Several months ago while driving to another city, I asked my accompanying friend what surrendering to God means. The road was long, I was tired, so I thought that would be a good topic for a light theological discussion. But to my surprise, my professor friend (whose specialty has nothing to do with theology or religion) had a completely different view on surrendering to God. At first, I thought his faith would somehow inform his view on the topic, but as we discussed the matter, it became increasingly clear that surrendering to God may mean wildly different things to different people, and even for those who agree with what it means, the concept does not provide much clarity. After an agreement on the definition come the more down-to-earth issues which, if you take seriously and apply to your life, can be quite serious.
For example, what does it mean to surrender your attempts to buy a home to God? Does it mean you do nothing, expecting somehow someone will pop up in your life and offer to sell you his mansion for cheap? Or does it mean you go out of your way turning every stone because you submitted yourself to the duty that God laid upon you, namely, searching for a home to buy? Or do you combine both paths?
What really surprised me was the example my friend gave in his first attempt to separate surrendering to God from other activities. He said he couldn’t take his hands off the steering wheel, simply assuming that if he surrenders driving to God, who would intervene and drive on behalf of him?This example struck me as misleading because it comes from a misunderstanding. Does God really expect us to lay down our most common sense obligations or activities from which our life depends on simply because we want to surrender ourselves to him? But my friend’s example hints at another question that had to be discussed if you consider seriously surrendering yourself to God: how far can we give ourselves to God and in what particular activities? Is surrendering to God just a generic principle that has nothing to do with our concrete daily activities? Or is it a working principle that is embodied in concrete actions, and if so, how do we know what and how to surrender to God? Moreover, what does it mean to surrender to a God who is already in control and who holds our life and death in his hands? I mean principally, God already guides us through his Spirit and we follow his lead, so in that context what else is left to surrender?
I can ask more and more questions like that for which no one will ever offer you a once-and-for-all kind of answer — they simply don’t exist due to the nature of God-human relations.
But let me go back to why I asked that question. For the last few months, I have noticed a strong pattern in several spirituality books that I have read, and those readings, coupled with my life circumstances, led to my questioning my own attitudes. Books like Imitatio Christi, The Cloud of the Unknowing, and The Sacrament of the Present Time in one way or another all speak about the importance of surrendering everything into God’s hands. Surrender is also a big deal in Islamic theology. In fact, it is the central theme of that faith. The Bible too shows a consistent pattern of humans’ surrendering to God and then wrestling with God to gain control. But that brings about another question: can we actually choose and succeed to not surrender or take back from God what we offered to the Lord?
Anyway, I wanted to ask those questions just to let you know how intellectually challenging this topic is. Here I will reflect on surrendering or submitting ourselves to God and how to continually struggle with surrendering ourselves. But let’s start with a few examples from the scripture without necessarily generating any grand theories. The only theoretical-technical thing I would disclaim is that I never supported theological incompatibilism, a doctrine that says God’s will and human will exclude each other and if God determines xyz, then human will has nothing to do with that process. I tend to agree with theological compatibilism, which says God’s will and human will can coexist and dynamically work together without one excluding the other.
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