Is God Submissive to People?
Once when I was teaching, I made an offhand comment like the above and received puzzled looks. When quizzed, I replied something like this: “I believe God is submissive as evidenced by our having free will. The discipline of submission – not having my own way – is vastly undervalued in American culture, but I think God practices it.” I realize that most people object to this idea that strikes me as true. When the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt but not ready to cast off their slavery attitudes, they needed forty years to wander before they were ready for the high adventure of building a new world for themselves. God submitted. We might allow that Jesus submitted to God, but to other people?
Most of us dislike interruptions, but Jesus submitted over and over to spontaneous requests that he heal someone. While teaching in a synagogue, a loud, screaming possessed man asked for help. Instead of scheduling an appointment afterward, Jesus freed him from his suffering then and there (Mark 1:21-28).
Lepers counted on Jesus to submit to their need. Most Jewish teachers threw stones at lepers but not Jesus. Apparently lepers saw this because one came to Jesus with his face to the ground, submissively saying, “Please, Lord, if you are willing, make me clean.” Jesus didn’t say, “I will not submit.” He didn’t even put on gloves or cover his hands with fig leaves, but stretched out his bare hands and touched the man to heal him.
Many of Jesus’ teaching sessions were interrupted. One time, four men dismantled the roof over Jesus’ head while he taught (Mt 9:1-8; Mk 2:1-12). Jesus didn’t scold them, but submitted to their request. Perhaps the most dramatic instance is how he stood listening to a woman who had been ill for 12 years (imagine that—where were you in 2004?) tell her “whole truth” about her disease (Mark 5:25-34). He submitted to this even though he and the crowd were rushing off to heal a little girl. Listening perhaps the greatest form of submission; it is minute-by-minute submission. God listens to me every day throughout the day.
In today’s culture, submission is usually considered weakness, but it’s actually a trait of generosity. It’s a way of saying, OK, I don’t have to do everything my way, Being submissive doesn’t mean that I am bullied but that I am strong enough to give in when appropriate while still being strong enough to speak the truth with love, patience and kindness.
To submit doesn’t mean the other person deserves to have their way. We “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21 NLT), not out of reverence for each other. Jesus tells us that his presence lives in those who are hungry, thirsty and locked away in prison and hospices. Every time we “welcome a stranger” – someone who is not like me – I am submitting to Jesus (Matthew 25:31-40)
To submit doesn’t even mean the other person is right. As an apostle, Paul could have ordered Philemon to free his slave Onesimus so that Onesimus could help him, but instead he simply asked Philemon with respect and grace and simply to do so.
My own learning curve in submission began with writing the Bible study, Community & Submission, now in Spiritual Disciplines Companion. I saw how central submission was to community (which so many people say they’re looking for). It was then I began practicing a goofy exercise that I now have people do in the Abundant Simplicity retreat: stand up, grin, and patiently, slowly say, “I would be happy to wait.” People laugh immediately afterward because it’s so unusual to be that patient and kind. But that’s what’s cool about being alive in the Kingdom of God. God’s commands (to be submissive) are not burdensome (1 Jn 5:3). We develop a free and easy, unhesitating love for Jesus that makes obeying God’s commands the the very best way to live, the way to be truly well-off.
COMING SOON: Free online workshop on lectio divina, with instruction and an exercise. Followed by online course. Stay tuned!
Grace and peace,
© Jan Johnson – For permission to reprint, Click Here