‘A Word from the Lord’ Still Doesn’t Make Sense (LSP #160)

‘A Word from the Lord’ Still Doesn’t Make Sense (LSP #160) October 5, 2020

Hi and welcome back! I saw this meme recently and it made me laugh. Maybe it’ll make you laugh too! It concerns a bit of Christianese favored in the evangelical crowd: a word from the Lord. Today, Lord Snow Presides over these bizarre little performances and how they’re used in authoritarian groups!

a word from the lord this is not
(Austin Chan.)

The Meme.

I found this on a site called Happy Sonship. Their writer describes it as their “all time favorite” Christian meme. In fact, it’s #1 on the list:

mystified guy trying to smile as he gets 'a word that doesn't make any sense'
“When someone gives you a word that doesn’t make any sense.” (Source.)

I can see why too, absolutely!

The image refers to a word from the Lord. And yes, that’s the usual reaction I’ve seen from Christians who get one that doesn’t make any sense to them: trying super-hard to look enthusiastic in response, but only looking beyond-mystified and confused and a little nervous.

And today I’ll show you why these “words” provoke that reaction.

BTW: Some Christians capitalize “word,” and some don’t. My tribe didn’t, so I don’t.

Christianese 101: A Word from the Lord.

This is hilarious, and it’s always been utter nonsense.

See, sometimes Jesus rillyrillyrilly wants to tell a Christian something super-important, but he’s feeling really shy and coy right then. So he tells another Christian who isn’t even involved in that matter to go tell that first person what he wants them to know.

This message-delivery is considered a real live miracle because OMG Y’ALL, HOW COULD THAT SECOND PERSON POSSIBLY HAVE KNOWN WHAT TO SAY?

Now that I’m long out of the religion, it amazes me that I ever took this idea seriously. But I did, and so did many other Christians. In fact, for many years it’s been a very common folk-practice in what I’ve come to call low Christianity.

In case someone needs it, here’s my categorization system.

Fundagelicals consider examples of a word from the Lord to be a form of divine prophecy. It’s not future-predictive prophecy, usually, but it still counts because it involves a person having knowledge that could only have come from Jesus himself (as they consider it). As such, it’s considered technically a gift of the Spirit, meaning the Holy Spirit, which is Yahweh’s expressed power and sense of gumption.

Interestingly, some evangelical leaders and sites condemn this practice. Got Questions calls chasing after words from the Lord “a dangerous trend,” especially when the messages conveyed don’t take the forms they themselves approve. They call it an example of “experience-driven Christianity,” which is terrible and bad and not TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ at all.

But the popularity of these totally-for-realsies divine messages have made this one genie that won’t be going back into the bottle anytime soon.

Especially wingnutty evangelicals adore this particular control-grab (and here’s a bunch of them using it). A word from the Lord becomes the ultimate argument from authority in a tribe that already veers dangerously-authoritarian. 

How A Word from the Lord Works.

Here’s how things usually go down in TRUE-CHRISTIAN™-Town:

Imagine that you’re just chilling in church toward the tail end of the service, maybe toward the end of the altar call. Maybe you’re talking to friends or idly clapping along and singing to whatever song’s still playing while the people around you gather up their stuff to leave.

Then, you realize someone is approaching. They have a REALLY intense look on their face. You look up and maybe offer a kind greeting, but you know immediately what’s about to go down. Everyone does. It’s the specific look, and it appears almost nowhere else but here.

This person tells you earnestly and intensely, “I have a word from the Lord for you, Sister Cassidy.” 

You give the expected response: “Praise the Lord! Share it, Brother Andy.”

And then, friend, you get ready for a roller coaster ride.

The person bearing the word from the Lord will tell you something. Usually, it’s just rah-rah, hold the course, don’t give up the faith kinda stuff. The two of you will then pray together or clasp hands or hug as appropriate. Afterward, the bearer will leave your presence in a haze of self-importance. They have officially brought word of the man with One Red Shoe.

In fact, they’ll ride on the fumes of this ZOMG MEERKUL for at least a few days, maybe even for a few weeks.

How to Respond.

It’s not uncommon for evangelical churches of the happy-clappy, rowdy variety to employ words from the Lord with visitors. I think it’s meant to impress visitors with how super-Jesus-y that group totally is.

In the event you find yourself needing to blend in but the word from the Lord makes no sense whatsoever, don’t worry.

First, heartily thank the person bearing the totally-for-realsies divine message. A few generalized God is good! exclamations won’t go amiss here.

Second, ask that person to pray over you. 

Finally, smile, nod your head, and slowly drift away.

The Christian who brought the totally-for-realsies divine message won’t notice if you don’t say the message was absolutely completely totally applicable to your life and answers all the questions you ever had about anything.

They didn’t bring that message to you for your benefit anyway, so they won’t be focusing on you much (if at all).

Other Places to Find This ZOMG MEERKUL.

Of course, words from the Lord occur in other venues.

One popular place to see it happening is revivals, especially if the speaker is from another area and not familiar with that church. (Some even cultivate a reputation for such miracles.) When things get rowdy, that speaker will point at various attendees and tell them some big important message from Jesus. Often, this message centers on the target’s life purpose and where they’ll find meaning in their lives.

I’ve heard of Christians attending these events specifically to get a divine message like that. If they do get one, it boosts their faith considerably — especially if it sounds particularly relevant.

But if they don’t get a divine message, or they do but it’s beyond irrelevant to them or runs counter to their own opinions, or it directly contradicts whatever they think their god has already told them, such a word from the Lord can backfire dramatically.

Some Christians also think they get a word from the Lord from media they consume, acquaintances and family members who aren’t even members of the same religious tribe, or from random coincidences in their lives. In this way, words from the Lord operate a lot like pagans’ signs and portents. Indeed, one Christian site tells us very very seriously that words from the Lord can come from all kinds of places:

The word [from the Lord] is sometimes easy to miss. It often comes in unexpected ways or from unexpected sources. Not just unexpected, but frequently the last thing you would expect, and something you would never have thought of on your own.

In fact, its writer even goes on to tell us that Christians themselves sometimes just get a feeling that turns out to be a divine message.

Oh, that Jesus. He’s so coy sometimes!

The Bearer’s Importance.

It all reminds me now so much of what Schmendrick the Magician cried out after changing the unicorn into a human woman in The Last Unicorn:

“A mountebank may select this cheat or that, but a magician is a porter, a donkey carrying his master where he must. The magician calls, but the magic chooses. If it changes a unicorn to a human being, then that was the only thing to do.” His face was fevered with an ardent delirium which made him look even younger. “I am a bearer,” he sang. “I am a dwelling, I am a messenger –”

“You are an idiot,” Molly Grue said fiercely.

And he was right then, yes. But not about magic. In his world, magic is real. In the real world we inhabit, no gods exist to give anybody any kind of words at all.

Making matters worse, sometimes that bearer has their own agenda. They desperately want to insert themselves into their target’s private business. And there is no better way to do that than by bringing a word from the Lord. Nobody can possibly tell the bearer that their message isn’t divine. It’s not just disallowed — it’s downright unthinkable!

To do so would be throwing the entire mythos into question, so nobody ever does it. Tests do exist all over the internet — and get taught by pastors — about how to “discern” if the word given is really divine, but they’re grossly inaccurate (for reasons Christians never like to consider).

Cold Reading, and Warm.

If this all sounds a lot like the carnie trick of cold reading, it should.

In cold reading, the person doing the reading takes in a whole variety of cues given off by the target. Almost everyone gives off those cues. The TV show Sherlock plays upon those external cues in dress, grooming, and demeanor as a way for its hero to gain his uncanny knowledge of people and situations (mostly SFW):

Without those cues, Sherlock can’t cold-read Irene Adler quite so easily. (Me personally, I’d have gone for the makeup, hair, and shoes. But whatever.)

And hooboy, do evangelical hucksters and other such scam artists love their cold reading. The YouTube channel Holy Koolaid offers a good explanation of the techniques involved:

If the target isn’t aware of the technique, it can be devastatingly effective.

But if the target is aware of how cold reading works, it backfires spectacularly hard.

Gosh, It Is Just SO WEIRD.

I don’t think evangelicals realize just how effectively the whole notion of a word from the Lord destroys their claims.

The idea of a god who can’t just communicate directly and clearly with his own fervent followers goes so far into ludicrous it becomes comical.

Is he incompetent?

Or just malicious?

Or… nonexistent?

Hm, could that possibly be why a word from the Lord is usually just blahblah words from the blahblah store that mean nothing specific, make no specific predictions, cannot be tested at all, and generally change absolutely nothing? Could that be why they always seem to match whatever the speaker and/or target happen to believe?

Whatever evangelicals claim about a word from the Lord, the facts are these: these totally-for-realsies divine messages are indistinguishable from normal humans conveying information that anybody could make up or guess.

Today, Lord Snow Presides over one of the nuttier things evangelicals do in their quest for power and self-importance: the word from the Lord that always seems suspiciously earthly.

NEXT UP: Why evangelicals can’t care about others. See you tomorrow!


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.
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