ordinary things. Who of us has not come to a crossroads, an intersection of two options, and had to decide whether to try to balance the two or come to some synthesis? Maybe we chose one, then found out that wasn’t so great, and had to backtrack on the road to try again with a different direction. Could be we found that those old and practiced ways of thinking and those deep and abiding attitudes of the heart and spirit stood us in good stead in a new situation. Perhaps the new and trendy and bright and shiny continually attracts us, and we don’t look back.

And what of those mile markers that come along every year? I’ll pass a significant one in a few months. We think, too, of those other times when the numbers scroll over to a new, remark-worthy figure, as it were: the death of someone we love, the departure of a child for a life of his or her own with a partner, retirement, being elected to a position of influence, getting and starting a new job….

I believe God is creative and imaginative enough that no matter what our choices   and whether there are 200 or 200,000 miles on our odometer, he still manages to grace us with his presence and power. Thanks be to God.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).

The Other Life is but the latest work of fiction (though the author says not science fiction) to explore the idea of parallel universes. In the book, written by Ellen Meister, a woman is married and pregnant in one reality, while she is single in another. She goes back and forth between the two through a portal in her basement, if I recall correctly from the discussion on NPR.

Alternate worlds and parallel realities have been a mainstay in sci-fi for quite a while. “Star Trek” used the device from the classic series through “DS9” to “Enterprise.” “Stargate SG-1” had a “quantum mirror” through which one moved between alternate worlds, an infinite number of them. And, my current favorite, “Fringe,” makes parallel worlds the central focus of the plot. So, in the show, in our world, 9/11 took out the Twin Towers, which still stand in the alternate version. John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. did not die by assassination in the other world. Indeed, one denomination of currency in the alternate reality is nicknamed a “Jr.” since it has MLK’s face on it.

Ridiculous? Not really. Brian Greene, the renowned physicist, has written seriously about such parallel worlds, an idea that actually began to be talked about as early as 1957. He says that every decision we make creates a new universe. Every decision that is possible is realized, each in its own reality. Each possibility allowed by quantum mechanics does in fact happen.

What, then, if there were a world in which there was no rebellion against God? Or suppose that Joseph had not been thrown in the pit by his brothers or Moses had not been rescued from the Nile? Consider what the world would have been like if the Greeks, not the Romans, had ruled at the time of Christ. What if Jesus did not die by execution, but lived to a ripe, old age and kept teaching? And on and on.

Every decision we make is important, from which route we take to work to how we will respond to a critic to whether we take a risk and meet someone we have admired from afar. That may be frightening in some respects, to realize how much our choices matter. But in another way, it’s heartening to know that when we make a terrible mistake, there may in fact be another version of ourselves who chose rightly. And the ripples that stone of decision made did not set up a tsunami of negative consequences, but instead started justice rolling down like waters.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham

For a conversation with Brian Greene, listen in at http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/audio/2011/mar/21/science-weekly-podcast-brian-greene-tim-jackson.