"but God says…"

People who know me well know I have some very clear pet peeves. Some are related to people gulping when they eat (ask my husband) or kids not answering their phone or texting back when we are supposed to meet somewhere (yes, I’m guilty of it, too), and a host of other insignificant things that annoy me.

When it comes to faith stuff, I’ve got a few pet peeves, too, things that a lot of people say that drive me crazy.

But some of these have a little greater consequence than just annoying me or somehow violating my personal preference.

They are potentially damaging and often point to core theological convictions that I personally believe aren’t reflective of the ways of Jesus and gravely contribute to the problem we are experiencing in all-kinds-of-things-church-and-Christianity today.

For the next few posts I am going to be sharing a few of these phrases. They will join another I’ve already written about before–“We let women lead…”  It drives me nuts when people say this! It’s easy to smile and go, “no big deal, it’s great that churches are letting women lead.”  However, underneath this simple statement is a deep and painful reality–men have power and control whether or not women can lead and hold all the cards.  For me, affirming that, nodding with it, saying “oh, that’s great” is worth speaking up against.

Today I want to touch briefly on a phrase that is tossed around right and left in so many churches, blog posts, conversations, you name it.  It’s so widely used that often we don’t even think much about it, but underneath it’s commonality is a dangerous reality.

“But God says….”

It’s sister is “But the Bible says…”

Many pastors use it regularly on Sundays. In fact, some of them say, “Hey, don’t get mad at me, I’m just telling you what God says…” or “Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just here to share with you what God says..”  or “I know it’s hard to hear, but this is what God says…” or “The Bible clearly says…” I’ve heard all of these (and many other variations) over many years in different ways.

“But God says…” is a false but widely accepted trump card.

And this trump card has hurt–and continues to hurt–so many people.  It makes us think that the people who are speaking are speaking for God.  Like what they are saying is for sure, 100%, without a doubt, what God wants people to know and hear and believe.  Exactly like that particular person believes.

That’s the trouble I have with this phrase. It’s saying “my interpretation is 100% right and what God actually says and anything different that someone believes is wrong.”

That’s a lie.

And pretty presumptuous.

But honestly, it’s what a lot of people in the pews (and reading blogs and buying books) want to hear. Oh, how we love our kings and want to be on the winning team, the strong team, the sure team. Certainty still sells.

But I’ll say it again, “but God says…” is a lie.

When pastors, leaders, people are speaking, they are actually just sharing their opinion, their interpretation, how they see something from the Bible.  

And that’s okay.

Of course, I think we should be able to do that.  That is fair game and important.  We each need to be able to show up and share what’s on our heart, what we think God is stirring up in us, what we believe certain passages to mean, the biblical conclusions we come to, what we feel called to say.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I’m not dismissing the value of our own opinions and sense of agency and belief.

But we need to be more honest about it and offer the real human and honest truth, which is much more like:

 “My interpretation of the scriptures is…”

In this passage, I think God is saying….”

“I believe that God was pointing to ______ here” 

 “When I read this, I feel convicted that….”

I don’t have any trouble with that kind of honesty, even when I may see the scriptures completely differently.  These simple parenthetical phrases change everything (this is a really old post, one of my very first ones in january 2008, and oh, I was extra crabby then but I still stand by what it says).

For now, I’ll just stick with advocating for noticing that when someone says “But God says…” that it should be an immediate warning signal that something is amiss.

That there’s a pride and arrogance that need to be considered.

That an unfair God trump card is being thrown on the table.

That it’s a sure way to shut down dignified dialogue.

That just because someone says it doesn’t mean that God agrees.

That the little stirring inside you that says “hmm, that doesn’t sit right with me” is probably accurate.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, too. What do you think of “But God says…”?

//

ps:

Today, I’ve also got a post up for September at Sheloves Magazine. The theme this month is “held” and my post is called Sometime We Just Need to Be Held. One of my twins used to always toddle up to us and say “hold you” when he was little; we can learn a lot from him.  I’d love to hear any of your reflections on it, too.

Also, next we’ll look at one of my all-time-most-annoying phrases that I’ve heard too many times to count for over 20 years now–“I’m not like those people.”  After that is “We want more meat.” Oh, just writing it bugs me!

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

24 Comments

  • Love this. I’m still annoyed ten years after I heard a pastor (of a large church) say (basically) “some people might feel uncomfortable with what I’m about to say, like the women who flipped me off and walked out last service, but all of you who really know your bible will know that what I’m telling you is true. . (And went on to say something outrageous and hurtful about a natural disaster that had recently occurred. . ) I started crying thinking about how manipulative this man and church were and how he was playing off people’s insecurities and questions. I never went back. It was a church I was visiting. . .

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  • We agree on this 100%. This is one of the reasons lots of us don’t care for sermons and similar one-way Christian speeches. The speaker frequently says “God says”, or “the Bible says”, when they’re really giving us their opinion. The format (sermon or speech) does not allow for dialogue, so the speakers claim that God or the Bible says usually goes unchallenged.

    The people I know who are fond of saying “God says” or “the Bible says” often use that terminology to address some of their favorite controversial issues. As you said, it is their trump card, meant to end the discussion. However, the Bible (and to their way of thinking, God) also says many things that they seem to have forgotten. They may think they know what the Bible says about women, gays, baptism, tithing, attending church, the penal substitution theory or whatever, but often appear to forget what their Bible says about loving and caring for other people.

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  • I agree – I know so many Christians, not only pastors, who are so utterly convinced that they are right with their interpretation of the bible that they always use this Phrase. Nonetheless, on my way to Christ 11 years ago, I deeply engaged in scripture to understand who Jesus is, and therefore, I sometimes fear that if we are too careful when talking to non Christians, we could miss to tell them the essential. But I guess the main problem is not our talking about Jesus but the things we mean to know about all the other stuff. As you said so well: just a few additional words like “when I read this verses, I think God wants to say…” would be enough to state that we know about all the things we don’t know :-).

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    • thanks of sharing! i really appreciate what you are saying here and do think it is so important that we have a sense of agency and coming at things with where we are at, what we believe, etc.

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  • You might not want to hear my answer, but I think you’re sensible enough to not get mad at me 🙂

    I don’t like the phrase. I agree with you completely that the phrase is most often used out of place and may even have NO PLACE at all in our Christian conversation.

    Yet, I think to say that something is amiss automatically just because someone prefixes a statement with this phrase, is itself a bit amiss.

    I tend to see “preachers” as imperfect vessels, with imperfect (or even non-existent) training, selfish thinking, and sometimes horrible methods, “preaching” about a perfect Savior, a perfect God.

    If I get SO WRAPPED UP in insisting that the preacher be PERFECT in what HE says, I miss the fact that he’s imperfectly talking about a perfect God. I sometimes smile when my pastor pulls out one of these, knowing that I disagree with the usage and sometimes even with his interpretation, but still realizing that there is truth to be found in the subject matter at hand. CHRISTIANS SHOULD NEVER STOP THINKING. At the same time, I believe, we can get so obsessed with “I think he shouldn’t say that” and immediately miss the truth in what is being said.

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    • yes, i definitely am with you on the perfect little phrase or clause on the end of beginning of something doesn’t take care of it all, and it is true that the attitude underneath it is far more important than the words and that’s probably more what i am getting at. i love your caps–CHRISTIANS SHOULD NEVER STOP THINKING 🙂

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  • You are so right, Kathy! How different it is to simply say, “In this passage, I think God is saying. . . ” and how much more just that turn of the phrase opens up dialogue! An offshoot of this phrase that’s been used on me in the past is, “But we prayed about it and God told us to . . . ” (fill in the blank). Just because you prayed about it that doesn’t make what you’re doing okay. Especially when what you’re doing is excluding and judging people!!

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  • You’ve expressed so perfectly what I was trying to say at a church staff meeting this week when asked what was important for me to see in a youth pastor. I said that my deepest desire would be that they would be someone who would allow the youth to push back against what they’ve always been taught without simply defaulting to “Well, the Bible/God says this so you really can’t argue with that.” (Sadly, I don’t think I’m going to get my desire.)

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    • love hearing what you were/are hoping for for the youth. so needed! and sad with you that it might not work…so needed but there’s so much fear around it.

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  • So with you on this one! I’ve come across too many christians who use it (and its variations) as a clincher to their argument. It not only shuts down conversation, it’s a put down, too. It sends the message that the speaker considers themselves to be superior in their understanding – after all, they have God/the bible on their side, don’t they!?

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  • God said a lot of things. People pick and choose what they want to emphasize He said to back their stances…you know what totally annoys me?! When people want a scriptural reference for every single thing. I recently read a short book a woman gave me she had written before it was released and she wanted my feedback. I read a few of the entries and just couldn’t press on into it any deeper…each story, which was valid and absolutely important and part of her life experience, had a scriptural reference at the end of each chapter…as if her story in and of itself, because of the Holy Spirit at work in her in modern day wasn’t enough, had to backed with proof. Does that even make sense? Scripture says (he he he) that if everything Jesus ever did was written down, all the books on earth could not contain it…I interpret that as the Divine Beautiful Author of our stories is writing books and chapters through our lives on a daily basis, and they are fresh and new and living each day…what difference does it make if it lines up with the name of a book, chapter and verse? OUR LIVES LINE UP WITH THE ONE WHO IS THE WORD. (*huh, I guess I needed to get that off my chest.) Miss you. Thanks, friend! xoxox

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    • i so love what you wrote here, it is so true, somehow if there’s a scripture verse on it, it makes something “valid” or “spiritual” and without it, it’s not in many people’s minds. i really love this line, too “interpret that as the Divine Beautiful Author of our stories is writing books and chapters through our lives on a daily basis, and they are fresh and new and leaving each day…” yes! hugs, lovely friend.

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      • Don’t get me wrong, it’s kind of cool when “stars align” and you see your modern day life line up with something spoken years ago…that’s kind of awesome, really, but He speaks through our lives daily, and that’s validation enough.

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  • The phrase “But God says…” seem to be used with a lot of manipulation, control and instilling fear in others. It is one of the most inauthentic expressions used today as it is usually not attached to love, restoring dignity, humility, listening, empathy and compassion. Oftentimes it is a power play used by unhealthy men to get another to conform to what they want them to think or do as a result. It cuts off deep thinking, discernment and the embodiment of the true self. Kathy, like you say, we need we more diversity, mystery and freedom and less conformity, affiliation and certainty. The “But God says…” thing always seems to promote greater conformity, affiliation and certainty. And this, in my opinion, is the fastest way to destroy any sense of mystery, diversity and freedom which is where our true self will be lived out as we seek God throughout life.

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    • thanks, mark. i really like the connection to how it increases greater “conformity, affiliation, and certainty” and is the antithesis of “freedom, mystery, and diversity.”…really looking forward to hanging out with you all in november!

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  • The whole point of discernment, I think, is to assume that you might be wrong which causes you to listen more closely to the still, small voice of the Spirit and work through, in community, what you might be sensing/hearing. Anyone who claims to prophecy with the voice of our Creator must do so with self-minimizing humility, not self-maximizing arrogance and certitude. Pride is the poison of a prophet.But, what do I know? I could be wrong.

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  • This is a very good article! I’ve also heard this phrase many, many times. Another similar phrase my former pastor, after reading several verses, would say to get his point across about a subject (ie: God wants everyone healed) that if God lied about this then the whole Bible is a lie!

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  • I so agree with this. Even now I am trying to have a discussion with my parents about my painful faith shift and have asked them to read the book, but it all comes down to, in their words, whether I believe in “the inspiration of the Bible” and that is the trump card. Wha than I say?

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