“Jesus take the wheel!” If you hummed that sentence in your head as you read it (thanks Carrie Underwood), then you’re probably very familiar with the phrase. Even if you don’t know the song, it’s a common metaphor in Christian culture: there are sermons and books on the concept, and Christ-followers routinely select the phrase from their vocabulary when times get tough.
Granted, the phrase has some biblical basis, and it’s comforting. God tells us that His strength is “made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9) and that we will achieve things not by our power, but by His Spirit (Zechariah 4:6). There are countless references to God’s omnipotence and Kingship over the earth (Psalm 22:28, Job 12:10, 1 Chronicles 29:11,12, to name a few).
Yet, this idea is held in tension. There are many conflicting concepts within the Christian worldview: being fallen, sinful beings while being perfected in Christ; God being the Creator of the Universe while being our closest Friend; God being in control while giving us free will.
That last tension I regularly wrestle with when making decisions. It not only applies to the big-ticket items—like relationships or job changes—but also when I write my daily to-do list or fill my calendar. I find myself asking, Am I following God’s will? Or, in Christanese, “Is Jesus in the driver’s seat?”
We glorify this notion of God being in control. Letting go of our worldly ties and following Him is what we’re told to do. And while I’m not suggesting that Jesus isn’t in control or that He shouldn’t take the lead, if taken and applied literally in all circumstances, “Jesus take the wheel” can blur the line between genuine discipleship and toxic passivity, and promote an attitude that leaves people living far below their God-given potential.
Firstly, “Jesus take the wheel” can make us lazy or resentful. Rather than actively going out to help the poor or spread the gospel, letting Jesus “take the wheel” promotes a path of least resistance. Instead of being active disciples, we wait for God to send people our way and assume it’s not His will if no-one appears. Or rather than engaging our God-given, logical problem-solving abilities to leave an abuser or overcome difficulties, we take a backseat and suffer through, waiting for God to save us. And then we blame Him if He doesn’t.
Secondly, “Jesus take the wheel” can underestimate personal dreams and talents. I often see Christians hold their desires and their conception of God’s “desires” in contention. Dreams to be CEOs, politicians or musicians are labelled “selfish”, and replaced by more “selfless” occupations—like healthcare, teaching or ministry. And while these occupations are incredible for those who are called to them, many people may enter them to be “right” with God or to prove their faith, overlooking that they could better use their talents elsewhere. God also needs people in creative jobs and corporate offices. He created you to pursue your dreams, not what you think they should be.
Finally, “Jesus take the wheel” neglects personal responsibility and leaves self-control to rot in the spiritual fruit bowl. In Eden, God gave humans agency and self-determination (Genesis 1:28), and we often overlook this when reading the Bible. In Proverbs 16:9, we focus on the “Lord establish[ing] his steps” but overlook that “The heart of man plans his way” in the first place. We are called to action—to be “strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:9) and “walk through the valley” (Psalm 23:4)—while God helps us. Like a father raising his child, God wants us to pursue our goals—not just do the work for us.
It is true that God determines the ultimate outcome of our lives. We have no control over this great cosmic conflict in which we exist. We can’t influence the weather, predict what will happen tomorrow or control other people’s behaviour, but God has given us control over one thing: self. God wants us to pursue excellence of character in how we speak, treat others and treat ourselves. And while “Jesus take the wheel” is great advice in situations where circumstances are totally outside of our control, in circumstances that require self-betterment, treating others well or exercising self-control, Jesus just “taking the wheel” is antithetical to personal growth.