I was listening to a sports radion station on the way to the office this morning and some unease about the phrase, “It is what it is,” finally jelled. I went to an on-line dictionary for the phrase and here’s what it said: “A phrase that seems to simply state the obvious but actually implies helplessness.” “It is what it is” is the new “Whatever” in our society, so no wonder our culture is in a funk .
Some of the funk is due to, I daresay, an embedded Calvinism that is fatalistic at heart: “It was meant to be,” “What goes around comes around,” “There’s a reason for everything,” and the scary one, “It’s God’s will.” Now, I admit I think God does have a will, but I know that there’s a big difference between God’s permissive will and direct will. I know that God knows everything that happens but I cannot believe that God causes everything that happens. That’s a huge difference. An “It is what it is” philosophy or theology is a set-up for expecting the worst. It doesn’t leave any room for redemption or corrective action. It doesn’t even leave much room for prayer because everything is “It is what it is.”
Why pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” or “Lead us not into temptation,” unless we think God can actually change the course of human history. I would rather say “It could be better” or “Things aren’t what they ought to be” rather than “It is what it is.” Praying and adding action to our prayers puts us on the offensive when life’s junk comes our way. As United Methodists we are a theologically optimistic bunch. We believe God loves the whole creation enough through prevenient grace to allow us to cooperate with God in making a new creation through Christ. We’re not passive fence-sitters with our heads in our hands futilely accepting our plight. Process theology leads us to an understanding of God’s providence that does what it says: God provides!
I Corinthians 10:13 comes to mind: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” There are plenty of other passages that also affirm to me that what God does best is not heap junk on our lives but helps us get through it. I Peter 5:6-11 is one when it says “…Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you…and the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” Another strong reminder of the real source of suffering and blessing is from James 1:16-17, “Don’t be deceived, my dear friends. Every GOOD and PERFECT gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
So when I think about Narcie’s tumor, my diabetes, and the tragedies I have seen or the economic disaster that has wrecked many a family – I am not going to say “It is what it is,” fold up my tent and give up. I’m going to pray to a God who gives good and perfect gifts, that delivers us from death and the grave through Jesus. God provides a way out of every grave situation. Instead of holding my face in my hands like “What will be, will be” and “It is what it is” implies, I’m going to open my eyes and see what God’s escape plan is. I’m going to participate in life’s solutions and not resign myself to a depressing done-deal fatalistic outcome. God is ever moving through us and history to work his good purpose. I can either get with it or give in. I refuse to give in. I’m going to do my best today not to say, “It is what it is.” There’s very little or no faith in that statement. Here goes, “It could be better!” That speaks to me and says “God and you can change this situation for the better!” Go for it! “Things aren’t what they ought to be!”