Giving God the Steering Wheel

I have realized in recent years that it’s generally a waste of time and energy to guess at someone’s meaning instead of simply asking for it, but sometimes I just can’t help it. After Bible study tonight (still Hebrews, chapter 4, and, yes, the word of God is the second person of the Trinity, not just the Bible there) I was talking with my father about a curious turn of phrase popular in Evangelical circles at present: give God the steering wheel of your life. As analogies go it’s not a terribly good one. It’s unfortunate, for instance, in flaunting its modern American origin: it needs an assumption of the personal car. That God is captain of the ship or any equivalent transportation analogy (steering the train? Flying the plane?) suggests a community He’s guiding — a company rather than a commuter. Most of us don’t imagine ourselves with our own private ship or train. It’s also awkward — what is it He’s driving? My life? So my life is the car? Or my accumulated actions are the car? But those are the road, so I’m the car? and my mind’s what needs to stop driving it? But then what does my mind do? Just sit there? Entertain the driver? Take a nap? It may be best not to think too hard about these things. Well, not analogically anyway. That’s the problem with hammering too hard on a particular analogy — it shows it’s limitations very fast, and some are much more limited than others. The car, for instance, versus being grafted into a tree. There’s also a very good one about a sword being heated in a forge so that it is not the flame, but it begins to take on some of the energies of the flame. There’s something much more symbolically resonant between fire and metal than between car and driver; and the meaning is more theologically significant.

But like I said, “give God the steering wheel” is much more popular than it deserves, so I may as well see if there’s some insight, or at least advice, to be had from it. I suspect it means something like this: whether I could have avoided it in good conscience or not, I’ve gotten myself into a situation way, way “outside my comfort zone.” I would very much like to retrench a little — I would like to reexamine my own preferences, talents, temperament, and so on, and come up with some duties, responsibilities, and activities rather better suited thereto. I would like to try to ignore what’s actually around me every day and do that. That, however, would be a bad idea. It would undoubtedly be missing something or other that I cannot now imagine and that I probably won’t be able to recognize afterwards either, but is somehow good and important for reasons God alone knows. So, this advice would advise, go with it. God veered your life off onto some side road you wouldn’t have chosen, and you’re now following it in blizzard and fog? Well, ok… should be interesting. Look! An adventure! They tend to work out — as NAU and Alaska and Santa Fe worked out; as lots of little adventures have worked for lots of people.

Or perhaps it means: “I really want to go on this mission trip!” No, from God. “but, please, I really want to!” No. “What about this one?” No. “Or that one?” No. “How about…?” Yes, now it’s alright. I can’t figure out why one and not another, but I can apparently tell one from another.

Perhaps it means: there’s this road, and I’ve got to follow it, so I’d better just keep at it, because I have no idea where it’s going to end up, but it’s the path that’s under my feet, so that’s alright for now.

In addition to the rather annoying analogy, I think that I have always found such advice difficult to relate to is because I don’t know that I could choose my own path if I tried. At most I could be very ungracious about the current road and pout about it. Well, perhaps I could choose something else… I don’t know that I’ve ever tried very hard. That’s theoretical — I suppose I could have quit Alaska in December; or St John’s in August, or here — but that seems unlikely. All my habits are against it. I’d more likely be the little kid going “are we there yet? When are we going to be there? I’m homesick! I left Tortle behind! can we go back and get him? I’m hungry! Will we ever be there? I’m going to take a nap now, so that maybe when I wake up we’ll be someplace I like better.” I’m not quite sure what that says about the analogy or myself.

But perhaps it’s not so narrow as that. Perhaps it also means: there’s a plate of fried chicken sitting there staring at me, but it’s Lent — do I eat it, complain, or do the right thing and cheerily pass it up? It’s Saturday afternoon: do I do any of the stuff I said I was going to do, or do I sit on the coach and angst in my journal for two hours? It’s Sunday morning: do I get up for Orthros, or do I sleep in, or do I get up but sleep standing up for the first hour and a half, or do I sit there with my head whirring about how much I don’t like to work, or do I glorify God in spirit and in truth?

If those are the kinds of decisions that are meant, however, “don’t give in to your passions” seems much clearer than “give God the steering wheel.” There’s an added element of decisiveness there that Evangelicals like to bring to everything, but which doesn’t often seem true of life — or at least my life. I suppose it might be good if I tried rather harder and was much firmer in asserting that, yes, I do intend to resist temptation, with God’s help.

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