This Is Like ThatMetaphors are the spice of speech and writing. Our everyday ordinary spoken language is full of them, sometimes without our really knowing it. In any given conversation, we might hear phrases like my professor “kept me on my toes today,” or a friend trying to help may say, “come on, let’s get to the heart of this matter.” When my family and I lived in Southern California, I used to listen to the L.A. Lakers radio and TV broadcast. The play-by-play sportscaster in those days was Chick Hearn (d. 2002). During the 3,338 consecutive games he called, Chick created many memorable metaphors that are still part of basketball vernacular today. Metaphors like: slam dunk, airball, no harm, no foul, boo-birds, the charity stripe, throws up a brick.[ref] Wikipedia, “Chick Hearn,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chick_Hearn (accessed November 16, 2010).[/ref] Our sacred text is no stranger to metaphor. It is full of metaphors like “the Lord is my shepherd,” which is often taken literally and applied to the statement of Jesus in the Gospels of being a “good shepherd.” It should come as no surprise that neither God nor Jesus is really a shepherd. The metaphor simply wants to help the reader comprehend that some of the characteristics of an ancient shepherd are some of the characteristics of God. Another expression of a metaphor is an explicit comparison we call a simile and can be seen in the phrase in Acts 2, “tongues as of fire.” Again, it should not come as a shock to readers of the sacred text that there was no “real” fire in the upper room narrative even though some teachers may be fond of telling their listeners that there was a real fire there in that room.
Something happened for sure. Something that was difficult for Luke to explain. Remember, he wasn’t there, so he is depending on stories from those who were there and grasping at words to explain the event on Pentecost. Surely, you must know that feeling. You see something like a sunrise or a sunset or a hundred other things and you fumble around with words to try to explain what you saw. The words you choose are metaphors and often hyperbolic. The listener is not expected to take the exact words you are using, grab their dictionary, look up the definition of the words in order to grasp your meaning. The metaphor does the job for them. Think about some of the ones you may hear repeatedly: Our laundry detergent (supply your favorite brand) makes your clothes clean and fresh as the great outdoors. You’ve seen sleek looking cars, usually silver in color, racing through urban city streets with the sheen of water on the blacktop, moving effortless along at breakneck speeds. What is that metaphor selling you?
For example, there are over 400 metaphors for God the Father in Scripture that give us a rich comprehension of who he[ref] Note: I have used a masculine pronoun to talk about God. It’s a metaphor. God is not male or female. God is genderless. The metaphor is used to give us relational terms in which to identify. They are not meant to make us think that God actually is a male. [/ref] is and how he relates. It is sad that we have settled on one such metaphor: Father. In short, metaphors could be called “word pictures.” Some biblical specialists believe that the Hebrews were especially fond of thinking and then writing in “word pictures.” Readers must work to see the correspondence intended between the “word picture” and reality. Paul suggests the following, which is labeled as Ephesians 4.14: “no longer to be children tossed by the waves and whirled around by every fresh gust of teaching, dupes of human craftiness (literally: dice playing).[ref] D. R. De Lacey, “The Language and Imagery of George Caird,” Vox Evangelica 13, no. (1983): 81. [/ref] Metaphors can be translated in different ways such as Eugene Peterson’s translation of the above text in The Message: “No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors.” We are offered two different metaphors in these translations for one possible reality. The first may suggest a group of children playing a game of dice on an open boat being blown around by the wind. The second use finds a different expression “babes in the woods.” Both seem to point to the reality that as believers we are not to be like children who have no discernment of what might be dangerous to us. Metaphors are surely more complex than these simple illustrations assert. Metaphor, to help us find the correspondence to reality, seems to be a staple in the biblical text. In light of the concept of metaphors, I have provided a brief history of my thinking about the title for this book, which is presented in metaphors. The first is Power Steering, then GPS, and finally Looking.
What’s In a Metaphor?
Several years ago, when I first wrote the first draft of this book as a weekly bulletin insert, I called it “Power Steering: Guidance and the Will of God.” I was enamored with the idea of how the power of God could help with steering our lives. Listening around, it often sounded like followers of Jesus were struggling to discover what God wanted them to do. I wrote to encourage them that God’s power was not just seen in an event, like one’s body being healed; yes, it is seen there, but God’s power could be understood as helping folks get in touch with what God was doing and put their hands to that task.
If you are old enough, you might remember driving a car without power steering. I am that old. It was really difficult to turn the steering wheel, to pass a car, or to turn a corner. When car manufacturers began putting power steering into their cars, cars driving on Route 66 or any other route, for that matter, became much easier. My dad loved driving cars and when he got his first car with power steering or really power-assisted steering, it was difficult for him to allow anyone else to drive. I was just becoming a teenager with a serious appetite to drive on my own. Of course, power steering could imply that the car could steer itself, but in actuality, it still needs a driver, who now had assistance in passing cars and turning corners. This new way of assisting the driver actually worked in my favor. When the newness began to wear off, my dad saw the benefits of his youngest not having to fight the car to drive the car. To his benefit, he was gracious and allowed me to drive his car with this new power-assisted steering. It was like floating around corners.
When I was stationed in Japan in the United States Air Force, I owned a 1961 green Chevy that did not have power steering. To make things worse, I was driving on the left side of the road where the steering wheel was next to the left edge of the road, close to the bingo ditches of the day. When I needed to pass a car, I really had to work to get the car out far enough to see into the right lane to discover if I was clear to pass or about to run head-on into another car. Most cars had the steering wheel appropriately on the correct side for driving in that country, not mine!
When I returned home, my dad had a brand new Buick with power steering and I remember him allowing me to take it for a spin with him in the front seat, of course. When I got to the first cross street and was going to turn to the left, I put my finger on the crossbars of the steering wheel and with great ease pulled out to turn left. He was not impressed with my one finger driving, especially since I pulled into the left lane somehow still thinking I was in Japan only to see this huge dump truck heading my way at breakneck speed. Without flinching and acting really cool under the circumstances, I simply took my one finger driving to a new level and quickly moved the car to the correct lane and not a second too soon as the truck came flying by with the driver laying on his horn and flashing me his own one-finger salute. My dad said in a soft voice, “Son, pull over into the next parking lot, I think I should drive.” Today, since it is now commonplace, one would have had to experience a car with no power steering to comprehend the beauty and ease of power steering.
The difficulty of driving a car without power steering is the same difficulty lots of folks have when trying to determine God’s will for their lives. There are so many “old wives tales,” “popular theological tales,” or just plain old “pastor’s legends” that try to make this chore seemingly easier, but in fact, make it much more difficult. If you like this metaphor, then think of it in the text below when I use Searching (think “googling” as in looking for something on Google).
Global Positioning Systems (GPS)
Helping the car steer is only part of the metaphor. The other part is getting to where you want to go. My dad was not big on maps. He used them once and then seemed to have a built-in system of getting back to a place once he had been there. I seemed to have inherited that gene. Now with the intervention of GPS, how in the world would you get lost?
Later, I became interested in GPS when my son got his first smartphone, which had that system on it, and, later, I bought a smartphone: a Droid with GPS. What fun!
In 2006, I wrote the following small article “GPS or Ants: Learning to Follow God” on my blog at drwinn.com.
GPS systems (Global Positioning System) are a great way to get to where you are going, usually the quickest way. However, what happens when your GPS tells you to turn right at the next street and you decide to turn left instead? It still knows where you said you wanted to go, so it reconfigures a new path to get you there, not necessarily the quickest, maybe not even the safest, but a path nevertheless.
As an example, it seems that God was to be Israel’s GPS in the wilderness. Often like the driver who turns left instead of right, God reconfigured their path based on their wrong turns. The good news, he was still leading them.
I heard recently that there is a certain kind of ant that when it gets lost, simply begins following the ant in front of him. This is fine if the ant in front of him knows where he is going. However, it has been observed that this sometimes leads to a larger circle of ants all walking round in a circle and eventually leads to the death of the ants.
Followership, the art of learning to follow, should, I think, be modeled on the GPS system rather than on the ant system. At least, if you make a wrong turn in life, and we all do, God can redirect our paths to get us to where we need to be. If we just simply and blindly follow, say, the culture, then we may, in fact, end up like the ants in a circle and eventually die.
While I still like those concepts, I decided this was still not the metaphor that I wanted for this book. If you like this metaphor, then think of it in the text below when I use “looking.” Instead of power-assisted steering or GPS, I am choosing the following metaphor.
Searching for God’s Will
We are search-crazy on the Net. I well remember in the ’90s of the last century when I first logged on to the Internet. It was text-based. It took forever with those first modems to get the information transferred. But, with time and technology, we now breeze along at breakneck speed. Although I have to admit, the longer I keep a new fast computer, the slower it gets. How do we get around that?
As of this writing of this book, the number one search engine is google.com. The word “googling” has now become a synonym for “searching.” A friend of mine suggested “googling” but because using that word “could” be a trademark infraction I decided to use “searching,” since searching for God’s will is something that God’s folks seem to be constantly involved in, hence: Searching for God’s Will: Why Keep Looking for It When It’s Not Lost? As an example, a search of Google discovered 2,700,000 pages that discuss “God’s Will.” As of this revision 7.30.2020, there is 274,000,000.[ref] Searched google.com for the words “God’s Will” on October 5, 2010 and July 30, 2010. [/ref]
A search on Amazon.com returned the first page of sixteen books with the words “God’s Will” in them with a total of 6,493 other references. So, why add another book to the list? Great question. Simply, I think that searching for God’s will is the wrong metaphor for Christians to be using. One of the definitions of “search” is: “To examine to find something lost or concealed.” We really can’t find something that isn’t lost. The will of God may feel like it is lost on occasion, but, at some point, we might want to discover that if what we are feeling has any validity beyond the obvious feeling that we are having. So, I hope that this book will offer you a different worldview on living in God’s family and improvising your part to play along the way — something that you can do without searching for God’s will.
What does all this have to do with “Searching for God’s Will?” The will of God as a theme is just one of many that threads its way through the Story of Scripture. This theme contains the elements of the plot, but it is different from the story about the will of God that is often preached which leads to bad practices. That “search for God’s will” story leads to tragedy and frustration.
Right after high school graduation, I attended a youth conference with a friend. On the closing night, the speaker announced that it was God’s will for everyone there to reach deep into their pockets and give God all they had. My friend, who had been saving for college, took out his checkbook and wrote a check for every penny in his college fund and proudly took it to the front of the room in which we were meeting. Could this really have been God’s will for every person in the room? If it was, then in the analogy of being “in the will of God,” which we will discuss anon, he was there, front and center, and I was “out of the will of God,” because I chose not to participate with what I thought was such a blatant manipulative move on the part of the speaker. What really got my goat was when we returned home and he told his story to our little church, folks hemmed and “oohed and awed” and congratulated him for his great sacrifice. While let’s just say, folks looked at me in an “ooglie wooglie” sort of way. Of course, my parents were not pleased with my performance, or non-performance at the youth conference, showing a lack of hitting a mark of “spirituality” that was anticipated. My friend never went to college.
The “will of God story” told in the bigger Story leads to patience and good practices. Let’s see how that works out as we take our tour of the story with the “will of God” in mind. So, why are we searching for his will, and where are we going on this journey? The purpose of this book is to challenge the traditional way of searching for God’s will and discover a possible different way of living into God’s will in a daily natural way.
Where Are We Going on this Journey?
There have been many books written about knowing how to find God’s will,[ref] A quick search of Amazon.com on the day I was writing this section revealed 8,237 books with the words “will of God” in them or the description had something to say about the “will of God.” In case you haven’t thought about it, the number will soon be larger by one, if not more, by the time this title appears on Amazon.com. [/ref] yet we still struggle with hearing the voice of God for our lives. The purpose of this book is to help you form a different worldview about God’s will, so that you can hear with clarity and, in the final analysis, improvise your part in the greatest story in the world. You will find no quick fixes here.
When you have finished reading this book, my hope is that you will be less frustrated in the long run about what God is up to in your life and you will form a different set of practices in your life concerning God’s will.
My thesis is that we are searching in a lot of wrong places to try to discover something that is not lost. To stop searching, we will look at some of the ideas that we have been taught about what the will of God is. So, first, we will proceed by providing an overview of the grand storyline in the Bible. Then, we will look at the concept of how we look for guidance about guidance. Next, we will investigate some of the “sacred cows” that we have been taught and see if any of them need to be slaughtered. Then, we will examine why we think the way we think in the Western world. Next, we will observe the predetermined will of God, followed by the moral will of God, and then the individual will of God, all possible ways of looking for God’s will that might keep us searching, thinking we have found the will of God, but probably haven’t. Then, we will look at some biblical illustrations that are focused on being guided by the Spirit. Finally, we will provide a brief view of the ongoing pursuit of living into the will of God. Here we go!