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~ God Told Me ~

Have you ever heard, "God told me to tell you this"? Didn't you wonder why God didn't tell you Himself? Is this not code for, "I want to confront you with something, but since I'm telling you that God told me to tell you, then you better not argue with me. I'm just the messenger, so don't shoot me"? Or did you ever hear a congregation leader announce his resignation along these lines? "After much prayer, God spoke to me. He is leading me into a different direction of service. I was privileged to serve you, but since I must serve God first, I will follow where He leads me." Did you ever detect such statements as code for, "This congregation just isn't responding to me or my vision of growth and I'm feeling stagnant, unexcited about the future. I need a change and will look for greener pastures"?

Being confident and projecting the persona of being led by the Spirit is seductive. It isn't acceptable for Christian leaders to admit confusion about God's will or their secret doubts about the veracity of what they preach or teach. Christians and non-Christians alike wish a greater certainty about our present paths and the future than we usually feel. We are reluctant to confess worry and the presence of the "dark night of the soul" lest we may be accused or even just suspected of losing our faith. If we do confess this spiritual angst to confidants, the response we get usually consists of biblical quotes of how we should feel, implying there is something wrong or weak in our spirituality. We forget how many of the psalms express fear, worry, doubt, wonder and pleading for God to stop being deaf to our prayers. To speak of our uncertainty of the present or future is too often interpreted as a lack of confidence in God, and that is certainly not acceptable, especially for a church leader. Yet are we not all fallible and, as St. Paul reminds us, can only "see through a dark glass"?

Along with the presentation of confidence and certainty, as in most families, we are reluctant to tell the truth about conflicts. Yet the New Testament records are more bold than we. The early church was plagued with conflicts. Recall how Paul publicly criticized Peter playing the politician, behaving one way among the Jewish converts and another with the Gentiles (see Galatians 2). Paul himself had serious conflicts with Barnabas over John Mark's participation in their mutual ministry (see Acts 15). These brothers in Christ, a bond proclaimed to be stronger than that of biological family members, separated. However, it's remarkable to note that they were up front with their conflicting problems and, more importantly, each didn't go off starting their own "church denomination" as a result of it. (They later did reconcile.) Paul didn't talk in code, as in "God told me to pursue a different direction from Barnabas." They were not embarrassed about this conflict, attributing it to human foibles rather than the "leading of the Holy Spirit." Their differences were, for a long time, irreconcilable, based on human personality and human vision. And this was recorded as such, as the biblical records are so brutally honest about human frailties. Yet in spite of them, the early church grew as all served the same Gospel and the same God-Christ. We have much to learn from our forefathers, whose weaknesses surpassed our strength.

Another element to God-talk code is that of pain. These conflicts, confusions, uncertainties and doubts are painful and it is quite natural for us to strive to avoid pain. Months ago I read a description of CIPA, "congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis." The parents of a child afflicted with this disorder stated that "life without pain is hell." Many of us tend to think in the opposite direction, that life without pain is heavenly. CIPA has a spiritual counterpart. Physically, the child of these parents had no sense of orientation in space, so severe curvature of the spine set in quickly. The child broke his leg yet kept walking on it and had no way to know or to inform his parents that something was wrong and needed attention. CIPA afflicted people receive no vital feedback as to to condition of their health, deprived of crucial indicators of the need to urinate, to sleep, to eat or when to stop eating, of dental problems, of external or internal bleeding, of headaches or other signs of infections or problems that need attention. They don't cry. They don't live very long. Pain is a vital feedback about the condition of life and health, and without it one suffers more than with it. Pain is a gift.

This is true in the psychological and spiritual realm as well. So we call into question why people who profess to be spiritual often tend to deny their encounters with spiritual pain and angst, as though such pain is a mark of unspirituality. On the contrary, it certainly is not, and, seemingly in opposition to the prevailing paradigm, is to be welcomed as a gift. To be in a constant state of "bliss" is not at all spiritual. To experience doubt, uncertainty, lack of faith, a questioning of God's presence in our lives, worry about understanding God's will for us and where He is leading us, is to experience pain. We best not enshroud this pain in the cover up of coded language.

"Taking God's name in vain" doesn't only mean using "Christ" as an expletive. People do that without thinking. What people do with thinking is use God-talk to cover up pain, doubts, and uncertainties. This is truly taking His Name in vain. We must not use God's Name for our purposes. Can we not admit we are uncertain, not always confident in discerning the meaning of every situation and challenge in our lives and spiritual beliefs and practices, that we cannot always resolve our conflicts in our desired timing, and that our thoughts are not necessarily God's thoughts, as pointed out by the prophet Isaiah? Can we admit that to others without embarrassment or fear that we are undermining the faith of others? Can we accept that sometimes we do undermine the faith of others in us while praying and working that their faith in God is not undermined by us? Can we be less concerned about the undermining of the faith of others in us and more concerned about striving to sustain their faith in God?

Is not all about God, and not us? Perhaps we can join St. Paul in proclaiming that we are among the most wretched of humanity and stop speaking in code that is constructed to hide our deplorable human state. Paul wrote the weaker he is in his humanity and self, the stronger the Christ in him can be. The pain of our humanity points to what needs to be addressed in our spirituality.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
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Spiritual Resource Services  © October 19, 2006

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