Chapter 1: Is God ‘under-involved’ in the World?

In Chapter 1 we examine the issue of whether God is less involved in the world than we might wish. Does the gift of free will mean that he himself is more restrained? In what way can we expect God to respond powerfully to prayer? Four specific questions are considered: Can God protect me and my loved ones? Is prayer just about God changing me? Should I seek to be the answer to my own prayers? And, does God know my future?

Sermon accompanying chapter 1

Preached by Chris Band at Headington Baptist Church, Oxford on 23rd October 2011.
Download the study guide.

Questions

Please be aware that this chapter touches on a number of philosophical and theological issues. There is less engagement here with biblical texts which might be a legitimate concern for some group contexts
  1. Ask the group what they would change in the world if God placed all his power at their disposal. In the light of their answers, does God himself appear to be somewhat ‘under-involved’? Are the group able to offer any explanation as to why he appears to act less than they might wish?
  2. Does scripture provide us with any examples of God forcibly changing someone’s mind? [pp.21-22]
  3. Would you describe free will as a ‘risky’ gift? Is it worth the risk in your opinion? [pp.22-23] Does the gift of free will somehow prohibit God from acting in the world himself? [pp.23-24]
  4. Can God protect me and my loved ones? Ask two of the group members to alternately read David’s experiences in Psalm 23 and Psalms 6 & 13 [see the excerpt on pp26-27]. Has God guaranteed his children unceasing physical protection? [pp.27-28]
  5. Can God protect me and my loved ones? When God protects us from the evil actions of others, is he, by definition, reneging on his gift of free will to them? [pp.28-29]
  6. Is prayer just about God changing me? Read the quotations by Maurice Wiles and Philip Yancey. [pp.29-30] How do the group respond to these sentiments?
  7. Is prayer just about God changing me? Have any within the group, perhaps disappointed by a seeming lack of divine action in the world, come to regard prayer as more about God changing them? [pp.30-31] Is this approach to prayer ultimately satisfying?
  8. Perhaps I have to be the answer to my own prayers? Discuss the Benedictine maxim ora et labora, ‘pray and work’. [p.32] How well in our discipleship do we balance the need both for action and prayer? Are we more confident in our own action than God’s? Is Karl Barth correct in stating that prayer is the most effective form of Christian action, and if so, why? [p.33]
  9. Do I believe that God knows my future? Do the group find the idea of God knowing their future reassuring or unsettling, and in either case, for what reasons? Does the fact that God knows our future mean that he has already, in some sense, predetermined what we will do? [p.35]
  10. Revisit the exercise from question 1. Has the overall discussion cast any light on why God appears to be less involved in the world than we might initially anticipate?