The Bible is full of principles we should align with and live by. Sowing and Reaping is a principle that teaches us the power of our choices to determine our outcomes. Serving and humility are the way to authority and influence. Asking leads to receiving. Seeking leads to finding. Obedience brings blessing. Our words determine our direction. Praise and thanksgiving lead to divine encounters. If we lay hands on the sick, they will recover.
Of course, these principles are all biblical and true. Wisdom nudges us to align with them, even to leverage them according to God’s purposes in our lives.
But principles are not formulas. They are not meant to be. When we approach principles as if they’re formulas, we set ourselves up for all manner of confusion and frustration. If we’re not careful, we can position ourselves for disappointment, offense and even bitterness toward God.
Formulas work great for matters of math. Numbers are what numbers are and numbers do what numbers do. The sum of two and two is four. Everyday. Regardless of context. The Pythagorean Theorem always describes the relationship of two sides of a triangle to the third (hypotenuse) side. Always. It’s a formula. Formulas work great for issues of matter and energy in the material universe (though there seems to be a mysterious exception when things are very very small). Things will do what things will do in certain situations. This is observable and repeatable. It is formulaic.
But biblical principles do not work like that. God is not a thing. God has not made us as things. We are persons. We are free agents within His sovereign boundaries. When we take biblical principles and treat them like formulas, we move beyond the realm of faith into the realm of sorcery. Wizardry and witchcraft are the attempt to discover and use spells (spiritual formulas) to control persons and to harness and leverage spiritual power apart from right relationship with and connection with the person of God.
If we approach God in this way, a consistent response on His part would only serve to reinforce our unhealthy approach. A huge part of maturity involves growing past such magical thinking, embracing the dynamics of real relationship, and embracing the mystery that always accompanies intimacy. The principles are real and good and meaningful and powerful. It would be foolishness to fail to align our lives with them. But they are not formulas. They are not magic spells that guarantee outcomes, eliminate risk from our lives and relationships, and secure us against loss and pain.
A true and healthy spirituality will not demand such guarantees. Formulaic thinking seeks to eliminate the need for trust. Trust is an essential component of personal relationships. Formulaic thinking seeks to eliminate mystery. A faith without mystery can never be faith in the true and living God. Formulaic thinking seeks to establish control. Faith works through surrender.