by Elle Berry | 3 September 2019 |
As I was scrolling through Instagram the other day I happened upon a common kind of post. Pictured was a woman, blissfully twirling in a field of flowers, with a caption reading:
Who would have known when I moved here, that I’d find the man I had been looking for my whole life!
The post proceeded with something along the lines about how the universe always leads you where you need to go, and causes you to meet who you need to meet, et cetera.
So I don’t know why it took me so long to notice, but it’s come to my attention that the world is replete with woo-woo (woo-woo, here, meaning the ready acceptance of pseudoscientific phenomena, or emotion-based beliefs and explanations). Countless social media accounts abound with the sole purpose to ensorcell you with astrological wisdom, mystical inner knowing, and The Universe’s assurances. The resounding message is, fate and the universe are on your side, leading you to your destiny, the people you’re supposed to meet, and perfect opportunities!
I often joke with my friends about woo-woo. And I don’t see any harm in issuing the occasional “The Universe” joke, or making other woo-woo-themed jest. However, I see a dark side in the prevalent acceptance and saturation of these concepts.
It seems like everywhere I look the world is saturated with some variety of fate, luck, predestination, and/or the manifestation of one of my least favorite phrases in the English language: everything happens for a reason. Of course, it is not simply the prevalence of these ideas in the world at large that alarms me. While there may be some modern repackaging, such ideas are ancient and not the manifestation of any newfound spirituality. However, what’s striking to me is how frequently the woo-woo is accepted regardless of faith or agnosticism.
Obviously, as a single person I can’t help but notice the above soulmate ideology (the notion of some singular person who is meant for you, that you’ll find – or fail to find – depending on the whims of fate or divine will). However, far beyond the matters of romance, we infuse our everyday conversations with ideas of being lucky, or something being meant-to-be. And Christianity is hardly exempt. In fact, now instead of some vague Universe you can actually baptize these phrases with the divine authority of sanctified God-speak, by saying such things as Everything happens for a reason or it’ll all work out the way it’s supposed to or God wouldn’t give you more than you can handle, and other such trite lines we use to justify and infuse meaning into a reality we can’t otherwise explain.
The Nefarious Side of Woo-woo
And when life is good, these ideas are probably innocent enough. But when it’s not good, I worry about the harm this unintentionally nefarious depiction of meant-to-be reality does to our hearts.
What happens when you’re faced with an unexpected illness? Or an incurable disease that slowly destroys your body? What happens to the parents who are faced with the impossible loss of a child? What happens to the person who thought they met their soulmate, but loses them due to divorce or death? Or what happens to the person who does all the right things and yet never sees the blessing?
Besides the possibility of creating mindless drones, who are forever abdicating our accountability to the Doris Day land of Que Será, Será, the honest reality is that everything does happen, often without reason in sight. And we’re left questioning what was meant-to-be, and grappling with the underlying logic. One possibility is that good things were not intended for us. Another, possibly worse, option is that we’re left holding on to the shame that we simply weren’t good or holy enough for the universe, God, or the fates, to favor us. A third option is to live in constant anxiety that we somehow missed God, and we’re now stuck living some plan B version of reality where God’s will is always evaded. This is the nefarious side of believing in destiny, fate, and woo-woo – be it divine or otherwise.
The Dumbledore Doctrine
When I think about this, I’m reminded of one of my favorite lines from a book. And hold on, because I’m going to go full-fledged millennial on you, and reference the Harry Potter series.
On the off chance you’ve somehow managed to remain completely unfamiliar with the story, let me briefly catch you up. In book one, Harry goes to a school where he is sorted into one of four houses (you might think of them as clubs). To be sorted, one has to wear a hat called the Sorting Hat (yes, it’s a kids book with magic, so work with me) and basically, the hat tells you which house you’re going to be in. However, Harry finds out that all the bad wizards end up in house Slytherin. So when he goes to be sorted, and the hat tells him, “You would do well in Slytherin,” Harry answers, “Not Slytherin.” The hat says, “Cool beans,” and puts him in Gryffindor.
However, later in book two, we find that Harry does in fact have all these traits in common with a really great Slytherin. He begins to wonder if he got put in the wrong house. So Harry asks the headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, if perhaps the hat made a mistake. Dumbledore acknowledges that yes, Harry does have many traits in line with Slytherin, but then says:
“You know why it didn’t place you in Slytherin?”
“It only put me in Gryffindor,” said Harry in a defeated voice, “because I asked not to go in Slytherin…”
“Exactly,” said Dumbledore, beaming once more. “It is our choices, Harry, that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Humans as Imago Dei
So what do Harry Potter and Professor Dumbledore have to do with God, woo-woo, and the ideology of the meant-to-be? For me, what this story highlights so well is the creative potential of human choice. While there might be a tendency for something to move in one direction, it is human choice that becomes a catalyst for reality. And in my understanding of the Bible, the power of our choice is never something that God fails to account for, nor does it seem to be something that is despised. While the Lord often provides direction, we are given the choice to opt in. Not only is this not a despised flaw of humanity, but it seems to be a celebrated feature. From the beginning we are described as being Imago Dei – in the image of God. While there are a lot of potential definitions of what this means, some key themes are the power of choice, and the ability to create, just like the God in whose image we are designed.
Biblical Choices and Creative Collaboration
So is there Biblical evidence for human and divine creative collaboration? I believe so. Repeatedly the Bible is a series of stories depicting humans making choices. Sometimes these are good choices, sometimes not, but instead of seeing a God who militantly enforces an outcome, or some meant-to-be fate causing us to meet who we’re supposed to meet, or making everything happen for a reason, we instead see a God who offers guidance to those who ask (Genesis 24 and James 1), a God who adjusts His actions based on our choices and request (Numbers 14 and 2 Kings 20) and a God who is flexibly drawing us into a redemptive outcome (1 Samuel 8).
Time and again, God comes alongside our choices and for those who opt in, He becomes a kind of divine Garmin, forever intent on helping us recalculate the journey back into a redemptive relationship with Him. And He accomplishes this outcome through the marriage of His mercy to the substance of our choice. In my early twenties I can often remember stressing out about if I was doing what God wanted, or if I’d somehow missed God’s will for my life. A wise friend advised me, “God’s will is less of a tightrope and more of a playground.” And more and more I see evidence of this truth revealed in my walk with God.
It’s important to note that our choices are not a merit-based system that guarantees our earthly blessing. This is not the prosperity gospel. Our choices allow us to enter Kingdom life – they do not, however, remove other humans’ ability to choose, nor can they alter the reality of life in a broken world where there is disease and death. Choices cannot guarantee good things in this life. But like Harry, through choice we can enter into our heavenly house and become collaborators with God; not a God who causes everything to happen for a reason, but a God who offers to bring reason to everything that happens, for those of us who opt in to His Kingdom way of life.
An Invitation to the Resurrection Life
I believe there is a beautiful truth beyond the woo-woo; we are invited with our choices to engage creatively and collaboratively with God. I don’t believe that God is out there causing everything to happen for a reason, or in some meant-to-be ideology. But I do believe in a God who has always been willing to enter into our lives and our choices and bring reason into everything that happens. For those who choose His kingdom life – to know God and to love others – for us, there’s an endlessly creative, adaptive collaboration, bringing us into reconciliation with love. This is the resurrection life we are called to – taking the finality of a death that cannot be changed, and transforming it into a glorious resurrection. I believe in a God who calls us to that life. And honestly, there could be no woo-woo story in the universe that will ever woo me so completely as that one.
Elle Berry is a writer and nutritionist. She is passionate about creating wellness, maintaining a bottomless cup of tea, and exploring every beautiful vista in the Pacific Northwest. She blogs at ChasingWhippoorwills.com.