Bad Theology: The Accommodating God

I like to consider myself something of a theologian. I love to study historical christologies, contemplate ecclesiologies and deconstruct heterodoxies, all of which of course doesn’t mean that my theology is always right. Nor does it mean that I don’t have bad theology.

It does make my bad theology sometimes hard to account for. Most of what I believe I’ve either reasoned to with no little consideration or else simply hold some basic conviction supporting it. I’m not sure when I began to believe that Gød accommodates with lesser blessings when we refuse the gifts Gød wants to give us, but I have I have no reason to think it’s true and no conviction behind it. I just, apparently, believe it.

Gød Accommodating Failure

For much of the last four months since moving to Cleveland my theology has been consumed with this belief. For good or ill, my expectations about my moving here to do ministry were set so high and my faith unusually fixed around them that when it seemed like nothing was moving forward, I began to suspect that I had done something wrong, had missed something. The pastoral position I thought was earmarked for me by sovereign contrivance was clearly turning a different direction; my contacts weren’t getting back to me; employers weren’t calling me back; doubt was beginning to blur the vision with which I came out here, and I knew it. It felt as though I could either believe that Gød had lied, that I had misunderstood or that my personal failure had caused me to miss the gifts I’d been called here to receive.

When after only six weeks I received a call to interview at a software company out in the suburbs, a job I’d been invited to apply for, I was thrown. It wasn’t an opportunity I’d asked for, but it was a fantastic opportunity. How was I to understand an apparent blessing that didn’t feel at all like what I thought I’d been called to Cleveland to do? I looked for problems with it—tangible objections I could weigh, not just the vague intuitions I’d been clinging to from months before. It was too good to pass up—did that mean I should pass it up? It had every appearance of a gift from Gød—but in every way different from the gift whose promise called me to move across the country. It felt, instead, like an overly generous accommodation to what had been feeling like my personal failure, a gift afforded to someone who left the initial gift on the table. Maybe, I thought, this is the terrible wealth Gød, that the Father would provide for me despite the fact that I blew it, that I missed the train, that I don’t deserve to be a pastor.

My belief that Gød issues conciliatory accommodations goes back further than this. Certainly when I first felt called to Cleveland almost a year ago now but received and accepted instead a promotion that kept me longer, that same belief was there, shaping my perception. Its origins are doubtless inseparable from my views of free will and determinism, my unhealthy self-regard, even my anemic understanding of grace. Yet it’s not in this philosophical examination that I find the gift-accommodation categories challenged; rather, it’s in someone’s story.

Gød Overaccepting Action

A friend of mine has recently had to leave his job, for circumstances within his control, which he regrets and which have impacted other areas of his life. It was not a faithful path of discipleship that led him to this crossroads. Yet I knew, more than intellectually but as a particular, point-in-time conviction, that Gød was going to take care of him. There was another position he was hoping to get with a former employer, and as I was convinced he would, he got the offer. Now, if I dared to be consistent, applying the theology by which I understand my own life to other people, I’d expect it to be a textbook accommodation—a generous provision apart from what Gød would have otherwise had for him. Yet that’s not at all what I’ve ended up seeing. To the contrary, I see that he’s happier; he’s reunited the with old colleagues; he couldn’t want better assignments than he’s been given; he’s been thoroughly blessed by the fruit of a bad decision. I think this is the best blessing for him—and one he never would have found had he not made the mistakes he did.

This brings to my mind a theological concept about which William Cavanaugh has written, which he calls overacceptance, from a theatrical term he defines as ‘an improvised reframing of the action of a drama in light of a larger story one wants to tell.’ The image, citing Samuel Wells, is of a pianist who, interrupted by child banging on the keys, begins to weave ‘a beautiful improvised melody that incorporates the child’s discordant notes.’ What is liberating about this concept is its disinterest in divine plans and ‘original intentions’ in favor of divine ability, creativity, goodness.

I can’t say that if my faith had been more constant, if my character had been stronger, if my mind had been purer, that I wouldn’t be deeper into my vocational journey. I can’t say that if my decision-making since moving had been different or better I wouldn’t be somewhere else. What I can say, with greater conviction and more considered theology, is that Gød will accomplish the good Gød wants to accomplish, that I am unlikely to force Gød into a position of having to accommodate my failures—at least any more than is always necessarily true, since grace itself is an accommodation and no less the greatest possible gift, the gift par excellence. No, Gød does not accommodate; Gød accomplishes and accomplishes always through grace.

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