Giving God Permission?

By Paula Marolewski, November 23, 2009 10:10 am

Yesterday, while talking with a friend, she commented that her pastor had used the following phrase in prayer:

“Lord, we give you permission …”

She inquired what I thought of the phrase, because, she said, it made her very uncomfortable.

I thought about this quite a bit, and I would like to offer the following for consideration:

First, I suspect that what is meant by the phrase is the following (greatly expanded): “Lord, we recognize that we have free will. And because of our free will, we can quench your Spirit from working in our lives. We don’t want to do that. We want you to act and move in our lives as you desire. We therefore choose, with our free will, to cooperate with your Spirit, rather than to frustrate your Spirit.”

If that is the intention of such a prayer, there is certainly no theological issue with it. However, there may be a semantic issue with it.

The semantic issue is what my friend was responding to when she said the phrase “we give you permission” made her uncomfortable. And it is this: the term “permission” carries with it certain connotations. Namely, “permission” often indicates hierarchy:

  • A parent gives permission to a child.
  • A teacher gives permission to a student.
  • An employer gives permission to an employee.

If the listener brings that connotation to bear on the phrase, then there is a disconnect: the phrase can be construed by the listener to mean that we (humans) are in a hierarchical position above God. We give him permission because we’re on top of the heap.

Now, if the phrase is taken with that connotation, there is a theological problem, because humans are most emphatically not above God – not even when there is a question of free will. God is sovereign, period.

The conclusion? Simply this: when you are speaking, particularly in a public situation, be aware of what connotations your listeners may bring to the words you speak. Be on the lookout for situations, like the above, where what you say may be misconstrued. If possible, re-phrase to avoid problematical interpretations. 

How might we re-phrase the above to avoid this possible misunderstanding? Perhaps this way:

“Lord, we earnestly ask you to …”

After all, we wouldn’t be asking God to do something we didn’t want him to do and that we weren’t willing to cooperate with him on. And this phrase puts us clearly in the appropriate position as supplicants before the throne of God. 

Certainly, we can’t be 100% sure that 100% of the people who hear us will understand what we are saying – and what we intend to say – with 100% accuracy. That would be impossible. Just be alert, be aware, and be careful. Do your best.


© 2009 Paula Marolewski,

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