Most of reality is in the middle of things. By that, I mean you are called to keep both sides of the question in mind and balance two seemingly opposing statements that are both true and need to be kept in a kind of creative tension. A lot of our Catholic dogma is like that: Three persons in One God (Trinity), the Incarnation in Jesus (both human and divine), Mary is both Virgin and Mother. Heresies have come about when a group of people decide to take one or the other poles as the only truth. Hence, Jesus is just a man (Arianism) or a God playing at being a human being (Docetism). Both realities are true and, even though they seem to contradict one another, they still need to be affirmed in what Nicholas of Cusa calls, “going beyond the coincidence of paradox”.
This is true even of the most basic questions of human reasoning and belief. One of the issues that any believer has to confront is when is it my responsibility to do something in the spiritual or moral life and when do I leave it up to God. In other words: do I have a responsibility to act, or will it be putting all in the hands of God that will be the best path.
Like in many things, the Church has had to face this question because of single minded heretics that did not subscribe to the central proposal of this essay: it is not either/or, but both/and that the true road is found.
The heresy that developed on the side of “taking everything on myself and that I am able by my own powers to run my life and build my future” was the heresy called Pelagianism after the priest named Pelagius who was its chief proponent. He basically said that we can do everything ourselves and that we do not need the grace (intervention) of God to accomplish good in our lives and to construct our own salvation. This was vigorously refuted by St. Augustine who said that we need the grace of God for salvation.
The opposite heresy emerged later in the history of the Church and has been called “Quietism”. Proponents of this extreme said that human effort was futile and all one had to do is wait for God to accomplish in us what is necessary for salvation. This is where they got the name “Quietists”, since they tended to sit and quietly wait for God to do what is needed in their lives. The Church, through the Jesuit theologians, exposed this error as a form of presumption, assuming that God will do what we want Him to do, thereby making God a kind of servant to our wishes. While this heresy seems to make God almighty, it is really a self-centered attitude which makes the ‘quiet’ Christian the selector of God’s work to be accomplished in them.
The Jesuits nicely balanced these two extremes by saying that we should pray as though everything depended on God and work as though everything depended on us. Then and only then is the balance maintained and that both sides of the truth can be honored, and not prematurely resolved by our willfulness.
Therefore, when we say that we have to “Let go and let God”, it does not mean that I can lay back and wait for God; but that I have to have an interior attitude of desiring to work with God and to accomplish in tandem the will of the almighty, which is in the end the best for me.
It is not always a comfortable place to be. It is easier to go to one extreme or the other. And it seems that, in not resolving the issue, we are not being forthright and honest about our responsibilities. But, in the end, we have to do what we think is right, relying on God to lead our efforts to their fulfillment in the plan of God. Only God sees the full picture; He alone knows the hearts and minds and futures of everyone in our lives. Only He sees the drifts of history and can accurately do what is best, not only for me, but for the rest of humankind. This stance requires a high degree of humility and a deep faith that God is leading our efforts in a pageant of salvation of which we will get a full picture only when we are with Him eternally and can see things with God’s eye and will things with God completely.