I am a political and social conservative. On many things, I find myself even agreeing with a more libertarian world-view. I am that way because I agree with what I understand to be the foundational underpinning of the view. Conservatism believes in the competency of the individual. It believes that each person is capable of making wise choices for himself or herself. In contrast, progressive thought believes in the competency of the collective. The individual needs the guidance and protection of a well-managed community to provide them security. Progressives believe it takes a village to build the person. Conservatives believe it takes successful individuals to build the village. I believe in the power of the individual.
I live my life with the conviction that I know better than any government official what is best for my life. I know how I want to spend my days. I know what brings satisfaction into my life. I do not need the government to protect and care for me from the cradle to the grave. I do not wake up every morning in fear that my life is on the verge of falling apart. That is partly true because I do know that support systems surround me. I have family, friends, church, and even caring people in the community around me.
You see, I do not believe that if, for instance, the Food Stamps program suddenly vanished that millions of Americans would begin to starve. I believe individuals would willingly take on the responsibility of caring for themselves and others. People in need would feel the pains of hunger and would become more personally invested in solving their own problems – and I believe they have more capability to do so than they sometimes recognize. I also believe churches, charities, and even corporations comprised of individuals who freely dedicate their lives to the service of those organizations would swoop in and more efficiently, effectively, and sympathetically care for their neighbors than any distant federal program ever could.
My conviction on this rests on the same foundation that the framers of our Constitution understood. They believed, and I believe, in rights that originate in God. In their words, man has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness because God had vested those rights in him. I could not agree more fully.
But I believe that God does not give man commandments without also granting him the ability to keep those commandments. In the same way, I believe that God did not grant man rights without also gifting him the capability of enjoying the privileges that flow out from those rights.
Because God has given me my rights and gifted me with sufficient capability to enjoy those rights, I do not need the protection of government coercion to protect me from my limitations. I do not need that and I do not believe that you do either. That is one reason I am a political and social conservative.
A Troubling Disagreement
While I understand that not every brother and sister I have in Christ holds to those same convictions – and they are more than free to have that disagreement with me – I do believe that an overwhelming majority of my brethren hold to the same basic view. They believe in their God-given rights and fervently fight in the political realm to hold on to their freedom to explore those rights as their judgment and experience guide them. These are not people whose lives are in disarray and feel the need to sacrifice their liberties for the promised security of a central-planned collective. They are the proverbial “rugged-individualists” that have striven for the American dream and are responsible for the greatness of our country. I am always honored to stand with them in spirit.
However, I often find myself in, if not a philosophical, at least a perceptional disagreement with them. And it troubles me greatly at times. The disagreement expresses itself in discussions relating to the work of God in their lives. On many occasions, I have been accused of believing deism, of not believing in the power of prayer, denying the work of the Holy Spirit, and other related thoughts.
For years I have struggled to find a way to address these charges. Because, in my own mind, I very much believe in an active God who is working in this world to the accomplishment of His own will. I truly believe that the power of prayer is as limitless as the power of the God who welcomes us to pray to Him. I do believe in the work of the Spirit (along with the rest of the godhead, by the way) in the lives of Christians today. Yet, there continues to be something in the way I discuss the work of God in the day-to-day existence of Christians that leaves people with the impression that God is not involved with them.
A Progressive Model for the Plan of God
In recent days I have come to believe that at least a part of my divergence with some of my brethren has its roots in the same philosophical divide that is present between political conservatives and progressives. While most of my brethren are political conservatives, I believe they hold a progressive understanding of God’s plan for their lives. On the other hand, I hold to the view that the conservative/libertarian trust in the individual is applicable to one’s relationship to God.
In a political progressive’s utopia, an individual’s life would be secured within the protection of a centrally planned and managed existence. His life is best for him when it is protected inside the plan of the collective because he cannot cope with all of the dangers threatening him. So government laws, regulations, and programs must continually steer him clear of those dangers. When the interconnected, managed plans of the individuals are woven together the best possible outcome for group, cause or collective is achieved.
There is at least some commonality between that view and the conception many have of their relationship to God. Most Christians I know believe (with varying degrees of specificity) that God has a personal, individualized plan for their lives. This plan is the best path for their lives. This plan is essential because of the many unforeseen dangers which plague them daily. And so, God is petitioned on a recurring basis to grant them the wisdom to stay on that path. For at least some, when calamity enters their life it is taken as a sign that they have wandered from the path. It must then be asked what lesson is to be learned from this mistake.
On a larger scale, their individual plan is interconnected with every other person’s in the world. God works in this world to maintain harmony and balance in those plans. His wisdom ensures that the best possible outcome toward the accomplishment of the collective – of His will in the world. For many, it may only be a sub-conscience thought, but I believe this view plays a part in Christians discomfort with personal success and achievement. Collectivism, either spiritually or politically, is not served by individuality and ambition. Even if an individual’s success comes as a direct result of his service to the whole, that achievement is often frowned upon and sometimes demonized. I have seen the fear of recognition hinder the service of talented, dedicated, and humble saints of God. Christian businessmen carry guilt of making too much money. Preachers almost apologize for admitting the church they are serving is growing. Collectivism has an inherent disincentive for the individual to strive for greatness. The best effort of the motivated achiever must be subjugated to the harmony of the whole. When this happens in God’s kingdom it robs us of our heroes in the faith.
God’s work is not achieved through the mediocrity of consensus. It is claimed by saints who, like Caleb, are ready to rise above the distraction of circumstance to seize the mountain in front of them. Check your Bible and see how often God rejected the masses and claimed His glory through the power of the few or the one: Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samson, Ruth, Jonathan, David, Esther . . . Each one of those, and dozens more, stands as a proclamation of God’s trust of the potential greatness within each individual.
Yet, for too many, life is lived on eggshells. Just as the political progressive distrusts the competency of the average citizen to cope with life, Christians who can only see themselves as a single pawn in a greater cosmic plan seem to distrust their own ability to meet life’s dangers. Today might just be the day that it all comes crashing down. God’s daily protection is needed because I am just barely hanging on as it is – and that is with His help.
The Issue is “Has to,” not “Will”
While that is a “broad-brush” description of the thought, it is in that area wherein I have had countless discussions with brethren. Because at this point, we are discussing how God provides that help. We contend over how He answers prayer and how His providence works. We argue over the extent of the work of the Spirit and the power of Satan. We struggle in our understanding of the all-sufficiency of God’s word against the presence of an active God in the world. In large part, those discussions have rarely resulted in unity.
I have come to realize, at least on my part, I have been engaged in the wrong discussion. I have been having the discussion about what God can or cannot do; about what He will or will not do; about what He does or does not do. Those are not truly the point of contention. I believe He can, will, and does do everything needed to secure man’s salvation and wholly sanctify him in His service. In the end, I agree with my brethren who hear deism in my teaching.
They hear that because our disagreement is not over the can’s and will’s of God. The disagreement is over the must’s and has to’s of God. I believe they apply my teachings about the has to’s to their understanding of will do’s of God.
In truth, our real disagreement is over God’s view of the individual. Just as my brethren who have a more “progressive” model of God’s work with humanity, I believe God can and will do whatever is needed to provide for the protection of His children. My disagreement is that I do not believe that He has to intervene on a persistent basis to keep us protected.
The Effect of God’s Belief in the Individual
You see, I believe the Founders were right not just politically, but also spiritually when they said we have rights placed into us by God as a result of our creation. They understood we were made in God’s image. That is not a physical statement. It is a spiritual truth. The nature of our creation secures our rights within us. And I believe it necessitates that we have the capability to live in harmony with the expression of those rights. We have within us the ability to make the same spiritual judgments as God does. We have within us the fortitude to stand beside God in defense of holiness.
In short, I believe God is more nearly a libertarian than a progressive toward man. The progressive seeks to structure every choice an individual makes in a community. A libertarian believes the individual should be free to make as many personal choices as possible. Indeed, God has given man a “centrally planned” framework in which he is to exist. However, I believe the totality of that framework is contained within His word. That word calls me to be holy and to choose the right and not the wrong. It expresses which actions are essential to include or avoid to live in holiness and righteousness. But beyond the content of its revelation, I see nothing but freedom.
Within God’s word, we follow the collective unity of progressive thought. We speak the same things. We honor the same truths. Yet, beyond the contents of His word, there exists a multitude of personal and even spiritual choices that reside within the power of the individual. No other person can dictate your choice in those areas. And I believe God is a libertarian toward us in those matters. We can choose whatever our judgment and experience suggests to us is the right path.
Beyond God’s word, I have no idea of any plan that God has for me. I live every day of my life with the confidence that so long as my choices that day fit within the framework of God’s word, He will be pleased with my choice. I have an implicit trust that the guidance found in the principles of His word are sufficiently powerful to direct my steps in a path that will maximize the role I can play in His plan.
It is my conviction that God wants me to maximize my role in His plan. I believe I was put here to “be all that I can be” in His kingdom. I do not think my successes or failures threaten the opportunity of any other servant of God to find the fullness of his/her opportunities in God’s kingdom. As I believe these things are true of me, I believe them equally about all of my brethren. As such, the longings and dreams of my heart are not subjugated to the will (or even the good) of the collective. So long as my pursuit of those aspirations is godly in both means and ends, it is my God-given right and obligation to grow in my service to my God. And the path of that growth, I do not believe is specifically or directly pre-managed by God.
Further, I believe that when that same truth is applied to His kingdom as a whole, the sum of the individual works of God’s people is more than sufficient to accomplish His will in the world.
Understanding the confidence my Father has in me to live a life pleasing to Him has provided me more peace and comfort than any other lesson I have learned from scripture. I take the freedom that He has in me as a sign, not of God’s indifference toward me or His world as the deist would argue. I see in it an implicit indication that God trusts us as His people to honor His values and go change the world in which we live because He has created us with the capability of living holy lives. So while I believe God can and will do anything necessary to accomplish His will in this world, I also believe that He has to intervene in our lives far less frequently than we may imagine.
I see no reason that God has to insert Himself into the world to feed a hungry man. He has millions of saints (and countless others who are not Christians, but who have still been influenced by the spread of the gospel in the world) who are made in His image. They have the same spiritual capabilities as He has. They have been trained from the instruction of His word to share in the mind of Christ. When that spiritually-minded person encounters a person in need, the love of Christ within him natively and naturally compels him to meet that need. And God’s work is done.
It is not necessary for God to intervene because long before that person ever felt the first hint of emptiness in his stomach, God’s wisdom had already stocked the world with food and filled the world around that hungry man with individuals capable and willing to live holy lives.
It strikes me as odd that we can argue that big government programs are not needed to feed the hungry because the goodness of individual Americans is capable of meeting that need, but then we turn around and, at the least suggest, that the church is incapable of doing the same without some direct intervention of God’s providence. Those thoughts may not be contradictory, but there is some inconsistency within them.
My view of God in heaven is more akin to a proud Father watching the creativity and maturity of His children than that of an engineer continually pressing this button, flipping that switch or turning this dial to ensure his invention continues to run as intended. Oh yes, He will not hesitate to intervene as needed. I just believe that when He looks at both His spiritual and physical creation His thoughts he had in the beginning still ring true: “It is very good.”
 “2. belief in a God who created the world but has since remained indifferent to it.” [deism. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/deism (accessed: March 06, 2014).]