Ive been listening to Frank Perettis This Present Darkness on tape again. Its a highly enjoyable book for the most part. Some of the theological implications make me wonder at times, though. I suspect part of that is just because Im not a Christian. But a lot of it even makes me wonder how well it fits to a Christian perspective.
Take for example the one part I listened to on my way to work this morning. It takes place shortly after the church votes (but just barely) to keep Hank as their pastor. Hank and his wife, Mary, are sitting together in the kitchen of Grandma Edith Duster. Edith is one of Hanks biggest supporters, and she spends much of this particular conversation encouraging Hank. In it, she makes the comment that if Hank wasnt where God wanted him to be, he wouldnt be accomplishing as much as he can. The more that I think about this, the more it seems like divining the will of God from mere circumstance. And to be honest, that strikes me as an odd, fickle, and possibly dangerous thing to do.
Back in my college years, I remember learning about the concept of fleecing. Its a term used in certain Christian circles to describe a certain way of testing for the will of God. The idea is based on the Old Testament (from the book of Judges, if memory serves) story of Gideon and his fleece. In that story, God calls on Gideon to save the Israelites from the enemy (the Philistines, I think, but dont quote me on that). Well, Gideon is doubtful and God offers to prove His desire for Gideon. One of Gods proofs involves a fleece that Gideon put outdoors overnight. This happens twice. During one time, the fleece is left bone dry while the ground is wet with dew. The other time, God causes the fleece to be wet while the ground around it is completely dry. Such a miraculous event helps to demonstrate Gods power and will for Gideon. Gideon then agrees.
The idea of modern day fleecing works the same way. A Christian decides on some sign that will demonstrate that a given choice is Gods will. This concept is actually demonstrated in another Peretti boo The Visitation where young Travis Jordan decides that God will show him when he is supposed to head out to join Billy Grahams ministry by making it so that a banjo head he ordered arrives at the music store. In that story, Peretti demonstrates one of the great problems in fleecing; that is, the sign event is often something that is bound to happen anyway. So theres no real proof that the event is just happenstance or a legitimate sign from God. And I know other writers and theologians who have given much deeper explanations on the problem with fleecing.
But it seems to me that Edith Dusters comment is as much a sign of fleecing as any test involving a banjo head. It seems to me that its still a matter of relying on a matter of circumstance or circumstances that may well occur on their own without Gods miraculous intervention to determine whether one is following Gods will. It just strikes me as a shortcut to honest introspection and seeking the Will of God.
Now, I readily admit that part of my opinion on this is almost certainly influenced by my non-Christian views. In fact, Id say its further influence by the fact that Im a witch. After all, it seems to me that relying on circumstance to divine anything be it the Will of God or some impersonal force such as Fate flies in the face of underlying philosophy of my beliefs as a maker of magic. Thats why I have an equal problem with Neo-Wiccans who attribute their circumstances to fate and karma and then choose to passively live whatever life the world deems willing to give them. But it seems to me that the idea that something as fickle and highly susceptible to just about every influence as circumstance should be chosen as a litmus test for anything should bother anyone who remotely believes in free will and personal responsibility.
(Of course, the irony among some Christians is that many who will tell you that they must be in the Will of God because of all the good they’re doing will then turn around in times of trouble and tell you that their tribulations are signs that they’re in the Will of God because it’s obviously Satan trying to keep them down. But that’s probably a whole different entry.)