One of the greatest joys in the lives of my two dogs is when we go for a walk. If my wife or I even whisper the words “walk” or “leash” in their hearing, both my dogs go into spastic fits that are truly a sight to behold. Jack, the larger mutt, immediately jumps up on the sofa, sticks out his neck (so I can attach his choker collar and leash), and wiggles with his paws flailing in the air. The smaller pug-a-poo, Lippy, spins in circles and makes high-pitched yipping noises that increase in frequency and intensity until I outfit her with her walking apparel. Normally, the dogs are “fenced in” our yard with an electrified underground wire that activates warning beeps then light shocks in their collars if they attempt to cross the boundaries. The dogs know, however, when wearing their leashed choker collars, it is safe to leave the yard under our guidance.
Without carrying the analogy too far, the picture of a dog on a leash is representative of the way God leads us in our lives. I will acknowledge the theological tension between the views of “free will” Armenians and “predestination” Calvanists while exploring the choices we make in life under God’s loving and watchful eye. My leanings are definitely toward the sovereignty of God…His will trumps everything! God does whatever He wants whenever He wants with whomever He wants. Yet we are creatures who have a will, and we make choices that sometimes please our Maker and, at other times, result in chastisement distributed from the hand of our loving Father in heaven.
Back to walking my dogs. As we set off, I have in mind where I want to go and how fast I want to walk. I allow my dogs a certain length of leash, and (in Lippy’s case) she typically pulls forward until she feels its tug on her neck. Depending on the length I allow, she explores the terrain, sniffing here, tinkling there, all the while thinking she has amazing liberty as we move forward. At times Lippy wants to stop and linger as she takes in a particularly intriguing smell. I may allow her all the time she wants, or I may give the leash a tug urging her forward. Lippy is enjoying our walk, but my will reigns supreme.
More than any other creature, cats cause Lippy a high degree of irritation when they cross our path. If I permitted Lippy to go her own way she would chase any and all cats as far as her dog limitations would allow. I usually override her will and drag her along as she is growling and barking at these innocent looking creatures. But, just to teach her a lesson, at times I have allowed Lippy (while still on the leash) to run right up to a cat so that the cat will take a clawed swipe at her nose. My theory is that Lippy will learn her anger at cats is not worth the pain and trouble, and in future walks she will ignore them as she recalls the pain and embarrassment caused by those sharp claws. So far Lippy has been a slow learner.
I think God leads us in similar ways. He has the overriding plan and will regarding our lives, but He allows us to make choices at the end of His leash. We feel like we have a lot of liberty, and we enjoy the experiences we have as we walk through life with Him. His love controls us (2 Corinthians 5:14) not allowing us to experience any testing beyond what we can handle. He may allow pain, many times as a result of our own bad choices, so that we can learn from it and be more fruitful in the end.
To close, read the words of the 23rd Psalm as you reflect on God’s good shepherding in your life:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
Psalm 23 (ESV)
(To explore further the tension between God’s will and our liberty as Christian believers, listen to this two part teaching series.)