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If You Could Change One Thing…

This morning, as my son and I shivered together in my frozen little Jetta on the way to morning basketball practice, he asked me the following question: “Dad, if you could change anything about the world, what would it be?

The question was a bit of a surprise, and caught me off guard. For starters, my son isn’t the most loquacious at the best of times, never mind early in the morning. In addition, I was still grudgingly coming to terms with the day after a late night hockey game the previous evening and a night that had seen very little sleep. At this point in the morning, deep questions about the nature of the universe were not uppermost in my mind. I was more concerned with making sure that we both had two shoes on our feet, that my son had a lunch, and that the coffee currently brewing would be ready upon my return.

I mumbled something about eliminating all war or something like that. “What about you?” I asked. “Yeah, I would do the same thing. To be honest, I think my answer prejudiced his response. I suspect he was thinking something like, “I wish that all school desks came equipped with stun guns and force fields” but realized that this didn’t sound very virtuous compared to his dad’s exemplary (and entirely predictable) answer. “World peace sounds good,” he said. “And I would also make it so that it would be impossible to lay awake at night and that everyone would fall asleep instantly.” My son, my son… I could not possibly agree with you more.

It’s an intriguing question, isn’t it? “If you could change one thing…” Only one. Given recent conversations around here about John Piper, Mark Driscoll, patriarchy, etc, my thoughts turned to applying my son’s “thought experiment” to the Christian story. If you could change one thing—just one—about how Christianity has been understood or practiced, or about how God has chosen to act in the world, what would it be? Would you change a doctrine? An event? A book? A divine trait? One thing. It’s a bit of a silly exercise, I know, and one which seems incapable of producing anything remotely fruitful, but when have such pragmatic concerns ever stopped me here on this blog in the past?

For me, I was initially drawn right back to the patriarchy question. It seemed like it ought to be pretty high on my list. If I could change on thing, perhaps it would be something that would have prevented patriarchy from ever gaining a hold or coming to dominate certain expressions of Christian faith and practice. But then I remembered my friend Dave’s words (not to mention the post from Krish Kandiah I linked to yesterday) about how to complain about the Bible being patriarchal in nature is structurally identical to complaining that it is cultural in nature. Given how God has chosen to work—given that he has chosen to enter history—the story of salvation is going to have some cultural trappings. And while these cultural trappings are always going to be evaluated (often negatively) based on the cultural trappings of other times and places, I don’t think I’m willing to forfeit a God who enters history in my thought experiment.

So, I think if I could change one thing about the Christian story, it would be the extent of our author’s patience and his willingness to relinquish control. I wish God did not allow human beings so much time and freedom to mess things up. I wish our world did not have to witness such immense suffering—right now and throughout history—due to human sin and ignorance and mistrust and selfishness. I guess, in a way, I kinda wish God thought less of us—that he would take hold of the wheel and steer our own stories and our big story in more direct ways. I wish he would override us more often—that he wasn’t so determined to honour the choices that we make.

That’s the one thing I would change. At least today. Feel free to play along (or not).

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    A very interesting question. If we answer it honestly, I suspect it reveals much about ourselves. It is worth pondering for a while.

    Speaking ecologically, I wish that God had not promised to the make the descendants of Abraham as numerous as the stars. I am really thinking of humanity here, rather than literally the descendants of Abraham. The planet cannot survive with so many of us. Surely, God would not have promised that if he had read Darwin first.

    February 7, 2012
  2. James #

    Interesting indeed!! Did your son come up with sleep wish? That’s a good one.
    Mine would be pragmatic as well. If humanity had never discovered the joys of alcohol and general intoxication, we would have been spared more death, destruction and abuse than all of the wars combined- by orders of magnitude.

    February 7, 2012
    • Larry S #

      James, we’d just be smoking grass
      oooppps lots of people are doing that already!

      – do away with one addictive substance – we’d just go hard at another.

      – I thought about Ryan’s question and decided that I’m too scared to think of an answer. I’d screw things up worse than they are already.

      February 7, 2012
  3. Paul Johnston #

    …”Have you come here for forgiveness”…. 🙂

    I wish our faith did a better job helping us understand the infinite totality of God’s forgiving grace; His relentless loving, forgiving persuit of us. He forgives me, He forgives you, He forgives them.

    I remain determinedly optimistic about people. People at peace with themselves, offer peace. People in love with themselves, love others. Forgiven people, forgive others.

    The limitless bounty of God’s forgiving grace is the foundation upon which all true human repentance and reform occur.

    His gift of forgiving grace and our acceptance of the gift shall make us perfect as He is perfect.

    February 7, 2012
  4. A cure for cancer tops my list.

    February 7, 2012
  5. Kara #

    I think my one wish would be that we had the ultimate conviction of God’s love for us – could you imagine a world where Christians acted out of that heartfelt conviction? The times when I have been in that place (in a spiritual high kind of a way)…well, I think I could and would do anything He asked, and do so out of a place of absolute love for the place and people He created. Hmm. My food for thought for the day – why is it I (and others I have talked to) don’t rest in that place? Hmm indeed. Thanks Ryan – I will be spending some time wrestling that one through!!

    February 7, 2012
  6. Ernie #

    I wished we could shorten up the Old Testament. It’s real life stories are fine but with pages and pages of violence, wars, deceitful sex, power and control, etc.etc., one could think this is accepted behaviour.
    I believe it would be more constructive and a whole lot simpler if we could learn to dump the rules and follow a “Christattitude” instead

    February 7, 2012
  7. My initial thought was get rid of all the diversity in interpretation and practice. But then I realized, in many ways, I like Christianity’s diversity. It expresses the “God in history” you mention and which I explain in my own post on masculinity. Instead, I’d get rid of the violence that results from our diversity. This phrase comes to mind (which I just happened read again this morning): “Let the Christians of the world agree that they will not kill each other.”

    February 7, 2012
  8. Thanks everyone! A very interesting mix of responses… Some would alter the structure of reality, others would alter our capacities for living well the way things are, while still others would be somewhere in between.

    If living the gospel is, as someone smart whose name I can’t remember right now has said, “allowing the future to break into the present,” then I suppose we need a bit of all three options. Pragmatism for the present, imagination for the future, and creativity, insight, and a whole lot more, no doubt, for figuring out how to bring the two together.

    February 7, 2012

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