can being used lead to being abused?

how a child shouldn't talk to his father cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
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Several people forwarded David Henson’s post, “I Am Not a Drug: Why God Isn’t in the Business of Using People”. They said it reminded them of me. I appreciate it when people do that. Immediately I saw a cartoon. So here it is.

Here’s a quote from Henson’s post:

“The problem with understanding God’s active presence in the world in terms of using humans is that it robs people of their agency, their humanity, their very image of God. It turns creative and thinking people into a fistful of tangled copper wires, conduits for the Divine current to thrum through them. It transforms active and living human beings into marionettes dangling from the hands of a megalomaniacal God.”

But then he gets to the point, which I agree with, as is reflected in my title:

“More to the point, using people isn’t very far from abusing people. The line between the two is blurry at best, as both are primarily about exerting power and controlling another person.”


I would go further. We can see the Divine as a metaphor for what is best about our Selves. Saint Irenaeus said:

“The glory of God is a man fully alive.”

Pushing that to its logical limits, the glory of God is God, and when we are our truest selves, fully alive, this is God in all God’s glory. There is now no separation. There is perfect oneness. There is perfect unity.

Henson’s last quote is perhaps more telling than he intended when he wrote it:

“Together, God and us.”

I would say so together that there is no separation.

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  • ragingrev

    Well. This one cuts right to the bone. I remember every word of this prayer.

  • Gradivus

    That’s one way in which the Jewish tradition is different from the Christian. Jews don’t see themselves as needing to sacrifice themselves for God’s sake (that was the point of the story in which Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac: God doesn’t want us to sacrifice ourselves for him, even if he could command it). Religious Jews obey God’s commandments because (and when) they know (whether through knowledge or faith) that it’s best for them to do so. They don’t need an intermediary; they talk directly to God, and occasionally argue with him.

  • Sarah

    For some reason, my mind went to the story of the prodigal son. I’m thinking that it isn’t so much how we talk to God that matters but how He talks to us.

  • Interestingly, David, you said, “We can see the Divine as a metaphor for what is best about our Selves.” I told my children the same about 2 years ago. I said, look, since Christians are hassling you at school — to avoid their nasty stereotyping you can tell them “I believe in God”, and just tell yourself that “God” means “the best side of ourselves”.

    But my kids refused saying, “Dad, that would be dishonest.”

    Out of the mouth of babes!
    —- the Tanakh: Psalms 8:2

  • Of course God uses people for His good and perfect purposes.

    He uses the poor words of the preacher to create faith. “How can they hear if they don’t have a preacher?” St. Paul.

    He even uses our sin. He used the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus, didn’t He?

    God is a real God. And he will use whomever and whatever He wants to use to accomplish His will.

  • Jim Brazell

    Like Sarah, my thoughts went to the parable of the Prodigal Son. However, a significant part of me wonders about the sincerity of the prodigal’s confession; either way, God sees through it to love & reconciliation. The Elder Son’s lesson is also about agency and gratitude. He starves himself in the name of faithfulness. Both boys need to grow up. Of course, so do the rest of us, especially me.

  • Al Cruise

    Steve you are completely wrong here. When humans try to make absolutes about the will of God it usually ends badly. Like the Lutheran Church did in Nazi Germany. A book to read is “Betrayal” by Robert p. Erickson. It tells how the Church felt what the Nazi’s were doing was God’s will. Austin Cline in his review of the book says “the Church felt Adolf Hilter was God’s gift to the people”. There are many parallels in that book to the right wing evangelical thought process of today. Saying ” he even uses our sin” gives justification to commit any kind of atrocity, as long as you can put the right Biblical spin on it afterwards.

  • Gary

    One question…

    If we are created in God’s image, why do so many believers keep making excuses for God’s unconscionably immoral and abusive behavior? (Which they insist He has done) For instance, if mass genocide is immoral for our governments and leaders, then it is ALSO immoral for God. If manipulative and threatening behaviors is wrong for us as a means of controlling others, then it is ALSO wrong for God. If it is abusive, vindictive, unjust, or a flat out horrible thing to do for us…then Damnit…it IS for God too! I grew up on the we don’t have the right to question God bullshit and it is nothing more than a transparent attempt to not have to explain why they believe their god is such a monster.

    If there is a God (I still believe this to be true) then He did not order the mass genocide of entire civilizations including innocent children, He will not roast people in hell for all eternity because they sincerely believed another religion or even that He does not exist, he does not consider us worthless or depraved for simply being born, and He does not manipulate us and use us solely for HIS purposes. The “God is a real God” line of defense for behaviors that we instinctively recognize as profoundly immoral is such a bunch of fucking bullshit!

  • Andy

    Jesus questioned his worthiness often, prayed “not my will but yours be done,” cried out “Why have you forsaken me?” and gave his entire body and life for the purpose of God’s glory — taking on the sins of even the worst people of the world.

    (I have some other thoughts. But perhaps this is what needs to be said first, if anything.)

  • Andy

    Nor do Christians, Grad. Anyone can talk to (or at) God.

    Sin-atonement, on the other hand …

  • Gradivus

    That’s good to know. Of course, forgive my ignorance, but when Christians pray to Jesus they believe they are speaking directly to God, right?

    Sin-atonement is an interesting topic. In the Jewish tradition, God withholds from Himself the ability to forgive sins committed against another man (or woman), because for Him to take that power from the victim would be unjust. In Judaism, God can forgive you for sins you commit against God, but if you sin against a person only that person has the power to forgive you.

  • klhayes

    The comic really has opened my eyes to a different way of viewing what I now think is the typical relationship with God.

  • Ryan Hite

    We should never be made to feel this way about ourselves. Life is too short to think that it sucks.

  • sarahagnew

    yep, mutuality is the quality of right relationships – what I see in the Hebrew term hesed / loving kindness – that honours each person in a relationship for the fulness of their being, and invites each other to live into that fulness with integrity and authenticity. it’s a but more nuanced than ‘equality’ – coz we’re not necessarily equal – think of the relationship of carer and cared for, pastor and congregation member, parent and child, God and human in which there are ‘power’ dynamics associated with roles – so mutuality says we each have value and something to contribute to the wellbeing of each other through love …

  • Toni Browning-Early

    Occasionally? 😉

  • Carolyn Garcia

    why is it being an evangelical christian is synonymous with having no boundaries….err. Forget it. The answer is self evident.

  • Al, a lot of Lutherans did not support the Nazis. But many did.

    But that wasn’t my point. What ‘we do’, was not my point at all.

    My point was that God uses us. The good and the bad in what we do…for His purposes.

  • klhayes

    Ughhh hate it when everything is the will of God. That actually removes free will from the equation. Free will is the choice to do the will of God or not, right? If I rob a bank, I am breaking the 7th commandment which really seems to be going against God’s will.
    I think that idea is a way for people to make sense out of the bad that happens in the world.

  • RB

    I’m new to reading this blog, but I sure enjoy and appreciate the perspective. I think people talk a lot about “being used” by God. I think what God really wants and what humans really crave is partnership WITH God. Without being crude, I don’t “use” my wife to meet my sexual needs. I partner together with her to achieve mutual fulfillment and satisfaction. The marriage union is a metaphor of the relationship between Christ and the Church. God’s desire is not to “use” us, but to partner together with us in a relationship that results in mutual fulfillment and satisfaction. The highest goal is a relationship in which Christ and the Church are so “one” that it’s hard to tell the difference. If the church looked more like Christ, we (including myself) would be far more attractive to “outsiders.” The cry of my heart is “God, I don’t want to work for you. I want to work, live and breathe together WITH you!”

  • whoizit?

    Letting God use you is just doing His will. God may ‘use’ your life, will never abuse the precious ones He sacrificed Himself to save.