Playing God

michelangelo-creazioneThis week the phrase “playing God” caught my eye in connection with news reports on disparate topics, including regulation of the internet, medical practice, and the recent apparently intentional plane crash. It got me thinking about just how powerful we are and our proper roles as human beings in God’s creation. None of us wants to be accused of “playing God,” of imperially deciding things for others or ruling over matters that are not our proper concern. On the other hand, we do have responsibilities and, in this life, we must constantly make choices, for good or for ill. That’s the way God set it up.

As you know, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it… (Genesis 1:27-28). Made in his image, we are social beings with self-awareness, intellect, volition, and the power to create and destroy here on earth. It’s our job to be God’s agents, building society and civilization as we live, learn and grow together. In that sense we are supposed to “play God,” a big job indeed.

But playing God is also a small job. Our choices and actions have life and death consequences. We are used to thinking about airline pilots and surgeons holding “lives in their hands” in flight or on the operating table. But don’t you hold the lives of your passengers (perhaps your children) in your hands when driving here and there? Others on the road are also depending on your driving ability for their safety. How about the mechanic that repaired your brakes when the car was last in the shop? Doesn’t he also hold your life, the life of your passengers, and the lives of other drivers in his hands? I think so.

In the healthcare industry, where I work, we administrators also make life and death decisions. Every new service, procedure or process comes with trade-offs. Introducing a new treatment may help more people overall, but some people will be harmed – perhaps people who might not have been hurt before. Trying to make things better, we aspire to continuous improvement but resources are not unlimited. When we choose to improve patient safety “here,” but not “there,” we necessarily place some lives above others. There is no perfect in healthcare.

Even our more ordinary day in, day out conduct matters. What we teach our children, what foods we serve them, how we treat our neighbors, what entertainment we watch (or produce), how we spend our money – it all matters. Who has not been greatly affected by a seemingly small act of kindness (or nastiness) by someone else? I know I have. Examine your own experience and I am sure you will see how some “small things” on the part of others or “minor events” (to the rest of us) have made a big difference to you. It’s hard to see how events are interconnected while they are occurring, but surely they are.

A famous, centuries-old proverb expresses the concept this way:

For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.

How do you thing the guy who didn’t put that nail in right feels? Does he even know the tragic consequences of his work? Probably not. Same here.

The bottom line is, what we do matters. Everything. All of our conduct is serving to create our human society and culture. Building others up, or tearing them down. Building civilization or destroying it. Helping or harming.  It’s what we do.  We may not see the results in an instant or ever, but surely we are all “playing God” every day. The question is, how are we doing? Not too well of course.

So how can we be better creators and stewards here on earth? How can we take better care of each other, and of our culture and civilization? First, we can take our personal choices and behavior more seriously, understanding the significance of seemingly insignificant things. Second, we can continue to follow Jesus and encourage the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us. With the Holy Spirit in charge, we can let God play God. He’s much better at it than we are.


  1. Jeff Wood says:

    Pedro, what you have said is important. Same thing along another line of reasoning is that no one just wakes up one morning and out of the blue says, “I’m going to rob a bank.” Little choices beforehand prepared the way.

    • Peter Weiss says:

      Thanks Jeff. The “little” choices do add up. The hard part is keeping this in mind all the time. I can’t wait for the Holy Spirit to just make it easy!