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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

What God Does (and Doesn't Do)

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

This blog is for everyone who ever had something bad happen. That would be all of us. What if we believe that the God, who can do anything and can control everything chose not to act on our behalf? What would we begin to say to make sense of this when we believe that with God, all things are possible?

The key word in that sentence is ‘possible.’ Jesus said that. He said that with God, all things are possible, right? The word possible sent me to do some word study. The Greek word, actually takes on different meanings when attributed to people or things. People have strength; things (or presumably events) are possible. To me there is a difference. In the first we have the idea of making it happen through powerful force, in the second we see the idea that anything is possible. Are we confusing the God who makes all things possible with a ‘god’ who is powerfully in control of everything?

Last week I was reminded me about a children’s song this week. It goes like this:

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty There's nothing my God cannot do

I loved this song and watched children act it out with "strong man" motions. You know, the kind macho guys in the gym do? The song is more about creation than strength, but our human interpretation is that God is big, strong, and mighty enough to make anything happen—just by sheer strength.

We all want a god like that don’t we? We want a god that turns the storms of life away from us and steps in to protect and heal. When it doesn’t happen that way, we have to make up a story about why. Brene’ Brown, in her book, Rising Strong, talks about our human need to create stores around life experiences. It is how we regain balance. It is how we make sense of life. The only problem is that sometimes the stories we create just aren’t true—they are an interpretation of the truth built out of our needs and previous experiences. Even when God clearly is not in control, some desperately need to believe it is true.

The creation of myths is inherent in the sense-making tendencies of humans. In Children’s Literature courses I taught about pourquoi (why?) tales. One example was Why the Sky is So Far Away, which was a Nigerian folktale in which the people used to be able to eat the sky for nourishment, but became so greedy that the sky moved further away. In a world that knew nothing about how our universe worked, it was a form of sense making. Every culture has these myths and we are still creating them when we attribute things to God that simply are not true.

One of those myths created over the centuries is that God is an all-powerful God who can control everything in our world. We were taught this in songs and in sermons and when horrible things happen to us and in the world around us, we are wired to try to find a way to make sense of it. Instead of thinking about God as the mighty creator (as the song actually implies), we need a God who has super-human strength—you know, like Superman and Superwoman. Then we pass down the myth by having our children act like weight lifters instead of taking them outside and seeing the beauty of creation and helping them realize anything is possible. I did this too.

So recently, when a hurricane was headed toward Florida, many insisted God was in control. I understand. It felt comforting--until the hurricane hit. Worse than this were the myth makers who bloviated about the hurricane being a judgment on Florida. Most of my readers are probably rolling their eyes at the extreme myth makers, but the mistaken concept of what a powerful God does permeates many of our memes and comments.

If God doesn’t stop a hurricane, but is still in control, then that means God has a purpose in the hurricane? To build character? That was a completely unsuccessful strategy for those who died. So then we have to create the myth that God chose to either judge them by death (bad people) or took them home with him (good people). At some point, we have not moved very far beyond the pourquoi tales.

What if God doesn’t act like a human? What if the power of God has nothing to do with bodybuilding? What if God’s power is in the "still small voice" of the forecasters who warned the state of the impending storm? What if it was in the humans who took others into their more secure homes? What if God’s power rests in humans? I understand that is not necessarily comforting until you see someone pulled off a rooftop during a flood.

My journey over the past three years has proven to me that God’s power truly rests in the humans who God prompted and who then chose to help me (help us). Many have watched our lives transform and commented on the ways that God has and is taking care of us. None of this would have been possible without the many humans who stepped in and helped us. Most never knew us before three years ago. This is the result of a God in whom nothing is impossible. But God never displayed the kind of power that we want to think is how it works.

For a moment, think what our world would be like if every single human was listening to God and acting upon the guidance he or she receives? We immediately think the evil would stop. True. But there would still be natural disasters, random chaos (like trees falling on houses for no apparent reason), and illness. The difference would be that everyone would receive the care they need during those times.

God truly has a plan for bringing good to each of us, but the power to do this rests in humans. I personally know that God is leading me to help bring healing to many who are living with the shame of what happened to them in childhood. It is their storm. I walked through blinding fear to listen, heal, and begin to tell my story. I know this is my path and I am walking through every door that opens because God is only as powerful as the humans who are listening and stepping out to help others.

Waiting for God to change the direction of the storm misses the point entirely. God’s power is human power in the midst of the storm. I am forever grateful for those who stepped into my messy storm and helped me to the other side. I believe anything is possible because I have watched the impossible walk into my life in the form of humans who have truly cared about me.

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