God Made Me Do It (Or Did He?)
Theologians seeking to account for the way God rules the world say that He does so in two ways: through coercive power and persuasive power. In His coercive power, God causes things to happen regardless of what we do. Things like creating the world, raising Christ from the dead, sending the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the return of Christ all fit here. In His persuasive power, God allows things to take place but does’t determine them in advance. He works to persuade people and cooperates with His good creation, us, in how the world works. Things like giving prevenient grace that leads us to salvation all, God’s commands in Scripture to us, and even allowing suffering all fit here.*
I like what John Wesley writes in his sermon “On Divine Providence”:
“He is infinite in wisdom as well as in power: And all his wisdom is continually employed in managing all the affairs of his creation for the good of all his creatures. For his wisdom and goodness go hand in hand: They are inseparably united, and continually act in concert with Almighty power, for the real good of all his creatures.”
Wesley says that God continually governs and manages “all the affairs” of His creation in His infinite wisdom and power. This seems to speak to God acting in coercive power. If we read on, though, Wesley balances it with these statements in his next paragraphs (forgive me for the long quote but it is all worth reading):
“Only he that can do all things else cannot deny himself: He cannot counteract himself, or oppose his own work. Were it not for this, he would destroy all sin, with its attendant pain in a moment. He would abolish wickedness out of his whole creation, and suffer not trace of it remain. But in so doing he would counteract himself; he would altogether overturn his own work, and undo all that he has been doing since he created man upon the earth. For he created man in his own image: A spirit like himself; a spirit endued with understanding, with will or affections, and liberty; without which, neither his understanding nor his affections could have been of any use, neither would he have been capable either or vice or virtue. He could not be a moral agent, any more than a tree or a stone.
“If, therefore, God were thus to exert his power, there would certainly be no more vice; but it is equally certain, neither could there be any virtue in the world. Were human liberty taken away, men would be as incapable of virtue as stones. Therefore, (with reverence be it spoken,) the Almighty himself cannot do this thing. He cannot thus contradict himself, or undo what he has done. He cannot destroy out of the soul of man that image of himself wherein he make him: And without doing this, he cannot abolish sin and pain out of the world. But were it to be done, it would imply no wisdom at all; but barely a stroke of omnipotence. Whereas all the manifold wisdom of God (as well as all his power and goodness) is displayed in governing man as man; not as a stock or stone, but as an intelligent and free spirit, capable of choosing either good or evil. Herein appears the depth of the wisdom of God, in his adorable providence; in governing men, so as not to destroy either their understanding, will, or liberty.”
Wesley basically says that God governs humanity in the way He made them, allowing them to exert free will, and in doing so shows His wisdom. God governs us as people who have free wills, not as any other part of His creation.
What does this have to do with being a small group leader?
As small group leaders, we cannot force anyone to submit to God’s authority for their lives and make Him transform them, but we can point them to the God who has the power to do it. We can be persuasive with our lives and words.
As we lead discussions, we can help people notice the ways God has been at work in their lives. We can be careful not to attribute things to God that really were the fault of human decisions. And we can take responsibility for the times we have not responded to God’s persuasive grace.
*I am drawing from an article by Dr. Chris Bounds called Divine Leadership in the World written for Wesley Seminary.