How Do You Define Manipulation?

Todd Hertz

Opening disclaimer: This isn't really a Lost column. I say that because it starts there and I don't want to scare off non-Losties or those who aren't caught up. (There will be no spoilers. No details. No nerdy inside-talk.) Instead, the show has--as it often does--pushed me to think of things beyond islands, plane crashes and smoke monsters.

One of the big debates among the audience this season has been about the nature of two mysterious characters. Is one good and one evil? Are they both evil? Is their conflict really an allusion to God and Satan?

I've been adamant that one character represented good and the other, evil. I've seen it as a clear example of Joseph Campbell's archetypes of classic good vs. evil mythology. My belief was rooted in looking at each person's method of operation compared to similar traits associated with God and Satan. One character trades in mercy, free choice, provision and compassionate guidance. The other? Lies, deception and manipulation.

While the "bad guy" was tricking people to do what he wanted for his own good, I saw the "good guy" guiding them--providing a path for them to walk, nudging them in the right direction.

But then my friend Mike got me thinking. He likes to play devil's advocate in debates and here challenged me to see it from a different angle. He asked: Didn't both characters actually work in manipulation? Didn't the guy I thought was good also lead people to be exactly where he wanted them to be to do exactly what he wanted them to do?

Frankly, this rocked me a little. As Christians, we often talk about how God directs our steps, provides a path, plans our future, leads us in his way. We talk about how God provides for us, speaks to us, nudges us. And for the first time in my life I realized how this could sound like manipulation.

So what's the difference? If both God and Satan are both working behind the scenes--like these Lost characters--to line us up in certain positions, what makes it different?

Why is God leading us down a path any different from Satan leading us down a path? Is the difference between manipulation and sovereign provision simply a matter of motivation: Satan's self interest and rebellion vs. God's love for his creation? Or does the difference lie in the methods by which we're pushed--Satan's use of guilt and temptation vs. God's call of self-denial, eternal love and speaking hope in the darkness?

And lastly, I wonder: How do we communicate this? How does the church best communicate God's leading and our surrender to his perfect will in a way that does not sound like we're being manipulated like pieces in a game?

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