Anticipation, they say, is half the enjoyment. Was that why my long awaited viewing of The Two Towers brought a little less pleasure than I had expected? Had I overdrawn on my quota of enjoyment in the twelve months of anticipation?
Possibly. Not that the movie is anything less than superb. The visual translation of Tolkien's narrative is brilliant. And, as in The Fellowship of the Ring, the content is as true as could be to my imagined Middle Earth (not least in the characterisation of Gollum!) But perhaps that very fidelity contributed to the slight flatness I felt. In a movie that focuses so much on action and the unfolding of events, there are fewer surprises and moments of dramatic tension for those who know the story well.
• Fear and anxiety — the 'blueprint' idea frequently creates anxiety about 'getting it wrong' and suffering the consequences of being 'out of God's will'. When people consider the possibility that in making a choice they might be stepping off the 'narrow way' approved by God, or when faced with two equally viable options, they can experience an almost paralysing fear. Fear of what? God's disapproval, perhaps even eternal judgment. Some fear that because of wrong choices their lives will now be second best (or third, or fourth . . . ), or that God will have to lead them through trials in order to teach them a lesson.There isn't the space here to adequately critique this model of God's individual will. Others have done that, notably Gary Friesen in his book Decision Making and the Will of God.1 My main concern has been to note some of the emotional, psychological and spiritual effects this model has had on many people I have met. That in itself doesn't disprove the model, but it invites serious reconsideration.
Friesen argues that all the guidance we need has been revealed to us already in Scripture. In making decisions, we are free to choose within God's revealed will. Within those parameters of freedom our choices are to be made wisely, for the glory of God, and with an openness to God's sovereign overruling.
I believe that Friesen's critique is sound, and I warm to his emphasis on biblical revelation, freedom, wisdom and the glory of God. It stimulates me to cultivate personal responsibility, mature biblical understanding, thoughtfulness and creativity in decision-making. Some will prefer the safety and predictability of a detailed script. I prefer a kind of 'choose your own adventure' or 'theatre sports' approach!
Yet I think we also lose something in Friesen's approach. God becomes rather distant, detached. Having given us a manual for living we are left to get on with it, or so it seems. Is there a way that embraces God's intimate involvement, along with a sense of genuine freedom and creativity in living?
I have found it helpful to move away from talk of 'plans' and 'blueprints', and to seek a more creative, relational, dynamic model of God's involvement in our lives. One image that suggests itself is that of a dance. Every type of dance has its guidelines, but the dance itself entails a moment-by-moment creative interplay between the dancers. Each is attuned to the other's movements: initiating, responding, adjusting, appreciating, creating fresh expressions of the dance all the time.
Surely God is intimately, lovingly, creatively involved with creation in this way. And God invites us to be part of this 'dance'. Yes, there are given parameters for the dance, and God has every intention that the dance will, in the end, bring his purposes for creation to fruition. But the actual dance involves freedom on our part as to how we respond to God's involvement in our lives, how we co-create the dance with God in fulfilling those purposes.
The blueprint model suggests a dance in which we must look to God as leader and judge, seeking direction and approval for every step. No creativity, no initiative, no passion is required of us. In Friesen's way of freedom and wisdom God becomes a benign but distant coach, who instructs us in the basic steps and then sends us out to do our own thing, alone, on the dance floor.
Isn't there a third way in which we are invited to follow attentively yet freely the dancing God? God is intimately concerned with the specifics of our lives, big and small. Not in the sense of having a deterministic blueprint for them, but rather in the presence of the Spirit who dances in and out of our lives freshly each day, each moment. God the dancer invites us to listen for the music of the Spirit and the "unforced rhythms of grace,"2 and to respond in our living with all the uniqueness and creativity that has been gifted to us by the same Spirit.
If we should miss a beat, falter in our steps, or even fall over in a heap, it's not the end of the perfect dance! God's matchless grace and creativity are seen in the way he lifts us up again and weaves our movements into a new sequence — one that could never be described as second best.