“but God says…”

kathyescobar church stuff, crazy making, faith shifts, fundamentalism 24 Comments

People who know me well know I have some very clear pet peeves. Some are related to people gulping when they eat (ask my husband) or kids not answering their phone or texting back when we are supposed to meet somewhere (yes, I’m guilty of it, too), and a host of other insignificant things that annoy me.

When it comes to faith stuff, I’ve got a few pet peeves, too, things that a lot of people say that drive me crazy.

But some of these have a little greater consequence than just annoying me or somehow violating my personal preference.

They are potentially damaging and often point to core theological convictions that I personally believe aren’t reflective of the ways of Jesus and gravely contribute to the problem we are experiencing in all-kinds-of-things-church-and-Christianity today.

For the next few posts I am going to be sharing a few of these phrases. They will join another I’ve already written about before–“We let women lead…”  It drives me nuts when people say this! It’s easy to smile and go, “no big deal, it’s great that churches are letting women lead.”  However, underneath this simple statement is a deep and painful reality–men have power and control whether or not women can lead and hold all the cards.  For me, affirming that, nodding with it, saying “oh, that’s great” is worth speaking up against.

Today I want to touch briefly on a phrase that is tossed around right and left in so many churches, blog posts, conversations, you name it.  It’s so widely used that often we don’t even think much about it, but underneath it’s commonality is a dangerous reality.

“But God says….”

It’s sister is “But the Bible says…”

Many pastors use it regularly on Sundays. In fact, some of them say, “Hey, don’t get mad at me, I’m just telling you what God says…” or “Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just here to share with you what God says..”  or “I know it’s hard to hear, but this is what God says…” or “The Bible clearly says…” I’ve heard all of these (and many other variations) over many years in different ways.

“But God says…” is a false but widely accepted trump card.

And this trump card has hurt–and continues to hurt–so many people.  It makes us think that the people who are speaking are speaking for God.  Like what they are saying is for sure, 100%, without a doubt, what God wants people to know and hear and believe.  Exactly like that particular person believes.

That’s the trouble I have with this phrase. It’s saying “my interpretation is 100% right and what God actually says and anything different that someone believes is wrong.”

That’s a lie.

And pretty presumptuous.

But honestly, it’s what a lot of people in the pews (and reading blogs and buying books) want to hear. Oh, how we love our kings and want to be on the winning team, the strong team, the sure team. Certainty still sells.

But I’ll say it again, “but God says…” is a lie.

When pastors, leaders, people are speaking, they are actually just sharing their opinion, their interpretation, how they see something from the Bible.  

And that’s okay.

Of course, I think we should be able to do that.  That is fair game and important.  We each need to be able to show up and share what’s on our heart, what we think God is stirring up in us, what we believe certain passages to mean, the biblical conclusions we come to, what we feel called to say.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I’m not dismissing the value of our own opinions and sense of agency and belief.

But we need to be more honest about it and offer the real human and honest truth, which is much more like:

 “My interpretation of the scriptures is…”

In this passage, I think God is saying….”

“I believe that God was pointing to ______ here” 

 “When I read this, I feel convicted that….”

I don’t have any trouble with that kind of honesty, even when I may see the scriptures completely differently.  These simple parenthetical phrases change everything (this is a really old post, one of my very first ones in january 2008, and oh, I was extra crabby then but I still stand by what it says).

For now, I’ll just stick with advocating for noticing that when someone says “But God says…” that it should be an immediate warning signal that something is amiss.

That there’s a pride and arrogance that need to be considered.

That an unfair God trump card is being thrown on the table.

That it’s a sure way to shut down dignified dialogue.

That just because someone says it doesn’t mean that God agrees.

That the little stirring inside you that says “hmm, that doesn’t sit right with me” is probably accurate.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, too. What do you think of “But God says…”?



Today, I’ve also got a post up for September at Sheloves Magazine. The theme this month is “held” and my post is called Sometime We Just Need to Be Held. One of my twins used to always toddle up to us and say “hold you” when he was little; we can learn a lot from him.  I’d love to hear any of your reflections on it, too.

Also, next we’ll look at one of my all-time-most-annoying phrases that I’ve heard too many times to count for over 20 years now–“I’m not like those people.”  After that is “We want more meat.” Oh, just writing it bugs me!