The God Who Loves You Themes
Predetermination versus Free Will
The central issue in Dennis’s poem is whether people should lead a life that focuses on predetermination or one that emphasizes free will. If people believe in predetermination, or destiny, then all of their decisions have been decided for them already, and the path they are on is the only possible path. In this type of reality, it does not matter what the reader does, because this path will be the one the reader was destined to follow. The poem uses words that talk about this idea of destiny, such as when it talks about “the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus.” But the poem also incorporates the idea of free will, a state in which people are the makers of their own destinies. The first indication of this comes when Dennis talks about the reader’s “many futures.” If a reader can truly have free will and choice and their resulting decisions can lead to many different futures, then there is no such thing as destiny. But the poem ultimately combines these two concepts. Dennis notes that the reader was destined to do certain things but, through his free will, has made different choices that go against his destiny, thus giving up the best possible life for himself. To visualize the effects of a state where both free will and destiny exist, Dennis creates an omnipotent god, who is sad in the poem because the reader has not followed the best possible path.
God is not the only one at risk of being unhappy. Readers may also be unhappy if they stop to think about their current situation and compare “what is” to “what could have been.” In the poem, the potential consequences include not pursuing the best career due to a mistaken choice of colleges. “Had you gone to your second choice for college,” Dennis says, the reader would have heard “opinions on painting and music” that would have inspired the reader to lead “A life thirty points above the life you’re living.” Dennis also explores the consequence of this mistaken college choice on the reader’s potential for marital bliss, saying that it would be painful for the reader to have the god “compare your wife” with the woman the reader was supposed to meet. Likewise, Dennis says the reader’s wife would have been happier with “the man next in line for your wife,” who “Would have pleased her more than you ever will / Even on your best days, when you really try.” Indeed, the farreaching consequences of a major decision such as where to go to college get worse and worse as the poem progresses. Even minor decisions can have drastic consequences, as Dennis notes near the end, when he depicts a future where the reader runs “out in the snow for the morning paper” and catches a chill that leads to his death.
Throughout the poem, Dennis uses the ideas of free will and predetermination, as well as consequences, to address the issue of fulfillment in one’s life. If readers knew that, through their free will, they could have chosen a better path, then readers could never be truly fulfilled, because they would always feel the loss of that happier alternative life. If, on the other hand, somebody believes in predetermination and thinks that no matter what he or she does life will end up the way it is supposed to, then this takes the burden off of wondering “what could have been.” In the end, however, Dennis does not advocate either way. Instead, he simply encourages readers to focus on “the life you can talk about / With a claim to authority, the life you’ve witnessed.” In other words, he says that readers should find fulfillment in the life they have lived, whether it was destined to be that way or not for, as far as readers know, it “is the life you’ve chosen.”