Whose Responsibility Is It?

When does trust and faith lead us to abdicate our personal responsibilities?

You’ve probably heard phrases like “Let go and let God” and “Jesus take the wheel” and other sorts of sayings meant to reinforce what we might believe about trust and faith in God, but is there ever a point in which the things we say as reinforcement to our beliefs begin to coerce us into abdicating our personal responsibilities?

Theres a scene in a movie called Forgetting Sarah Marshall and in it Peter, played by Jason Segel, is in Hawaii and wants to learn to surf. The resort he is at is one of those insanely expensive, all-inclusive types that has private instructors for almost any activity the island might provide, so Peter heads out to the beach to find an instructor to help him out.

He stumbles upon a hut and meets none other than Chuck, played by Paul Rudd, who agrees to teach him to surf. Chuck’s technique to teach Peter to surf is to tell him, “Don’t do anything. Don’t try to surf. Don’t do it. The less you do, the more you do.” He then tells Peter to pop up on the surf board. Peter does as he’s told and is scolded by Chuck, “That was too much. Do less.”

This continues until Chuck tells Peter to pop up and Peter just lays there on the surf board, not moving a muscle. Chuck comes back with, “Well, you gotta do more than that. Now you’re just laying there looking like you’re boogie boarding."

Honestly, sometimes I’m right there on the surf board of my faith wondering what I’m supposed to be doing. And in a much more complex way, it seems as though our directives can lead us to a little bit of this kind of an internal conversation.

Faith moves us in and out of places where we have complete and total reliance upon God to pull off a miracle when there is seemingly nothing we can do about it, and then there are other times when God seems silent and we are left to our own devices to make seemingly monumental decisions.

As I have probed down into my own heart, and have seen this conversation take place internally in others, I have noticed some consistent patterns that frequent the conversation surrounding this thought.

You are God, and I am not.

Something very real is exposed when we begin to ask questions of faith and personal responsibility. We begin to notice the gap between what it would take to be God and what it takes to be human. There is a question of vision that begins to arise.

We sometimes blindly trust in the mystery of God and the things we can’t understand that surround him because we are, for the most part, comfortable with the idea that if there is a God, then he should most certainly be capable of seeing some sort of a bigger picture than what we can see. He, hopefully, isn’t limited to the confines of space and time that we are. His vision is infinitely more clear.

This idea, however, exposes our inability to see. It puts us in the position of the kid holding the parent’s hand as they make their way through a crowd. The kid hoping that the parent is going in the right direction. The parent just asking the kid to trust them and to continue to take another step. 

Fear

Another piece to the conversation that typically arises is some sort of fear. It is usually wrapped up in a fear of failure, but I’m sure there are other forms it could take as well.

Often when it comes to personal responsibility, undertaking a task, or making a decision, it is a certain step towards possible, inevitable or statistically probable failure. No one succeeds at every point, at every turn and in every situation. So some, instead of taking a step towards failure, will turn in fear to make statements that put the responsibility on God.

On a side note, this person will most likely blame God when things in life go wrong. Again, abdicating personal responsibility.

Laziness

This one was me.

I grew up in a home where trust was paramount. Some of the clearest conversations I had with my parents as I was growing up was about trust. There were two things that warranted a spanking when I was a kid, lying and disobeying. And when I went to kindergarten I remember my parents telling me I had two objectives in going to school. Learn to tell the truth, and learn to get along with other people.

The fascinating thing about my childhood wasn’t that they placed such a high priority on trust, but that my parents were actually trustworthy! I’m sure there were bumps in the road of trust along the way, certainly on my end, and possibly on their end, but when the parent-child relationship shifted when I went to college and moved out there was a sense in which there was a general mutual trust.

That trust was transferred to God. People often say that your primitive views of God stem from your views of your father, and for me, that was a pretty good deal. I trust my father, and so I trust God. Pretty simple.

Well, later down the road that trust in God began to get me pats on the back when I should have been getting kicks in the rear. I would use words like “patience” and “faith” as ways to get out of talking about how my life was stalling out. Deep down I did trust God, and unfortunately I knew that I could say the right words so that I wasn’t held responsible for my life or my future. It was in “god’s hands”.

This kind of laziness, at it’s most basic level is a type of immaturity. It’s the kind of laziness that can either continue well into adulthood or can come face to face with the consequences of reality. Fortunately for me, I landed on the latter. But that’s another blog for another day.

Peace

Ideally, faith and trust in God leads to peace. If you had a father or father figure whom you couldn’t or can’t trust, you might have immense anxiety when this conversation arises. You may never come to a place of peace with this, but I hope that there is in some way a sliver of hope that it is possible.

The kind of peace I’m talking about is a deep internal peace that allows you to operate fully present in the moment with the weight of responsibility firmly pushing you forward while tranquilly understanding that there are forces outside of your control that have to be let go.

This kind of peace breeds freedom, not fear. It pushes you harder than you’ve ever been pushed. Away from laziness and into maturity. It gives you some semblance of balance and wholeness that comes from a partnership with God, not in resistance to God.

It allows you to see clearly your own personal limitations and embrace them with a sense of deep understanding. A knowing that penetrates the barrier between what we wish things could be and what is reality. In this sense we begin to see more clearly who and what God is and who and what we are.

Austin Smith

Charlotte, NC, USA