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”.
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.