Many people are grappling with crippling anxiety or debilitating fear, either generalized or about something specific, and there is a lot to be afraid of, to be sure. Anxiety is an awful, ravaging monster that can paralyze us, rob us of sleep and sap us of peace. It is a real and active force that deserves a real and active response… “let go and let God” (or any similar phrase) does not, in my opinion, qualify.
First, it’s unrealistic. If a person suffering from worry could “let go,” they certainly would have by now – anxiety is about the last thing I would imagine anyone wants to feel. Jesus’ admonishment not to worry in Matthew 6 is a familiar one: you cannot add one minute to your life by worrying (Matthew 6:27). Probably, the stress of worry can subtract from your life, or at least the quality of it. And yet, worry, anxiety and fear persist. Telling someone something they already know can be helpful in certain instances; giving the advice to “let go” often isn’t. Yes, God is ultimately in charge. God will ultimately put the world to rights in ways that we couldn’t do even if we wanted to. But pithy sayings about God’s sovereignty and God’s big plan for each of us don’t always speak to the restlessness and anxiety of having to live in a world that is still longing for healing.
Second, saying things like “let go and let God” can degenerate into apathy in the name of God. The saying is a tribute to God’s sovereignty but it simultaneously denies human agency and responsibility. N.T. Wright, leading New Testament scholar discusses humanity’s role in creation a bit in a recent interview about his controversial new book. Saint Paul, charged us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). Now, this isn’t Paul advocating for anxious legalism or frenzied faith but for an empowered sense of reverence for the Lord. “Fear and trembling” is probably a colloquial saying that really means something like “power, awe and responsibility.” (For a longer treatment of this phrase, Gary Amirault’s offering is helpful.) This is not to say that we earn our salvation, but that we are to work out the salvation we have been given through the unmerited grace of God with power (from living indwelled by the Holy Spirit), awe (reverence, worship, gratitude) and responsibility.
When we say things like “let go and let God,” we are missing a very important part of discipleship and spirituality. To grow in Christ, we are called into close intimacy with God as God works to heal and right God’s broken creation. I think it is a sort of participation in the grace and work of God in God’s creation. Dr. Wall, professor at SPU, calls it a “participatory providence” in his brilliant lecture on Revelation 13. This idea suggests that, while we are to trust God’s love for us, we are not called to sit back and let God do all the work. “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus says, “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…” (John 14:12).
Not on our own, of course. The One Jesus promises four verses later (John 14:16) is to be our Helper, our Power and our Comfort (Acts 9:31). Ultimately, this is about much more than God begrudgingly helping poor, limping humanity along. It is that “God refuses to be God without us.” This is what the Incarnation means. It is not that God could not be God without us; it is that God freely chooses to bind God’s self to the humanity created in God’s own image, not just for the outworking of its salvation, but for the salvation and reconciliation of the whole world (2 Cor. 5:19).
It takes immense strength and courage to work out one’s salvation, to participate in reconciliation and to be a part of the renewal God has promised even now (Rev. 21:5: “I am making all things new”), before the end of the age. But God promises help. God even longs to help: “the eyes of the Lord range throughout the entire earth, to strengthen those whose heart is true to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). So to me, it seems like “letting God” involves precisely not letting go.