Forget “teaching.” Learn.

A woman sent me this:

Dear John,

I work in a very small medical office. Many of my patients are Christians who can’t see past the “sin” in the lives of others. For this reason, 99% of my patients don’t know that I have a wife at home and that together we have a five-month old baby girl. This is mostly due to the fact that (A) I don’t think it’s their business, (B) I’m there to work, not discuss politics or religious beliefs, and (C) I don’t think that my personal business should affect the small practice I work at.

With that being said, a patient of mine today cornered me into having a discussion with her. She began by telling me that God wanted her to talk to me. She then asked if I live with another woman. Of course, I didn’t lie to her. So she told me that God had put it on her heart to tell me that I am living in sin, and that I can’t be in a relationship with God with sin in my life. She told me that she is close to God, who doesn’t allow sin in her life.

I replied that the Bible is a the living word of God, and that He speaks to us all differently through his word. She told me that God doesn’t speak to us through the Bible at all, but only through prayer. I politely thanked her for her opinion and walked away.

Now, as a girl raised in a family who believes and does the same thing as this woman, and who, like her, believes that they and they alone are always right, this encounter was not only offensive and hurtful, but also brought up very strong feelings from my past, when I hated myself and began to distrust God. I can’t say that I’m back to the relationship that I want with Him, but that is for me to fix, no one else.

I just want to thank you for your encouragement and work to bring light to others. It truly is a beacon of hope in this crazy world. So keep it up! And thank you for your posts about misinterpretations and progressive Christianity. We all appreciate it!

Thank you for writing (and your kind words to me), healer of others. Sorry you had to suffer this awful experience. (And sorry about the family you were raised in, too. Yikes. Bad luck.) It sounds to me like you have your relationship with God in exactly the right place. It’s hard to imagine He/She isn’t entirely pleased with you.

Dear Christian lady who talked to this person (on the off-off-off chance that you happen to read this):

Unless someone who is being harmed needs you to come to their defense or rescue, let people be. In his own time and way, let God work in the hearts of others. Don’t use your voice to preempt God’s. [Tweet that.] It’s natural to mistake the will of your ego for the will of God. We all do that all the time. But that’s a tricky and unhealthy road to go down. Don’t. If you already have, no worries. Just back up to where your road and God’s road cross, and from that sacrosanct space apologize to anyone you’ve offended. And be sure to also apologize to God. And the next time you believe that God has “put it on your heart” to correct or chastise someone, assume that what God really said was not that you should teach that person, but that you should learn from them.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    So many people want to be God’s voice to others in the manner of the Old Testament prophets. “God wanted me to talk to you”; “God put it on my heart to tell you this.” There seems to be no end to the number of people God uses to spread his message of condemnation.

    But you put it in proper perspective: “It’s natural to mistake the will of your ego for the will of God.”

    • Michael Brian Woywood

      The prophetic voices of history have so rarely spoken to individuals about their “sin”, and have been called instead to cry out to nations, establishments, culture, institutions. And, the voice of the prophets has almost uniformly cried out, “Justice!” It always saddens me when I see this, because I think that many of these folks might actually have the calling of a prophet – but they’re wasting it by being busybodies, instead of calling the entire world to justice and repentance.

      • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

        Well spoken!

  • Matt

    My sympathies to the letter writer. I know how that is. Small medical practices are, well, full of characters. Occasionally patients just corner you like that. Most mean nothing by it, and a very few are genuinely hurtful. On one or two occasions I have had to just walk out of the exam room. Don’t be afraid to ask a colleague to look after this patient when they come in to be seen, if possible. It’s not worth more pain that detracts from your day.

    On another note, I’d love to have some of that spiritual insurance the patient clearly carries. “Doesn’t allow sin”? Sign me up for that. I’d love to never hurt another soul again. The premiums must be killer, though.

    • Andy

      They are. I’ve found that those people often believe that everything under the sun is a sin, which is an awfully heavy thing to carry. That’s pretty killer. Also, because they believe everything is a sin, they never have any fun. That’s totally a killer, too.

  • Timothy Fowler

    The best way to learn is to teach on a subject, but obviously the woman in question was not “teaching”, but just operating out of some need to intervene in the lives of others. Maybe she had a bad pizza the night before.

  • Guy Norred

    After plenty of people saying God only speaks through scripture and that we should take it all at face value and not think about it, I find her approach at least a little refreshing, even if I find her specific message quite the opposite. As someone who finds that God speaks to us in many ways and uses many means, I worry a touch about the specific advice to keep things to our selves but with the very big caveat that we truly feel we are not using our own voices. (I rather love that “Don’t use your voice to preempt God’s” and suspect I may find it useful in the future) I actually have a very long “message from God” given to me by a friend of my parents twenty-something years ago that I have re-read only a few times over the years, but it always seems to be appropriate. The last time I read it I noticed that a great deal of it was about not being afraid of the questions, thoughts, and desires deep in my soul–that even then I was barely acknowledging to myself in the most convoluted ways–that God had put them there. This would NOT have been the voice of the person who gave it to me.

  • mona

    Sheesh…..

  • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

    > She began by telling me that God wanted her to talk to me.

    And I’d end Mrs. Grundy’s foray into my personal life with: “Hearing voices in your head, are you? Do I hear you saying you need a few days being committed to the psych ward?

    (If you can imagine it, the emphasis of those last two wards are how Jim Carey does it, with face all contorted.)

    • harrisco

      Maybe there is a way to challenge Mrs. Grundy the busybody without taking a jab at people with psychiatric problems. Just saying… folks with mental health diagnoses are just people. There should be nothing demeaning about visiting a psych ward. I know I am being Grundyesque, but it hurts to hear psychiatric illness used as a form of insult.

      • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

        No jab or insult intended. If somebody discuss their auditory hallucinations with a doctor, then the doctor could address them as auditory hallucinations.

        Does religious belief enable positive interpretation of auditory hallucinations?: a comparison of religious voice hearers with and without psychosis. | Cognitive Neuropsychiatry researchgate.net/publication/50352899_Does_religious_belief_enable_positive_interpretation_of_auditory_hallucinations_a_comparison_of_religious_voice_hearers_with_and_without_psychosis

  • Andy

    A popular quotation attributed to Susan B. Anthony says, “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” Sadly, that probably isn’t the first or last time we’ll hear that around here.

    Thanks for this, John. I sincerely hope this post reaches that woman and other people like her.


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