Divine Director (part II)

I quoted Joseph Myers yesterday and asked whether we can begin to see God as an organic organiser rather than a master planner, but what’s the problem with seeing God as a master planner anyway? Nothing, directly, but it gets confusing, theologically, when you’re faced with instances in Scripture, such as Abraham at Sodom and Gomorrah, where God seems to change his mind and also when faced with the issue of prayer. If God’s will is going to happen why bother praying? Well, if God is a master planner then prayer begins to be seen as tapping a busy God on the shoulder saying “if you can find it in your heart to change the whole world order so I can have a parking space, that would be nice… but only if it’s in your plan…” What kind of relationship is being posed here? An authority figure demanding you do exactly as you’re told? Not really loving, is it? (Even if the plans are to prosper me and not to harm me!)

The other, more major, issue that arises when seeing God as a master planner comes when you’re faced with the crucified God.

‘What makes God the world Ruler, said Barth, as opposed to all false gods and idols is ‘the very fact that his rule is determined and limited: self-determined and self-limited, but determined and limited none the less’. (Karl Barth, ‘Church Dogmatics II/2’) Knowledge of this self-limitation derives from the cross, for if everything were rigorously determined what could the cross be but a piece of spectacular, though indecent, theatre? On the contrary the ‘necessity’ of the cross, frequently spoken about by New Testament authors, is God’s refusal to overrule human history. If the cross is our guide, God is no determinist.’ (T.J. Gorringe, ‘God’s Theatre’)

What is seen on the cross is God’s power working through human free will. God didn’t pretend to die on the cross. He didn’t hold onto control or power in that situation rather he became weak and died in order that we could know that

‘he refuses to manipulate or control but rather wishes to woo creation to conformity with his son, as Hosea suggests.’ (Gorringe, ‘God’s Theatre’)

Yesterday I mentioned an experience Peter Brook had while directing Love’s Labour’s Lost for the RSC. Brook told of his frustration when, early on in rehearsals, actors did not perform in the expected way. I will just write Gorringe’s reflections rather than rephrase,

‘This story is a marvellous parable of God’s activity. If we do in fact learn about God, and the mode of God’s activity from Christ then it should be clear that God rejected the prompt book option from the very beginning, and has been from the start ‘in amongst the actors’. God works without script and without plan but with, to continue the metaphor, a profound understanding of theatre and the profoundest understanding of the play…Interestingly Brook remarked early on in rehearsal that there was a particular rhythm to be found and a particular actor to find it, and this demanded ‘an almost metaphysical explanation’. (David Selbourne, ‘Making of Midsummer Night’s Dream’)All the director can do is illuminate the play and demand that the actors find their own inner resources. Often Brook simply sat in front of the stage drumming out a rhythm. Something like this is what God demands of us… Against this analogy it might be objected that it conceives God as simply one agent amongst many, just as Selbourne sometimes wondered whether Brook was one actor amongst many. This would reduce God to the status of a finite being. The giveaway here is the ‘simply’. God is indeed one agent amongst many, but he is the only unique agent, just as there is only one ‘director’. ‘God’ is the Creator and Sustainer, present in the personal reality of his graciousness to all things, and interacting with, and reacting to all things.’

People often ask me, “What makes a good director?” Well the answer, for me, is someone who is willing to guide rather than dictate. Actors are creative beings and are at their most powerful when they are using their creativity. To stifle the creative is to stop them from ‘existing’ onstage. A director’s role is to encourage actors to make right decisions and to enable them to react to impulses onstage. When I’m directing I spend more time equipping actors with tools and practical guidelines as to how to react than I do telling them how exactly to walk, stand and speak. This way of directing, at times, is frustrating for the perfectionist inside me, but in the end it’s the moments when the actors come alive onstage that makes me excited about theatre. Peter Brook, as always, says it best,

‘I think one must split the word “direct” down the middle. Half of directing is, of course, being a director, which means taking charge, making decisions, saying “yes” and saying “no,” having the final say. The other half of directing is maintaining the right direction. Here, the director becomes guide, he’s at the helm, he has to have studied the maps and he has to know whether he’s heading north or south. He searches all the time, but not haphazardly. He doesn’t search for the sake of searching, but for a purpose; a man looking for gold may ask a thousand questions, but they all lead back to gold; a doctor looking for a vaccine may make endless and varied experiments, but always toward curing one disease and not another. If this sense of direction is there, everyone can play the part as fully and creatively as he is able. The director can listen to the others, yield to their suggestions, learn from them, radically modify and transform his own ideas, he can constantly change course, he can unexpectedly veer one way or another, yet the collective energies still serve a single aim. This enables the director to say “yes” and “no” and the others willingly to assent.’ (The Shifting Point)

The same is true of Christian leaders. We may know the vision or see how things could be, but we must act in the way God would act and rather encourage collaboration rather than cooperation. We must tap out a rhythm and help the actors to find and discover the role they are playing and, most importantly, we must be ready and excited about being surprised by the new and fresh things the actor unearths.

In my placement, this year, I will have the joy and pleasure to work with creative individuals and watch them create and communicate stories and truths. I have discovered a way in which my passion and love of directing is truly godly and a spiritual exercise, for as I work ‘in amongst the actors’ I find God is there to.


  1. Hmm, this all sounds “Christian Leadership” stuff! I loathe acting faith; there are times when I notice that I am using religious words or body language, sometimes in front of others, and have to turn it off to be real. Even turning it off and being “real” can be an act. Who will rescue me from this body of sin and death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Some other thoughts: 1) I am a temple of the Holy Spirit, so God lives inside, not just directs from the outside. 2) In some respects, this temple (edifice) is built by me (e.g. 1 Cor 14:4a) 3) “Ye are gods” God is not the only supernatural being around; here I get a little lost, but clearly the natural order is deterministic with chance thrown in (uncertainty prevails at the lowest level – just consider your memory stick – a quantum effect used to store information!!!). But it is untenable to conclude that our power to decide is limited to natural laws, and random chance (apart from anything else, that would make us truly not responsible for anything), so we follow the line of C.S.Lewis (Miracles) and conclude that our power of decision is supernatural (just a thought, is there anything corresponding to the laws of nature in the supernatural domain). 4) Just as a human pilot can take control of an Unmanned Air Vehicle, and fly it like a model aeroplane, or leave it in autonomous mode, so God can take possession of a person (or animal) and determine their behaviour, e.g. Saul in the OT, Balaam’s Ass, but it seems he does not do it often – it seems to violate his own creation. All the NT instances I can think of people filled with the Spirit, it seems they invite Him in.

    1. Thanks for the comment John,

      You’re absolutely right about God being within us and not outside and also about God taking charge of human agents. Brook goes on to comment about the times when a director must become more directive in his role,

      ‘The director must look for where the actor is messing up his own right urges – and here he must help the actor to see and overcome his own obstacles. All this is a dialogue and a dance between director and player. A dance is an accurate metaphor, a waltz between director, player and text. Progression is circular, and deciding who’s the leader depends on where you stand. The director will find that all the time new means are needed… he will follow the natural principle of rotation of crops: he will see the explanation, logic, improvisation, inspiration are methods that rapidly run dry and he will move from one to the other.’

      As human’s we use our free wills to build our temples and follow urges and take control but as Christians we invite the Holy Spirit to come on board and to lead our dance. Leading the dance is not controlling the dance or stopping us participating and being creative but rather carrying us when we’re lost or tired. It is at these times that God steps in and helps us ‘to see and overcome our own obstacles.’

      Acting faith or not acting faith is an interesting question. Who can say when we’re ‘acting’ faith or truly living faith, we hope its living faith but I guess it depends on where you’re standing. You may be living true faith but a spectator may believe that you are ‘acting’. An actor has the same issue; am i ‘acting’ the role or ‘being’ the character. They can act a role so often that they become the character. Is this what becoming a Christian is like? I will act like a Christian and then I will become a Christian? I would like to say “no” but in experience there are times when I’ve lost all sense of God and actually the ritual and/or routine, like reading Scripture, enables me to return to ‘living’ faith.

      May we all continue to wrestle with God!

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