Faith Life quotes reflections

Presuming to Speak for God

January 19, 2012

“We of the churches often gather our robes away from contamination, and thank God that we are not as other men. We don’t despise God’s name; in fact, we call upon it constantly to justify ourselves. How few parents, annoyed past bearing by a young child, can resist the facile, “God will punish you!” How few strait-laced churchwomen, outraged by the shamelessness (and popularity) of the town’s bad girl, can keep from secret satisfaction at the thought of the divine judgment awaiting her! If we object to meat-eating, we declare that God is vegetarian; if we abhor war, we proclaim a pacifist Deity. He who turned water into wine to gladden a wedding is now accused by many of favouring that abominable fluid grape juice.

There can hardly be a more evil way of taking God’s name in vain than this way of presuming to speak in it. For here is spiritual pride, the ultimate sin, in action-the sin of believing in one’s own righteousness. The true prophet says humbly, “To me, a sinful man, God spoke.” But the scribes and Pharisees declare, “When we speak, God agrees.” They feel no need of a special revelation, for they are always, in their own view, infallible. It is this self-righteousness of the pious that most breeds atheism, by inspiring all decent ordinary men with loathing of the enormous lie.”

~Joy Davidman (wife of C. S. Lewis) in Smoke on the Mountain
Just as the Israelites fashioned God in their own image and did that which was right in their own eyes, it’s easy for us to do so today. Only, of course, our way is much, much more spiritual (which makes it all the more easy to be deceived and to deceive others). We like to project upon God attributes we find in ourselves or wish to find in Him. We like for Him to be in our political party—or even better, the biggest endorser of it. Once your book, idea, or actions are endorsed by God, who can top that? Becoming a Millionaire God’s Way, Planning Your Funeral God’s Way, Growing Kid’s God’s Way, Making Lemonade God’s Way, or “Fill-in-the-blank God’s Way,” are sure to gain a following of some kind.
I’ve read books and seen movements from years back that explain how to manipulate people to come forward at invitations, explain God endorses slavery and segregationpredicted when Christ would return, or found a solution to ending drunkenness. Looking back on these ideas, some seem almost laughable. Yet often, the presumptions to speak for God were merely an expression of the culture or ideologies of the time. Sometimes our culture can get so intertwined with our theology that we can no longer see the difference. Even worse, we pull out what is merely culture and call it theology.

God says both far less and far more than we wish Him to say. He is both more specific and less specific than we think Him to be. There are often truly wonderful and wholesome ideas that would do well to be shared and explained. Perhaps they even seem the best and most God-honoring way. Yet even in those admirable cases, we often undermine both the idea and people’s perception of God when we presume to speak for God.
But, I need not say more to expand on what Joy Davidman has said so well already.


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  • Mary January 19, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    This is very helpful–things I’ve never really thought about, but definitely opens my eyes to a lot of areas I just pass off as “Biblical.”

  • Shelley January 22, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Great post! This has been on my mind a lot lately. Over the past year God has brought to my attention how many things I have presumed He desires, but things that are really just my preferences within Christianity. Recently in the girls bible class I teach we talked about how we can take God’s name in vain by claiming what He wants for us when we haven’t even read what He has already declared in His word. I think that’s common when we add or subtract things and then say, “God impressed on my heart that this is what He wants for me!”

    • Keren January 27, 2012 at 9:49 am

      Thanks, Shelly, for sharing and for adding those thoughts. Isn’t it interesting that we often say “God impressed…” and it often “happens” to just be what we liked or were interested in already?

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    […] to Change Diapers God’s Way.” Or perhaps it’s slightly more spiritualized, presuming to speak for God, “How to Retain the Heart of Your Teen in Three Easy Steps.” Ultimately, these types of […]

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    […] Far too often, it’s a lot easier for people to accept an idea, thought, or opinion if we market it as “Biblical,” whether or not is really is. We’re all culpable of this practice — both in naively accepting other people’s presentation of “what is Biblical” and in spiritualizing, adding Christian labels, or presuming to speak for God ourselves. […]