Unraveling the Wizard

A while back I was talking to a sister on the phone and she related this story to me.

She was hanging out at my parent’s house and Mom and our 14 year old sister had just come home from shopping. They were relating how the trip had gone well and our sister had found a nice bathing suit and then while they were in line the person behind them offered the use of a 20% off coupon that they were not intending to use. Then my Mom added that God had sent the coupon because our sister had “made the right choice” and picked a “modest” bathing suit.

The sister relating this story to me could not understand why she had reacted so strongly to what my Mom said. She was instantly angry, almost to the point of nausea. “I could see being irritated by Mom claiming that God was rewarding her for picking a modest bathing suit, but why did it make me so angry!”

It made sense to me.

My sister and I (and all of the rest of our siblings) have been raised to believe that following God meant doing everything our parents said. We were told over and over that the only way to be happy was if we were completely obedient and submissive to the God-granted authority my Dad possessed. Dad, as the male leader of the home represented God to us, as long as we remained obedient, we were under God’s care, which meant we were promised health, good marriages, happy children etc. If we rebelled and disobeyed, we were without spiritual protection, and would be unhappy and live broken lives. We would be living outside the bounds of “What God Wanted”, and therefore unable to be blessed by Him.

I remember one time when my Dad was ranting about my “selfishness” and “laziness” in keeping up with the housework, he gave me an ultimatum, asking if I wanted “to serve God or yourself”. I was 15, and wanted to please both God and my Dad, so of course I answered “God”. But curious, I then asked him what would say if I had said I wanted to serve myself. His answer was “find another place to live”. If I wasn’t willing to do “What God Wanted”, then I was not worthy to live in his house.

This topic came up endlessly. If we wore a shirt without sleeves, we were displeasing God. If we listened to Christian radio, we were rebelling against God. If we didn’t obey instantly and without question, we were not following God’s plan. But in reality, my parents were just using “God” to justify everything that they wanted. There is a big difference in saying “Wow, a 20% of coupon, what a gift from God!” and saying “God sent me this gift because I made such and such a choice.” My mom wanted my sister to dress a certain way, so she praised her for her choice in bathing suits, by claiming that God was happy about it and was sending her money to prove it.


I’ve continued to see this mentality in Christians outside of my family.

God seems to be the proxy for emotions that no one wants to deal with. People don’t want to claim the thought or feeling as their own, so they assign it to God. They want to move to a new area, so they decide that it must be “What God Wants”. They are changing careers because it is “What God Wants”. They homeschool, or send their children to private school because that is “What God Wants”.

Why is it so hard to just admit that it is actually what you want?

A more painful aspect of this, is watching people agonize over a decision because they don’t know “What God Wants.” They love someone, but does God want them to marry this person? They are exhausted and burnt out, but what if God wants them to have another baby? They can’t decide which college to attend, because who knows “What God Wants”?

And the worst form of this, is when (much like my parents) someone tells another person “What God Wants” for their life. This turns into “God Wants You to…” They can’t be content just believing that God communicates his will for their lives directly to them, they have to take it one step further and insist that God tells them his will for everyone else’s lives as well.

This God talk (God Wants, God told me, God’s Will, God’s Plan…) is all nonsense. Nobody has a direct line to God. No one knows exactly what he wants. We can read the Bible, and pray, and subscribe to churches that do their best to interpret God’s will to be. But no one really knows 100%. No one is completely unbiased.

In the end, we each have to make our decisions based on what is best for us in relation to our community and world, leaving everyone else to their own decisions, hoping that if there is a God, he’ll be merciful despite our mistakes.

One of the final scenes from “The Wizard of OZ” is a great illustration of this type of God talk.

Dorothy has finally completed her Quest to make it to the Wizard, and she stands looking up at the impressive large face and listening to the booming voice of Oz. When suddenly, Toto starts pulling on a sheet in the corner of the room, and behind it is a little man fiddling with a control panel. “Oz” bellows from the projection screen “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!!” But of course upon further investigation, the man behind the curtain turns out to be the brain behind the “Wizard of Oz”. Not so impressive after all, just a little guy with a projector and a microphone, trying to tell everyone else what to do.

So the next time someone tries to tell you that they know exactly “What God Wants” for your life, and you stand there listening to the booming voice and looking at the large projection, just remember that behind the curtain, it isn’t God at all, it’s just that person pretending to be God.

Not so scary now is it.

  • http://lil-ms-drama.livejournal.com/ lil-ms-drama

    You know, this is so spot on. I remember feeling "called" to marry a pastor. Looking back now I realize it was because I was dating someone who claimed to be a Baptist pastor. Funny thing is, I found him on FB and he's no longer confessing to be a pastor, just a social worker, a job he hated because he could never leave it at work with having to be on call so often.

    I also remember being called to be an actress. Um? Hello? I love acting. Why wouldn't God call me to be an actress? Why would he call me to be a pastor's wife and have the pastor I was dating tell me he couldn't marry an actress because actors starve and his wife would be the one earning a living while he stayed home and raised the kids? Ok, so now not only do I have to endure pregnancy and labor, but I also have to bring home the bacon for my lazy a$$ husband who has a college degree when I don't? Oh, yeah. That's right. For this particular young man, I'd have to have a college degree in something other than performing arts to be marriage material.

    I never dated another "pastor" again.

    I married an atheist.

  • http://www.mrsspit.ca Mrs.Spit

    I think there are things we can say that God wants for us – he wants us to feel loved, he wants us to be in happy, nurturing relationships. He wants us not to murder, he wants us to care for the poor and broken spirited?

    As for the rest? I suspect He's honoured to be asked, but truthfully, I suspect there can never be only one right path for our lives.

  • Emily

    Hmmm….well, what you're describing sounds like karma dressed up in Christianese.

    It also sounds like the perfect manipulation tool. "God wants" trumps everything else, so using it is attempt to guarantee getting one's way. You can get away with almost anything if "God put on your heart" AND you can do it without further explanation. If my husband came home and said, "Em, I'm quitting my job. I don't want to work anymore." I would demand a reason and plan and we would discuss conflicting desires and survival…ugly as it may be, we would hash it out. But, if someone said the exact thing, only changing the "I don't want to work" to "God doesn't want me to work," there's no room for argument. You end up getting the run-around of "God wants, God's calling, God put it on my heart, the Spirit is moving me…."

    It's ridiculous. I also think it's opposed to Christianity. The huge number of Christians that use this type of language is rather disturbing. Not only does it demonstrate a twisted idea of God, but it also indicates a lack of self-respect. Why isn't it enough to just want something? I have a hypothesis that people who use this language have a very wounded self-image. If your desires are not respected simply because they are YOURS, it would make sense to call upon the Almighty to back you up.

    One time in an argument with my husband, he tried to call upon my obligation to respect him because God said I have to and blah blah blah. After being massively offended, I realized he was grasping at straws. He didn't feel like I was respecting him (which is important, we all want respect) and he didn't feel like it was enough to assert HIS desire and need for respect and HIS disappointment that I (apparently) did not find him worthy of respect, so he called down the Almighty to protect himself. After going back and forth with him about how I wasn't interested in his argument, I told him "If you don't want me to speak to you in a certain way, then say, I don't want you to speak to me that way. I'm not going to engage that. I'm talking to you while you talk to me that way." he was umm…perplexed. A few days later he told me that he didn't believe it was enough for him to just want to be treated differently. It took a while, but he did come to see that I'm interested in what he wants, not what he says God wants.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16232186225573312896 Incongruous Circumspection

    Thank you so much for this. You did a very sweet job articulating the issue.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10172668433266809905 Janet Oberholtzer


    Before I put boundaries in place I hung out with too many people who pretend to be God … and I allowed them to influence my life … but now I think for myself. I have a brain and I'm not afraid to use it!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16232186225573312896 Incongruous Circumspection

    Emily, I think I agree with "Not only does it demonstrate a twisted idea of God, but it also indicates a lack of self-respect."

    In a way, you're correct because I am convinced that people do it to thwart the exact kinds of questions and inquiries that will make them explain their decision. As long as everyone else is trained to accept that assertion as factual, no questions need to be asked. Its a safety fallback.

    Good points!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09779444962182438901 Enigma

    wow incredible!
    I still struggle to see God as anything but angry with me. My husband is a first generation christian and he is often shocked by the things i was taught to believe.
    That mental image of The wizard behind the curtain has been added to my ammunition in the battle against my past. thanks!!! :)

  • http://www.liberatedfamily.com Rebekah

    Wow, wow, wow. What a great post. It was SO good to read this.

  • http://grace-filled.net jen

    Uh… yeah. I'm seeing some faulty logic here on the part of your mom that irks me when I see it in fellow Christians. I believe that we're called to discern God's will but that nobody can magically tell us what it is.

    If your mom wanted to put a Christian spin on things, she could have commented on the generous heart of the person who gave them that coupon (thus demonstrating the virtue of generosity). Unfortunately, she's not seeing it that way.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04274507983353868813 Practicing Mammal

    Great Post, young and busy mom! I have always believed the hardest part of being a Christian is DISCERNMENT. How can we know the will of God? We always feel angst in decision making, no matter how big or small. Is the angst God guarding us, or Satan tempting us?

    I always think about babies. God will never say No we shouldn't have another baby. He will also never say, Yes you should have another baby. It undermines the free will He gave us.

    I read in your bio about your interest in things Catholic and Orthodox. I am a convert to Catholicism. You may really appreciate The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12557248434888642114 Melanie B

    Wow! I'd be angry too. Your parents were denying her and you the opportunity to form a direct relationship with God for yourselves. They didn't allow you to learn how to listen to hear God's voice talking to you in the silence of your heart. Instead they drowned out that still small voice and replaced it with their own booming voice. How could you possibly ever form a real relationship with God under those circumstances? How could you ever know him? Ugh that makes me so mad on your behalf and your siblings'.

    It's manipulative and controlling and it is fundamentally opposed to the true freedom of the child for parents to label their own will as the will of God.

    I love the image from the Wizard of Oz of the little man hiding behind the curtain trying to manipulate everyone with fear. That certainly is not God. Not the God I know and love and serve. Not the God who is love.

    I agree that many people label their own will God's will and use it to justify all sorts of behaviors, both good and bad. However, just because some people do that, doesn't mean that we can't pray for discernment and seek to know God's will for our lives. It doesn't mean that God is unknowable. Just that _those people_ don't know God.

    I think people who truly know God are humble. I think people who truly know God don't try to control or manipulate others. I think people who truly know God are more willing to listen than to speak. More willing to be admit they might be wrong than insistent that they are right.

    Maybe I misunderstood your point; but I disagree with your assertion that "this God talk" is *all* nonsense and that God is essentially unknowable. Though I do agree that if someone comes up to me and tells me they know what God wants for me that they're full of it, I don't think that I can't try to discern God's will in my life.

    It seems to me what you're describing is like a survivor of an abusive marriage who concludes that healthy marriage is a myth, who claims that there is no possibility for men and women to have a non-abusive relationship. While I'll grant you that it is very, very hard for a person who has been abused to go on to form a healthy relationship, I don't think it is impossible. I think healing can happen and trust can be restored. But oh it's a hard road.

    But I think prayerful discernment can help us to listen to God's voice which will sometimes prompt us to things which were not our own will. I've known men who were called to the priesthood not because it was something they wanted for themselves but because they truly heard a prompting from the Spirit. They were initially surprised and perhaps even hostile to that prompting but over time and with prayer and discussion with others whose judgment they trusted and considered sound, they were able to discern that the call was true.

    And I think that this is the purpose of spiritual direction, we place ourselves in a relationship of a trained director who can help us to distinguish between our own desires and the true promptings of the spirit. And help us to identify obstacles that stand between us and a relationship with God For this relationship to work the directee must be truly free from coercion, it is not a power relationship as the one between parent and child but a free meeting of equals.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12557248434888642114 Melanie B

    Also, this is an article my dad sent to me this week which addresses the topic of knowing God's will. It really spoke to me. http://www.ronrolheiser.com/columnarchive/?id=650
    It seems to me that what he's describing is a healthy version of listening to God and discerning God's will through all events of one's life.

    This also seemed to me to be describing a healthy way of seeking to know God's will in your life: http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/2011/06/27/how-can-i-know-the-will-of-god-in-my-life-part-ii-of-ii/comment-page-1#comment-2863

    Both of them come at it in the form of questions rather than assertions, from a perspective of humbly praying and seeking rather than assuming we know the answers.

    I think it is never possible to know God's will for someone else. But it might be possible for me to discern God's will for *me*.