This post will be something of a loose sequel to my previous thoughts, on Joyce Meyer, which generated some interesting conversation.
I've noticed an additional quirk, of Joyce's, that certainly isn't unique to her. She quite frequently speaks of what "God wants" (or desires/commands etc.). Often she'll preface the comment in question by also saying something like "I believe", "I really believe", or "I really believe, with all of my heart"; after which point she proceeds to speak, quite confidently and comfortably, on God's behalf. Are people more likely to buy into what Meyer is saying, if she "really believes" it? What's the point of even mentioning this? Of course you believe what you're about to assert; if you didn't, you wouldn't be saying it in the first place. Then again, perhaps it's true that parishioners more eagerly embrace things that their pastors and, in this case, celebrity speakers "really believe, with all of (their) heart". Somehow it seems "extra" true if the person, delivering the message, feels and believes it deep down in the pits of their soul. Even still, I find that phrasing a little odd, and bordering on the illogical, especially considering how often she employs it. Does "really believing" something make it any more likely to be true? Hardly.
Recently, as these thoughts were still floating around in the back on my mind somewhere, I stumbled into a book called "God Wants You to Be Happy". My first inclination was to dismiss it, as nothing more than a fringe title, perhaps authored by someone who held to some mildly unorthodox Protestant views. But then I noticed an endorsement, on the front cover, from none other than Ruth Graham (the Rev. Billy Graham's daughter). She says, "If you want to know happiness as God intends it, read this book!". (Side note: A few years ago I met and conversed with Ruth and, although she's been through a lot in her life, many Christians I know personally speak highly of her current ministry.) I flipped to the inside cover and, lo and behold, more endorsements from people that I would consider to be very much in the mainstream of evangelical thought (ie. Dr. Kevin Leman & Pete Wilson).
What strikes me about this, once again, is the whole notion of speaking for God. Christians do it routinely. It's another one of those weird dynamics that I didn't pick up on, while I was still a believer, since I guess it just seemed so normal at the time. Some Christians, of course, will disagree with the specific notion that God wants you to be happy and, perhaps, they will even be able to muster up a few Bible verses to "contradict" it. I would have been inclined to do so myself, in fact, only just a few short years ago. But I now think this approach entirely misses the forest for the trees.
Here's the problem...the Bible says all sorts of things and, on occasion, even contradictory things on the exact same topic. So it just doesn't work, when arguing about theology, to use the Bible as though it were a weapon. This is the deeper conundrum that Christians face, without even realizing it, as they continue daily in their misguided attempts to speak "for" God to one another. Years ago, for example, I remember trying to sort through Calvinism & Arminianism. These two doctrines are very clearly at odds, and I really wanted to know which one was correct. Can a believer lose their salvation (as Arminianism would suggest), or can't they (as Calvinism would suggest)? Does everyone have an equal shot at salvation (as Arminianism would suggest) or does God elect (either some or all) believers ahead of time (as Calvinism would suggest)? Believe it or not the conclusion I came to, after much investigation, is that the Bible actually teaches both doctrines. That's right! Both sides can be justified Biblically, and quite amply I might add. At the time I chalked it up to God's ways being mysterious, and I never worried myself with the issue again.
This is just one example. There are hundreds more I could have used. So, believer, before you come against one of your own, who claims to be speaking on God's behalf, just remember that they likely have Biblical justification for what they are saying. And there are probably also Biblical arguments against certain of your Christian beliefs. I'm willing to grant that it's "possible" one of you is simply wrong, and the other right, but I want you to think about this...is that the most likely scenario? Or is it, dare I say it, more likely that the Bible simply contradicts itself? Are you willing to consider that possibility? (I'm not even asking you to assent to it, only to consider it. Will you?) Perhaps the Bible itself is partly to blame for the fact that there are 38, 000 Christian denominations in the world today. As John Loftus says, in chapter 7 of "The Christian Delusion", "What We've Got Here Is a Failure to Communicate" (on God's behalf).
If you're indeed willing to entertain the latter thought, and most Christians won't, let me follow it up by asking you this...supposing it were true that the Bible has legitimate contradictions, in what sense would it then be "the word of God"? Wouldn't genuine contradictions, even one, demonstrate that it wasn't a perfect book? If not, how many real contradictions would be required to demonstrate this? 10? 100? 1000? 10, 000? And, if it's not a perfect book, why do you believe that God had anything to do with it at all? The onus of proof is now firmly on you, as the believer, to demonstrate to the rest of us that the Bible is somehow of divine origin. All signs point in the other direction.
So the next time you hear a preacher say "God wants" this or that I want you to take notice. Stop, and wonder to yourself how it is that they know what God wants. A Bible verse, even one that seems to back up their particular claim, won't cut it. Unless God has ordained the very words of each and every individual Biblical author (as many Christians in fact believe) the whole premise of speaking for God falls totally to pieces. Simply "believing", that you're somehow in the loop on God's desires, is not enough. You have to ground those beliefs with actual evidence.