Putting Words in God’s Mouth

Our world is becoming an increasingly scary place in which to live.

In 1999, the world was shocked and grieved when two students gunned down thirteen of their peers in Columbine, Colorado; nobody would have thought then that the phrase “another mass shooting” would, over the next 19 years, become part of our lexicon. By now, though, we have a routine: hear about a shooting, grieve briefly, then immediately release meme after meme pithily laying blame on the idiots who could have prevented it.

Among all the memes I’ve seen floating around online on the heels of the Florida shooting, one grabbed my attention and grieved me tremendously. Perhaps you’ve seen it:

At best, persuasive memes entertain but do little (if anything) to promote civil conversation. At worst, they promote strife and cause great harm. This one, I believe, can do nothing but harm.

First: God has made it abundantly clear that we are not to add to His Word. Although this is only a T-shirt and not a Bible, the designer obviously felt qualified to presume what God would say if questioned by this “concerned student” and to share this message with the world. Even if we could assume that this is truly what God would say if He chose to speak audibly, we would still be in the wrong by spreading it as confidently as if it were straight from His Word.

Second: Would God truly respond in this way if questioned? Would He want US to do so? Consider 1 Peter 3:15: “…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

People are looking at the evil in the world and wondering: Why does anybody have hope? How can God allow such suffering? These are huge questions, huger than I can tackle in today’s blog post, but they are worthy of more than just a sarcastic, dismissive retort. They merit gentleness, respect, and the compassion that God feels when He sees the brokenness of the world — a world He loved so much that He sent His own Son to save it.

Third, and last for today: What kind of theology are we perpetrating if we suggest that these hundreds of deaths have occurred because God abandons those who abandon Him? As a Christian, could I look in the eyes of a parent whose child was just tragically torn away and say, “Well, if prayer were still allowed in schools, your kid would still be alive”? A thousand times, no! The school system may squelch religion, but a classroom consists of individual souls, and God sees and knows intimately each and every one.

Furthermore, the Bible makes it clear — and church history bears it out — that those who follow Christ are not immune to suffering. We need only look back at the church shooting in Texas, or the one-room schoolhouse shooting in Lancaster County, to see that evil befalls those who follow Jesus as well as those who want nothing to do with Him.

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Fellow Christ-followers, we have so much more to offer the world than sarcasm, curtness, and victim-blaming. If Jesus is the only one who can truly heal our broken world, one soul at a time — and we know He is! — then we have a sacred responsibility. Let us look at those who hurt through His eyes…and gently show them how much He loves them.

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Searching for Significance: When It’s Time to Stop

Being a writer is just the worst.

Think I’m kidding? Okay, maybe I am exaggerating. Certainly I’m making a blanket generalization based on my own very limited experience. But I do mean it, at least sometimes, at least for myself.

The thing is, most people with a passion for writing have been inspired by the work of others. Whether it be Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, John Steinbeck, J.K. Rowling, or one of scores of others, authors show us the power of the written word and ignite a passion within us to harness that same power — to entertain, to persuade, to inspire. Fueled by that passion, we set out to follow in their footsteps.

Most of us soon find that becoming a household name is out of our reach. WAY out of our reach. We trudge stolidly along, putting heartfelt words out there, getting a few readers, and we wonder: Should I be doing something else? Honestly, if only a few dozen people will ever see and remark on my words, am I wasting my time? Does this matter?

Do matter?

Before I go on, let’s revisit my first statement for a minute; after all, this is not a post about writing (believe it or not). What it should say is:

Trying to do anything influential is just the worst.

In truth, all of us seek significance in some way, and many of us, I believe, wish we could have tangible confirmation that what we are doing is important. For instance…

  • The pastor of a small congregation whose eyes are constantly on bigger churches and John Piper-like recognition.
  • The homeschooling mom who dreams of being the It Homeschooler like Sarah Mackenzie or Susan Wise Bauer so she can know she’s influencing more than just the small troop of little ones within her own home.
  • The baseball coach who knows, deep down, that he “could have made it big.”
  • The concertmaster of a local orchestra who secretly wonders: if it’s not the Philadelphia Orchestra, what’s the point?

Questions such as these haunt me in almost every aspect of my life. I know I’m not alone, because I’ve read approximately five hundred blog posts and articles about how we all have a purpose in life and each one of us is important in the eyes of God and He’s given us dreams for a reason. This is all true, and worthy of acceptance. HOWEVER…

A time comes at which we have to move past this. Why this constant need for reassurance? I am speaking very directly to myself here, and if anybody else has similar struggles, feel free to listen in — but be warned that the answer may hurt a little.

Pride.

I want people to recognize me. I want to know, through the affirmation of others, that I am important. I want people to know that I am accomplishing big things because, goshdarnit, people have heard of me. In other words: this striving for significance is, in the end, all about me.

Those are ugly confessions, but without acknowledging them, I will remain stuck. And when I’m wallowing in my pride, pining for more confirmation that I’m significant, I fail to properly love those who are in my circle of influence.

When friends comment on how much they were encouraged by one of my blog posts, it means God has used my words in somebody else’s life. What right do I have to say that’s not enough? Do those friends, then, not matter? That would be awful, and of course I think they matter…but my eventual dissatisfaction with my small sphere of influence indicates otherwise.

God has given me a desire to write, and the ability to do so with reasonable aptitude. If I squander His gift to me — or, using it, nonetheless feel constantly discontent and ungrateful because I compare myself with Ann Voskamp or Philip Yancey — I emulate the faithless servant of Matthew 25 who, upon receiving only one talent, buried it in the ground and went on to make excuses by criticizing the master who entrusted him with it.

Pride manifests itself in so many different forms, but its consequences are never pretty. My particular brand of pride leads to discouragement that I’m not getting hundreds of “views” for each blog post instead of gratitude for those who do regularly read and thoughtfully respond. It leads to halfhearted interactions with my children as I daydream about being something more. It means I crumble inside when I see that somebody else is a much more capable musician than I am.

Pride, as long as I cling to it, means that I fail to love and bless those in my small corner of the world…because I’m too preoccupied with my own importance to give myself fully to others.

Most of us who know Jesus and recognize the Imago Dei in ourselves don’t need more confirmation of our own value. We need to rest in our identity as loved children of God…thank Him for the gifts He’s given us (big or small)…and then use them faithfully — not for our own glory, but for His.