Saturday, 28 April 2012

What God Wants

This post will be something of a loose sequel to my previous thoughts, on Joyce Meyer, which generated some interesting conversation.

I've noticed an additional quirk, of Joyce's, that certainly isn't unique to her.  She quite frequently speaks of what "God wants" (or desires/commands etc.).  Often she'll preface the comment in question by also saying something like "I believe", "I really believe", or "I really believe, with all of my heart"; after which point she proceeds to speak, quite confidently and comfortably, on God's behalf.  Are people more likely to buy into what Meyer is saying, if she "really believes" it?  What's the point of even mentioning this?  Of course you believe what you're about to assert; if you didn't, you wouldn't be saying it in the first place.  Then again, perhaps it's true that parishioners more eagerly embrace things that their pastors and, in this case, celebrity speakers "really believe, with all of (their) heart".  Somehow it seems "extra" true if the person, delivering the message, feels and believes it deep down in the pits of their soul.  Even still, I find that phrasing a little odd, and bordering on the illogical, especially considering how often she employs it.  Does "really believing" something make it any more likely to be true?  Hardly.

Recently, as these thoughts were still floating around in the back on my mind somewhere, I stumbled into a book called "God Wants You to Be Happy".  My first inclination was to dismiss it, as nothing more than a fringe title, perhaps authored by someone who held to some mildly unorthodox Protestant views.  But then I noticed an endorsement, on the front cover, from none other than Ruth Graham (the Rev. Billy Graham's daughter).  She says, "If you want to know happiness as God intends it, read this book!".  (Side note: A few years ago I met and conversed with Ruth and, although she's been through a lot in her life, many Christians I know personally speak highly of her current ministry.)  I flipped to the inside cover and, lo and behold, more endorsements from people that I would consider to be very much in the mainstream of evangelical thought (ie. Dr. Kevin Leman & Pete Wilson).

What strikes me about this, once again, is the whole notion of speaking for God.  Christians do it routinely.  It's another one of those weird dynamics that I didn't pick up on, while I was still a believer, since I guess it just seemed so normal at the time.  Some Christians, of course, will disagree with the specific notion that God wants you to be happy and, perhaps, they will even be able to muster up a few Bible verses to "contradict" it.  I would have been inclined to do so myself, in fact, only just a few short years ago.  But I now think this approach entirely misses the forest for the trees.

Here's the problem...the Bible says all sorts of things and, on occasion, even contradictory things on the exact same topic.  So it just doesn't work, when arguing about theology, to use the Bible as though it were a weapon.  This is the deeper conundrum that Christians face, without even realizing it, as they continue daily in their misguided attempts to speak "for" God to one another. Years ago, for example, I remember trying to sort through Calvinism & Arminianism.  These two doctrines are very clearly at odds, and I really wanted to know which one was correct.  Can a believer lose their salvation (as Arminianism would suggest), or can't they (as Calvinism would suggest)?  Does everyone have an equal shot at salvation (as Arminianism would suggest) or does God elect (either some or all) believers ahead of time (as Calvinism would suggest)? Believe it or not the conclusion I came to, after much investigation, is that the Bible actually teaches both doctrines.  That's right!  Both sides can be justified Biblically, and quite amply I might add.  At the time I chalked it up to God's ways being mysterious, and I never worried myself with the issue again.

This is just one example.  There are hundreds more I could have used.  So, believer, before you come against one of your own, who claims to be speaking on God's behalf, just remember that they likely have Biblical justification for what they are saying.  And there are probably also Biblical arguments against certain of your Christian beliefs.  I'm willing to grant that it's "possible" one of you is simply wrong, and the other right, but I want you to think about that the most likely scenario?  Or is it, dare I say it, more likely that the Bible simply contradicts itself?  Are you willing to consider that possibility?  (I'm not even asking you to assent to it, only to consider it. Will you?)  Perhaps the Bible itself is partly to blame for the fact that there are 38, 000 Christian denominations in the world today.  As John Loftus says, in chapter 7 of "The Christian Delusion", "What We've Got Here Is a Failure to Communicate" (on God's behalf).

If you're indeed willing to entertain the latter thought, and most Christians won't, let me follow it up by asking you this...supposing it were true that the Bible has legitimate contradictions, in what sense would it then be "the word of God"?  Wouldn't genuine contradictions, even one, demonstrate that it wasn't a perfect book?  If not, how many real contradictions would be required to demonstrate this?  10?  100?  1000?  10, 000?  And, if it's not a perfect book, why do you believe that God had anything to do with it at all?  The onus of proof is now firmly on you, as the believer, to demonstrate to the rest of us that the Bible is somehow of divine origin.  All signs point in the other direction.  

So the next time you hear a preacher say "God wants" this or that I want you to take notice. Stop, and wonder to yourself how it is that they know what God wants.  A Bible verse, even one that seems to back up their particular claim, won't cut it.  Unless God has ordained the very words of each and every individual Biblical author (as many Christians in fact believe) the whole premise of speaking for God falls totally to pieces.  Simply "believing", that you're somehow in the loop on God's desires, is not enough.  You have to ground those beliefs with actual evidence.


  1. My Google alerts picked up your column. As the author of the mentioned book, I'm curious to know if you read it. (Just curious, not trying to imply anything one way or the other.) To answer your underlying question, to know what God wants, one has to work through the book that purports to account for Him. Of course, if you don't believe the book, you can't surmise anything from it. But my approach was not to make a point, then dig in the Bible to try and back it up. I went through it in its entirety, looked up every reference to the idea of happiness in the original Greek and Hebrew, and put my best logical conclusions into the book. If we were to set all biblical references aside, I would simply ask: If God does exist, created mankind, cares for His creation, and is a good God, then wouldn't it be the logical conclusion that He desires a certain happiness for His creation? There are many "ifs" there, of course, but those are foundational to mainstream Christianity and consistent with scripture. Just a few thoughts...glad the book caught your eye!

    1. Hi Randy (do you prefer Randy, or James?),

      Thanks for commenting. No, I didn't read the whole thing, although let me quickly add the caveat that I definitely would have done so had I been attempting to do a proper review. Your book was more of a side note, to the main point that I was making, and in that sense I could have easily used another book (even on a totally different subject) without it altering my content very much. I do own a copy though, so feel free to reference page numbers since I can readily look things up on this end.

      That said, it seems to me that you made a reasonable case for your position. It didn't strike me as ad hoc per se. I agree with basically everything you say in your comment. I do think a strong Biblical argument could be mounted against your position, but to do so would be pointless as I see it today. This is, in fact, precisely what I was driving at in the post. Internal disagreements, about what God wants (or various theological nuances etc.), are "missing the forest for the trees". For the purposes of this analogy think of the trees as every individual verse, in the Bible, and the forest as the Bible ITSELF.

      In other words, what really bothers me is all of those "ifs", that you reference. When Christians speak for God a lot of (highly problematic) things are simply assumed at the outset. So even when disagreements arise, between Christians, they are nearly always simply about what the Bible says or doesn't say...what's never even considered is that the Bible might not be "God's word" to begin with...the forest! See my problem there? (To be clear, I'm not trying to in any way imply that your book has been attacked by other Christians; or even that it deserves to be necessarily.)

      So here's my question for you...what evidence do you have that the Bible was inspired by God in any way, shape or form? Why do you simply assume that, when you quote from it, you are in fact speaking for God himself (as implied by your book's title)? I realize this wasn't the point of your book (so I never expected you to provide this sort of evidence within it) but it IS the point of my post.

      I used to believe precisely as you do. I see this blog as something of an ongoing letter, to my former self, since I desperately wish I had known then what I am learning now. I wish I had looked around a bit more, well outside of the Christian bubble, to see how my core beliefs stood up to strong and well informed challenge. Simply put, I wish I had examined the evidence, for those "ifs", more thoroughly.

      You are, of course, under no obligation to answer my question. But I just wonder if, in writing books with titles like "God Wants You to Be Happy", you have truly considered the sheer magnitude of the presumption that lies beneath. Without that presumption, as I said in the post, the whole thing just falls apart. As it happens, that's exactly what happened to my faith.

      Anyway, thanks again Randy. I appreciate the respectful tone of your comments, plus your willingness to engage. I'd love to get your thoughts on my thoughts.

  2. I greatly appreciate your insights on this. My perspective on discerning God's mind/will/desire for us usually leads me through thoughts like: If the holy spirit helps us interpret the Bible to understand it properly, why doesn't everyone interpret very key concepts and passages the same way? If the passages can be changed to fit any situation in a subjective, bendable, inconsistent manner, how can one even know if their interpretation is valid? How can one's imagination and personal projection of god's intent be separated from the true holy spirit?
    Oh, because it can't.

  3. God, Life, Energy

    Everything is Energy. What does Enery want? NOTHING.

    Everything is Life. What does Life want? NOTHING.

    Everything is God. What does God want? NOTHING.

    You can interchang any of these words: Energy, Life, God.

    All the Prophets have said that there is only one God and that God is Everything.

    If God is Everything it follows that God is Energy, God is Life, God is.

    What does God Want?

    You got it yet NOTHING.