I have come to think that life is what you make it! There are no built in assurances that one's life will be happy, or successful, nor is one's life fated to be filled with unhappiness or end in disaster. When one is born, life is as full of possibilities, as one's historical circumstances allow, and one's capabilities permit. I did not always think of life as my own creation, however. The fresh air of philosophical secularism rarely penetrated into the suffocating religious atmosphere of the Mississippi Delta, where I spent my youth. I was taught that God had a plan for every life, which (if one could find it) would lead to success, but only as God counts success. That is to say, one's life may not appear successful as the secular world counts success, but God would regard it so. And one could count on God helping one achieve success in life (as God valued success), provided one resisted the wiles of Satan, God's arch enemy.
What is surprising is that this narrative I was taught by the church is not part of the views of some writers in the Bible. For example, consider the case of Judas Iscariot, who appears to have been destined for infamy from the beginning. Luke even describes Judas' traitorous act as being prophesied in Scripture (Acts 1:16; Ps 41:9), meaning that Judas' life became not what he made it but what God had forced upon him. The evidence is mixed for Judas, however; John describes Judas' betrayal of Jesus as caused by demon possession (John 6:70-71; 13:2), while Matthew describes the betrayal as inspired by Judas' greed (Matt 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11). A classic Old Testament example of God's interfering in our lives to work his inscrutable ways is the account of King Saul's clinical melancholia. It was caused by an evil spirit sent from God (1 Samuel 16:14-23), after the departure of God's (holy) spirit (1 Sam 16:14). Neither man had much of a chance for success in life; their lives failed because of invisible powers over which they had no control.
Is it true that invisible supernatural powers are at work on all of us (Eph 6:12) to our detriment or benefit and that we have no control over them, and we become what we are as a result of what they impose on our lives? It calls to mind comedian Flip Wilson's immortal line—"the devil made me do it!" It is true, however, that certain historical circumstances beyond our control do influence the outcomes of our lives (for example, economic, political, social, etc.). But these are neither invisible nor supernatural. Thinking that supernatural powers are at work in the world is a matter of personal belief; it is not objective reality. Naturally if one believes such things, one thereby creates an objective reality and it is that belief that influences one's life, rather than the putative supernatural power. This idea works as well for those who do not think that life is influenced by supernatural powers, for their non-belief becomes the objective reality that sets them free to make what they will of life.
Some biblical writers seem to think that God interferes in our lives in the sense that some are predestined to greatness and others to failure by God electing or choosing them for the fate that they come to realize in their lives (For example, Isa 42:1; 45:4; 65:9; Mark 13:20, 27; 1 Pet 1:2; Rom 11:5; Deut 7:6; 1 Kings 11:34; Ps 78:70-71). The clearest passage of which I am aware (perhaps the only one) where God swears "hands off" interfering in people's lives are the surprising statements attributed to Paul in Romans 1:18-32, where God "gave up" certain people to what Paul calls their impurity, dishonorable passions, and base minds. With this exception the biblical view seems to be that God interferes in all our lives. But secular belief can trump biblical faith in the sense that we create our own realities.
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University