To Quit Playing God

From New Yorker writer Paul Simms comes a piece entitled “God’s Blog.” Here is the Creator of the Universe, the Holy of Holies, blogging about the grand and glorious Creation that’s just unfolded at the very beginning of time.

This, together with what’s inevitable whenever you blog anything: comments.


Pretty pleased with what I’ve come up with in just six days. Going to take tomorrow off. Feel free to check out what I’ve done so far. Suggestions and criticism (constructive, please!) more than welcome. God out.


Not sure who this is for. Seems like a fix for a problem that didn’t exist. Liked it better when the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep.

Going carbon-based for the life-forms seems a tad obvious, no?

The creeping things that creepeth over the earth are gross.

Not enough action. Needs more conflict. Maybe put in a whole bunch more people, limit the resources, and see if we can get some fights going. Give them different skin colors so they can tell each other apart.

Amoebas are too small to see. They should be at least the size of a plum.

Why do they have to poop? Seems like there could have been a more elegant/family-friendly solution to the food-waste-disposal problem.

Unfocussed. Seems like a mishmash at best. You’ve got creatures that can speak but aren’t smart (parrots). Then, You’ve got creatures that are smart but can’t speak (dolphins, dogs, houseflies). Then, You’ve got man, who is smart and can speak but who can’t fly, breathe underwater, or unhinge his jaws to swallow large prey in one gulp. If it’s supposed to be chaos, then mission accomplished. But it seems more like laziness and bad planning.

“God’s Blog” is even more suggestive once you consider what Rabbi Will Berkovitz likes to say: how, “on the seventh day, our Creator did not just rest, the Holy One let go.” “It was,” he says, “God’s final and perhaps most important lesson to us. There is a time to let go. With the Sabbath this idea was embedded into the very fabric of Jewish existence. Stop trying to control everything and make it perfect. Even God never said things were perfect. All God said was, it is very good — there is a difference. We are obsessive perfectionists, maybe God isn’t. Consider the platypus.”

Even God lets go.

But we don’t. We try to create the universe in the image of our egos. We want to make things happen according to our ego’s sense of timing. We trumpet our opinions about the big picture even though all we can see is a tiny part of what’s going on. Big picture about the world, big picture about ourselves.

It’s bad enough to do this if we actually believe in God. But we can do this even if such belief makes absolutely no sense, even if we think God-belief betrays a lack of intellectual sophistication and/or honesty. With our lips we can say that, but look at what we do in our living: we act like the very God we don’t believe in.

And when we do that—when we are acting like the God we do or do not believe in—we are impossible to live with.

From Dr. Judith Orloff PhD comes this quiz—one of many like it, I have discovered—entitled AM I IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH A CONTROLLER?

Does this person keep claiming to know what’s best for you?

Do you typically have to do things his or her way?

Is he or she so domineering you feel suffocated?

Do you feel like you’re held prisoner to this person’s rigid sense of order?

Is this relationship no fun because it lacks spontaneity?

Even God lets go. But we do not.

So many forms of this—of being the proverbial monkey with a fist full of tasty nuts but, exactly because it’s a fist, things are stuck in the narrow neck of the bottle and going nowhere.

There is a reason why every major world religion addresses this control freakishness in some form or fashion, like we are doing today. There is a reason why.

Some less intense forms of control include:

Finding it difficult to admit making mistakes, being wrong or misinformed about something, or to acknowledge that you’ve changed your mind….

Changing who you are or what you believe so that someone will accept you. Instead of just being yourself, attempting to influence others by managing their impression of you…

“Helping” other people drive – telling them what route to take, when to turn, where to park, reminding them that the traffic light has changed…

But, now, what about these more intense forms of control?

You’re the partner of someone with some kind of addiction (to alcohol, to gambling, to work, to a million other things) and you spend every last drop of energy trying to contain the craziness, trying to maintain the façade, trying to convince yourself that if you just do that 10th impossible thing then he or she’s going to be healed and everything’s going to be all better.


You’ve got obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it’s like this. It’s just like “you’re in a busy airport with a 2 or 3 year old son, you turn around and then you turn back and your son is gone. That feeling of panic and anxiety is what people with OCD feel everyday due to intrusive thoughts. It gets to a point where it’s so horrible you carry out compulsions to prevent those thoughts from coming true, even though you know they are not real or even realistic sometimes.”


You’re anorexic (like my mother was—I have seen this first hand). Thoughts about dieting, food, and your body take up most of your day—leaving little time for friends, family, and anything. Life becomes a relentless pursuit of thinness and going to extremes to lose weight. But no matter how skinny you become, it’s never enough.

It’s all playing God, in ways more or less intense.

Note that in none of this am I dismissing the idea of appropriate control, appropriate exertions of power. Mental health demands a certain level of control. The possibility of justice requires a certain level of control. We need to get up and get working around the issue of gun regulation, because it’s completely unacceptable to be the only advanced country on Earth that suffers mass shootings, every few months. We need to get up and get working around the issue of capital punishment, because it’s completely unacceptable for the state to murder a human being and call it true justice. There are things we can change, things we can control, and God grant us courage for it.

But there is so much we cannot change, and that’s when we need serenity, and letting go. That’s when our approach needs to be altogether different.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Very often—if not always—what puts us on the path of this wisdom is our lives becoming completely unmanageable. As the writer of The Spiritual Awakening Blog says, “Most of us don’t want to let go until we’re smashed to pieces. Something traumatic or tragic is often the only thing powerful enough to get our attention and to show us that for however hard we’ve been trying, we’re really not in control. […] We’ll do ten to fifteen things before we surrender to the reality of it, which is: we’re in a world of hurt. Only when we fully accept something and submit to this smoking, steaming, burning rubble that is our life can we make changes to effectively put out the fire and fix things.”

Have you ever been smashed to pieces like this?

Are you coming smashed to pieces this morning?

Writer Jonathan Franzen says, “It’s healthy to say uncle when your bone is about to break.”

That’s what we’re saying this morning: UNCLE.

A powerful guide in all of this is Twelve Step spirituality, which wants to lift us out of our smashed-to-bitness and carry us towards sobriety and sanity. The very first step of the Twelve Steps: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” We just start there. We are not God. We are human. This is one of the core realizations of the spiritual life. I don’t care what your religion is. You would think the truth of this is obvious, that we are human, but the power-crazy monkey with his fist full of nuts is deeply part of us, and we must learn again and again to let go. Again and again, we fail in our attempt to be like God, and that’s how we learn we are human.

But powerlessness over alcohol—or powerlessness over the alcoholic in your life, or the intrusive thoughts you manage through obsessive-compulsiveness, or the unbearable imaginary fatness you manage through anorexia, or merely the way other people drive—powerlessness over all these things does NOT mean NO POWER AT ALL. It means that you must use the power you do have differently. Not hard power, but soft power. Hard power wants to master the world and create it in one’s own image, but soft power is the power to let go and relax, soft power allows the sea hold you and carry you along in its currents (instead of thrashing about and thus drowning). Says writer Sylvia Boorstein, “I’ve discovered there are only two modes of the heart. We can struggle, or we can surrender. Surrender is a frightening word for some people,” she says, “because it might be interpreted as passivity, or timidity. Surrender means wisely accommodating ourselves to what is beyond our control.”

We must use the power we do have differently. Soft power. Surrender power.

Sometimes it amounts to acknowledging that our body chemistry (or that of a loved one) needs tweaking. Obsessive-compulsive disorder or anorexia are not moral failings. Some of us are just born like that, with genetic dispositions that cause us trouble. Surrender to that. Alongside cognitive therapy you have to take your fluoxetine, your sertraline, your paroxetine, and you learn to tolerate the side effects. You just do. You are not the God of your body. The way your body is is reality, and with your soft power, accept it. Accommodate yourself to it. Be sane. Be sober.

Because our God images are so impactful—God concepts have a way of creating people in their own image–this is yet something else we need to look into with our soft power. I once heard someone say, “I don’t believe in God because I can never forgive Him.” Do you see how complicated this sort of disbelief is, how it presupposes belief in the sort of God who doesn’t let go, who doesn’t take the Sabbath seventh day off, who micromanages everything, who is the control freak’s control freak, who is worse than any controller you’ve ever had to live with in the flesh? Believe in this kind of God, and when evil visits you or the ones you love, oh yes, you will never forgive… But—is this God concept true? Is this the only way of making sense of a Higher Power? Is it?

Use your soft power. Really reflect.

It’s healthy to say uncle when your bone is about to break.

Yesterday I officiated at the memorial service of a lovely person, Louis McGukin. She had been a librarian. She had opened up nothing less than universes to children, through books. So many wonderful stories were told about her.

The story I told had to do with the Christian prayers she began to write when a certain kind of reality intruded on her and no exertion of hard power could control it or stop it. Dementia. What turned out to be a 13-year journey of it. With her soft power, she began to write prayers and pray them, ceaselessly. She would pray:

Father, help me be kind and gentle, starting with myself…

She knew very well what was happening with her. It bothered her. She was trying to make peace with it, cope, self-soothe.

God give me sympathy and sense

and help me keep my courage high.

God give me calm and confidence

and please … a twinkle in my eye.


Fear knocked on the door.

Faith answered.

No one was there….

In this practice of prayer, Lois drew from the spirituality of her father, the Reverend David Weems, a staunch missionary. Dementia can blend past and present together seamlessly. She had never prayed before, but now it was right. It felt like home. It was sweet comfort.

I am not all I should be (she says) or could be, Father.

But I’m working on it.

You will help me, won’t you? Thanks!

Dear Lord, help me live in trust that no matter how confusing the challenges I face today are, you will give me whatever wisdom I need to confront them.

Right there is her faith, her trust: Not so much that God would prevent challenges from happening but that resources for facing those challenges would come her way, would be made available–and whatever our differing theologies happen to be, in this space, right now, we can’t do any better to affirm such hope. Hope that, no matter what, we will be helped to show up to our lives.

“Don’t despair,” says the atheist Alain de Botton: “despair suggests you are in total control and know what is coming. You don’t – surrender to events with hope.”

Death comes to us all. Things we hate happen. Mass shootings. Executions. There were so many tears yesterday, and the tears keep flowing.

But with all the soft power we possess let us pray:

I forgive all the ways in which my life appears to fall short.

I trust that whatever I truly need will find its way into my life.

I am grateful for what I have.

Let us pray:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Let us pray.