wooden mannequin, wooden, mannequin

Puppets or Pinocchios?

[ I started this sermon by walking a marionette down the church aisle.]

I always feel a little silly with these things, because I’m not very good with them, but they are fun. It’s a bit of a challenge to tug the string the right way at the right time to get the puppet to move in the right direction. In the hands of someone skilled, it also can be fun to watch. My home church, TUMC, has a puppet ministry that produces and presents skits around the Mid-Atlantic region that are really very entertaining and effective at proclaiming God’s word. As you have seen by my efforts, however, in the hands of a novice, the actions of the puppet can be far less than realistic and not very entertaining.

Whether the operator is skilled or unskilled, however, the puppet is at the mercy of that person. Its every movement is controlled and manipulated. How often in our society today do we use analogies to puppets such as this to describe people who are controlled and manipulated by others? Have you ever heard someone describe a co-worker as “The Boss’s Puppet”? How about a politician characterized as a “puppet of special interests”? I frankly cannot think of any situation where the term “a puppet” is used to describe a person in a flattering way. It always is used to refer to someone whose will or spirit is manipulated by someone else.

When we talk of someone as being a “puppet”, we’re not only thinking of that person in a negative sense, but we almost invariably also are speaking of the person in charge of the “puppet” in the negative. We simply do not favorably regard anyone who manipulates another, or those who permit themselves to be manipulated.

If being a “puppet” or a “puppeteer” is a bad thing, why do we sometimes think of our relationship with God in similar terms? How many times have we heard after a tragedy intervenes in an individual’s life the question, “Why did God do this to me?” Perhaps even more subtly, how often do we go to God in prayer looking to him as the grand puppeteer whom we ask to pull the strings of the universe to make people act or events occur as we desire? How often do we think of God as pulling the strings of our lives with no consideration of, or relationship to, our will?

Our Epistle lesson today would seem to support that view of God. In verses 4 and 5 Paul states:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will….

 In verse 11, Paul again states:

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

Paul appears to be describing God as pulling all of the strings, deciding even before creation who would be saved through Christ, deciding the course of each of our lives. If that truly is what Paul is saying, then we really don’t matter, do we? Our redemption is not our choice. God has decided which of us will be saved. God has decided what we will do and what happens to us. We are dancing at the end of the strings, with everything that happens in God’s control.

If we think of our relationship with God as that of puppets, I prefer thinking about a different example than this one. Not all puppets, you see, remain dancing at the end of their strings. The most famous of all—–Pinocchio—-took a different course.


You all know the story. Pinocchio, the puppet, sheds his strings and, through a series of adventures, learns to live unselfishly for others and becomes fully alive. When he does, his father, Geppetto, rejoices. Geppetto’s plan had always been for a relationship with a living son, not a puppet. His joy was in finding that son as a result of Pinocchio’s choice.

If Paul is describing a puppeteer God, He is a Geppetto. God has had a plan for our salvation in Christ from the beginning. He has known from the beginning of time as we know it that humanity would sin and separate itself from Him, but that we would be redeemed through Christ. He wants us to choose to live in Him. And like Geppetto, he rejoices each time a Pinocchio comes to life in Him. Which of us is redeemed, however, is determined by our choices, by an exercise of our will, not be any determination by God. Paul makes that clear by the end of the passage in verses 13 and 14:

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Paul unmistakably declares that although God has always intended to redeem us through his grace, not our works, we are not marked as a part of that plan until we believe. Unlike a puppeteer pulling the strings, God will not intervene so directly and unequivocally in our lives that he preempts our free will. He will act in our lives; he will transform us by sealing us through the Holy Spirit, but only when we surrender to Him through a conscious act of our will. He will use the events that happen in our lives, and the people that we meet in our lives, to speak to us, but until we answer, but until we surrender our lives and trust Him to lead us and transform us in all aspects of our lives, each and every day, He does not take charge of our lives or what happens to us. He loves us so much that he gives us free will to choose to live in Him, or to live without Him. The strings that pull at us come not from God, but from each choice that we make where we separate ourselves from God, in sin, by putting our will ahead of His. If we are puppets, it is the nature of sin that pulls the strings, not God.

So then, the predestination to which Paul refers is not for us individually as puppets at the end of strings, but for God’s plan of grace and reconciliation through Jesus. He has known from the beginning that we could never be part of Him through our own efforts, but He loves us too much to force us not to sin. He loves us too much to control our will. But he also loves us enough to look past our sin and transform our lives when we permit Him to do so. And He will do so step-by-step as we invite Him into more and more aspects of our lives. We simply have to invite him to cut each string of sin that ties us down and make us free to live by His grace.

Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God directly and unequivocally pronounced that Jesus was the Son of God and that he taught with the authority of God. God proved that we will be free of the sin that ties us down when we surrender our will to Christ and be transformed into His image through the seal of the Holy Spirit.  We are free when we are in Christ. Our sin is irrelevant as it no longer stands between God and us. Like Pinocchio, we have no strings to tie us down. Christ cut those bonds and stands waiting for us, stands waiting to transform every aspect of our life into which we invite Him. God challenges us each and every day to accept that freedom. Each and every day he challenges us to choose to live in his grace, to be a Pinocchio, not a puppet. Like Pinnochio, let us shed those strings and live free in his grace!

© 2010, Thomas M. Trezise


  1. Charles on February 23, 2010 at 12:57 am

    Nicely written. I was just having a conversation with my son today about personal choices and how we each make chocies everyday good or bad. Our conversation expanded to why is there so much evil in the world and why does God allow it. And as we continue to talk we agreed that it does in part incorporate our free will that we were granted from God.


Leave a Comment

Welcome, I'm Tom

I'm Tom Trezise a retired lawyer and corporate executive with over twenty years of experience as a Methodist lay preacher. Raised in Appalachia, I proudly call myself a hillbilly at heart. I'm the executive director of The Everyday Kingdom, a non-profit devoted to fostering a community that helps people find and experience the peace, purpose, and joy available from living every day in Christ’s kingdom.

Search the Blog