As a piece of popular theology, “Let go and let God” is trite and profound, hurtful and helpful.
It is hurtful when served with a side of “get over it already” or “you just have to trust.” The thinly veiled accompanying message might be “You are taking too long to grieve” or “If you faith was stronger you wouldn’t worry–consider the lilies of the field” (Matthew 6:25-29).
It is trite when the perceived meaning reduces God to a Magic 8 Ball decision-maker (“It is certain”) or absolves personal responsibility (“God’s work, not mine”).
Mary Lynn Hendrickson, a director of faith formation in Stoughton, Wis., wrote: “For people who are in recovery–who have been to hell and back–and found sobriety through Twelve Step programs, ‘Let go and let God’ is a powerful statement. I embrace the phrase from the likes of them and offer it as a supportive reminder in return. All it means is we let God be God instead of ourselves.”
In We Know How This Ends: Living While Dying, the late Bruce H. Kramer wrote: “The arrogance of my own able-bodied existence allowed me to believe that I was in complete control of my fate.”
“Let go and let God” becomes profound when we realize “let go” is not about ceding control as if it were ours to hand over to God. Instead, we come to understand the emphasis is on “let God.” When illness or other loss empties our arrogant notions of self-sufficiency and control, we have the grace-space to experience the fullness of God.
This contribution to the “Adages” cover story appears in the July 2015 issue of The Lutheran magazine (pages 16-21), and includes a congregational study guide (page 22). Adages considered by other writers include “Part of God’s plan,” “There but for God’s grace go I,” and “God must have needed another angel.”