Slandering God

Reading one of Alex’s posts, I got inspired.

Some years ago I actively belonged to a large and growing Pentecostal church in NYC’s theater district. We talked a lot about God’s working in our lives.

God’s telling me to…
Thus saith the Lord…
God opened the door to…
God closed the window to…
(God fiddled around a lot with the doors and windows of our lives back then)

Perhaps God did speak to me as directly as I imagined. It sure felt good knowing that I had divine sanction to do what I did, and that I could say no to something asked by a mere human without having to feel bad about it.

Luis: Brother Peterson, we’re getting together on Saturday night to prepare the sanctuary for Sunday service. Can you join us?
Peterson: I’d love to, Brother Luis, but God is calling me to spend time alone with Him in praise and worship on Saturday. Sort of a praise date.

How could Luis possibly counter that?

I heard lots of people talk about their God.

“God took Fluffy out of my life because she had become an idol to me.”
“The Lord demands I make Him my first love & hold off finding a girlfriend right now.”
“God put a barrier in my path and surrounded me with a hedge of thorns.”
“I grieved the Lord and need to seek His presence.”
“I must be careful what I do or else God will take away His anointing on my ministry.”

Many of these statements spoke to me of a deeper commitment to God and holy living. Even today I seek to be open to God’s will. I still value time in worship, living a thoughtful, intentional life.

But I wonder about some of the things I said about God. To the outsider did he come off sounding like a narcissistic control freak? In fact, I wager that if I had a real life friend who treated me the way I professed God treated me, other friends would encourage me to take out a restraining order against him. With my words I made God out to be petty, hyper-sensitive, controlling, demanding and selfish. I slandered God.

Now as a Quaker, I swim with a different school of fish. Many of my Friends never mention God, God’s will, or God’s voice in their lives. God, and Jesus in particular, are taboo subjects among many liberal unprogrammed Friends. (They are very don’t ask; don’t tell when it comes to God.)

Some Liberal Quaker Friends say things like,

I feel a leading to…
Way has opened for me to…

Sorta God in the passive voice. Perhaps these Friends feel it is presumptuous to claim, “God told me,” yet too forward to state, “I want to do this!”

I imagine when Quaker teens hear the Quaker adults talking around God, they might get the notion that God is a shadowy force that provides subtle impressions that lead us to do something we feel passionate about or should feel passionate about.

The image it evokes for me is God as amoeba, without form, transparent, a spiritual glob draped over our souls like one of Salvador Dali’s melted clocks.

So where does that leave me? I live somewhere between the two Gods–the overbearing, anal retentive, vocal God guiding and correcting me every step of the way, and the formless, nameless blob of a God speaking to me about as clearly as one of Charlie Brown’s teachers. (Mwa mwa, mwa mwa mwa MWAAAA)

Know any good Oracles?

This post has 18 Comments

  1. Clint on November 23, 2006 at 3:15 am Reply

    That was beautiful, just what I needed. Thanks.

  2. Anna HP on November 23, 2006 at 6:12 am Reply

    Sweet P, you´ve done it again. And yes, I would say that some of my friends sometimes would classify as oracles 🙂

  3. Willie Hewes on November 23, 2006 at 9:19 am Reply

    Hmm… yes, of course I would love helping out in church on Sunday, but the Lord is calling me to take the time to relax and spend time alone. And anyway, I just got myself a Wii…

    😉 OK, OK, I know it’s probably not like that, but I don’t know, sometimes… I was part of a New Age-y spiritual group as a teenager, and there were some people there who were always guided or called to do this that or the other. Suspiciously often, it was exactly what they would have done if led by entirely selfish motivations…

    But enough cyinicism (SP?), excellent post, P.

  4. alex resare on November 23, 2006 at 11:56 am Reply

    I’ve been thinking about this way to much. I have NO idea where I am. well maybe I do. I’m not inbetween the two Gods, I am truly furthest out on both sides at the same time. I hope that my slander doesn’t hurt God but that he takes me as the fool I am…

  5. Nillo on November 23, 2006 at 3:40 pm Reply

    You have reminded of a friend who said, “and God gave me that back pain so I would miss work and be there for so and so …”

    I like how you described Quakers as mostly “talking around” God. It’s like Hinduism’s idea that the underlying force in the universe we long to connect to cannot possibly be put into words and when you try to put words and meaning to this concept you wind up with Ishvara (or what Christians would call God).

    It’s kind of like defining God is like looking at the moon and thinking it’s the sun (a reflection of the light but not the light).

    I like the Dali analogy as well 🙂

  6. KJ on November 23, 2006 at 3:58 pm Reply

    God has led me to say …. nothing (heh heh heh).

  7. Peterson Toscano on November 23, 2006 at 4:48 pm Reply

    kj, hahahaha, nice

    nillo, I love that concept, and I have to say, I am not opposed to this idea of not being able to define or grasp the divine. Once we define something, so often we feel we own and understand it.

    Willie, God told me that the Wii is more sanctified than ps3.

    Alex, I somehow think God can handle the slander. The damage is more for the folks who listen to us. But being a fool when it comes to things divine is so much better than assuming one is a sage.

    anna hp, would those be karaoke singing oracles like you??

    clint, so glad. I needed to write it.

    It amazes me (and shames me) to think of how I spoke with such certainty about God and God’s character. I wonder how many times the words were pronounced over me, “Forgive him he knows not what he does.”

    Oh, and God informed me that he is calling his people to abstain from all meat, dairy, fish and egg products today. OTherwise he will smite you with a furious attack of gas.

  8. alex resare on November 23, 2006 at 5:23 pm Reply

    Oh, and God informed me that he is calling his people to abstain from all meat, dairy, fish and egg products today. Otherwise he will smite you with a furious attack of gas.

    If God is calling his people to go vegan today he has my numbers. I don’t want to be obstinate so I can accept that Jesus calls if the Father is busy. Or even a well known angel if it can prove its identity…

  9. grace on November 23, 2006 at 6:01 pm Reply

    Peterson,

    Are you in my head????

    While I’m not Quaker and don’t have your specific examples, I can totally relate to everything you’ve communicated here….you know I grew up in the Assemblies of God, right?

    We seem to be living in parallel universes…which is awesome considering the varying perspectives we come from which caused us to become friends.

    Now…to me….that’s one certain way God communicates! Do you agree?

    love ya!
    pam

  10. Anna HP on November 23, 2006 at 8:11 pm Reply

    Peterson!
    Karaokesingen oracles, most definately … oh you are the sweetest thing. Always make me smile.

  11. Peterson Toscano on November 24, 2006 at 3:34 pm Reply

    Pam, yeah, parellel universe is right. IT is amazing how folks can come from a totally different part of the world, different sex, sexual orientation, background, etc, and still relate on profound levels.

    I guess some could easily say that that is God talking. The Kingdom of God within me connecting with the Kingdom of God in you.

  12. E on November 26, 2006 at 5:41 pm Reply

    With my words I made God out to be petty, hyper-sensitive, controlling, demanding and selfish. I slandered God.

    It is revealing to step back and reflect on how one-sided our relationships with God really are, at least for those of us from more conservative backgrounds. We refer to God as father or husband or even friend, but never progress much beyond a master/slave relationship. It does make me pause and wonder what God actually thinks of all of it.

  13. Liz Opp on November 26, 2006 at 7:48 pm Reply

    Hey, Peterson. Thanks for directing me to this post…

    The examples you and others bring up remind me of the word I heard when I was spending lots of time in a personal growth support group: spiritualize our pain or our circumstance.

    Instead of rationalizing or intellectualizing why a thing had happened, instead of accepting the situation as it was, some of my friends would go way over into their religious/spiritual beliefs: God must want me to be suffering for a reason; it must be God’s will…

    It took me a long time to understand just what “spiritualizing” meant. And I also think I still get caught in it, like when I say (to another Friend), “I don’t feel clear to do that” [e.g. provide childcare during MfW], or “I don’t think that’s where God is wanting me right now” [e.g. not accepting an invitation to serve on a committee].

    But at the same time, when I have been faithful to and heeded whatever the “stop” is, regardless of what language I use around it–God told me so; God didn’t tell me so–my life in the short and intermediate term has turned out better.

    And yet. There are other times, very clearly, when I feel compelled to talk of God’s presence in my life… There is no clear indicator as to what I am supposed to say when. But I also know that if I somehow minimize God in my life by intentionally avoiding God language, well, I know in my craw that I had misspoken; I had not been truthful to myself.

    It’s an awful feeling, not being faithful, not being in integrity with the use of language and how it corresponds, in the moment, to belief…

    Blessings,
    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  14. forrest on November 27, 2006 at 9:10 pm Reply

    Two distinct things going on here, with the same name and the same appearance (in this world.)

    1) Some people, some of the time, are intuitively aware, through their connection with God, of what course of action is ultimately best.

    2) Some people adopt the external mannerisms of such a relationship, speaking the language of guidance while in fact their acts are being determined by their own prejudices and preferences.

    In either case, a person can try to “second-guess” God, ie construct a simple explanation of why God may have preferred one action or outcome to another. Results will vary in plausibility; since we’re talking about the purposes of infinite mind, from a perspective of spiritual blindness, we can hardly expect that our explanations will be completely accurate.

    One can also pray to better understand various things, including reasons for one event or another. We can expect to be answered at least as well as we would answer a small child wanting to know why he’s getting beans for dinner instead of meatloaf.

    Erich Schiffmann recommends asking for guidance specifically in small matters, because these come up more frequently than major life crisises, which makes them opportunities to practice turning to God without major risks, seeing how often this works out better than more conventional decision-making.

    What seem like small matters may have a greater importance than we realize; or rather we may be attributing altogether too much causal power to what we consider “important” events. Whether we actually address ourselves to God is probably more important than any of that.

    We can give God credit for some of our decisions; we don’t have to do it in a name-dropping manner, as if we were the only ones who knew Him.

  15. Peterson Toscano on November 27, 2006 at 9:28 pm Reply

    forest, and some people do a little of both. I guess that is why a walk with the divine requires humility and the ability to know that we can get it wrong, and often do. Thanks for deepening the discussion.

    Liz, thank you for taking the time to write such a profound response. I always chew on your words long after I read them.

    great thoughts about spiritualizing. I never heard it put quite that way, but I totally get it.

  16. Jay on November 27, 2006 at 11:13 pm Reply

    building off of forest’s two numbered points. surely there are times when the message has been powerfully delivered to the individual. but there is an important place for the collective wisdom and revelation to the community: to other Friends and peers. because the individual doesn’t have the exclusive understanding of the divine will.

  17. Journeyman on November 28, 2006 at 8:02 pm Reply

    Well-written. I recently started cringing at the way I sometimes absent-mindedly used words and phrases, especially some of the church cliches. It’s shocking and troublesome, yet somehow growth-inducing, to consider the words we use.

    Thanks for giving some legs to my own thoughts and ideas.

  18. Richard on November 29, 2006 at 4:53 am Reply

    For a short time I attended a charismatic church and heard many of the things you were talking about. People were always saying things like, “The Lord told me–” or “God wants me to–“. Frankly I found it kind of weird. How could they be so certain that God was telling them to do something? I mean, I too sought divine guidance but I was never “sure” what God wanted me to do.
    I also found it troubling when they would look upon some tragedy in their life as a wake up call from God. “God let my house burn down so I would have to rely on him more and not be so self-centered.” What kind of God is that? The God they worshiped seemed awfully demanding and punitive. Sort of like an abusive husband. As long as you keep him happy he is fine. But cross him and there is hell to pay! I decided that I don’t want to worship a God like that.
    When I discovered Quakers I found a whole new way of looking at God. Granted most of the people at my meeting don’t use the word “God”. They say “the Spirit” or “the Inner Light” but it means the same thing in my book.
    I now see God as a still small voice that can guide your heart if you let it. But you have to be quiet and patient. I truly believe that there is a God who loves and cares for us but will not interfere with our lives unless we want to let God in. I picture God as a wise old sage who wants to show me a better way to live. Is that a childish way to look at God? Perhaps. But it gives me peace. So in my book God is neither a stern master nor an uncaring mass of energy like “the Force” in Star Wars. I think my way is sort of a happy medium between the two extremes. Well that is my 2 cents worth.

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