07 February 2013

"God Listens." True. But not necessarily good news

by Dan Phillips

Driving home the other day I saw a truck with the bumper sticker "God Listens." It's advertisement for a local Christian radio station about which I know next to nothing, since most of the programming fires well wide of my tastes.

My first thought was, "Isn't that the quintessence of 'getting-it-wrong'?"

Doubtless, it's meant to be a great warm and loving invitation, and maybe it strikes a lot of people-who-aren't-me exactly right. But what does it actually say? Doesn't it tacitly confirm our fundamental Adamic belief, that what really needs to happen is that God needs to listen to us?

Remember the story. Remember the source of absolutely every bit of misery and sadness and brokenness in our universe. What happened? A perfectly adequate summary would be:

God spoke
We didn't listen

And now here is an outreach that says, not "God has spoken, and we'd better listen," but "God listens." God is made passive, we are made the actors. God is a harmless, benevolent Grandpa just waiting for us to climb up in His lap and vent, or a submissive servant waiting for us to work the machinery to extract our Best Life Now©, as The Gospel Coalition's Golden Boy's Golden Boy is fond of saying. It's up to us. We control the relationship.

Of course, you'll search in vain for this note in any of the apostles preaching in the NT. The closest I can think of in the prophets is of a very different spirit. First is Hosea 14:2, which indeed says, "Take with you words and ...to the LORD; say to him..." Okay, that sounds close. Until we quote it in full:

Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.  2 Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, "Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. 3 Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, 'Our God,' to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy" (14:1-3)
Then there is the more famous word in Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, let us reason together." That sounds like an invitation to a conversation. Until, once again, the context is brought in:
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.  18 "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (1:16-20)
Once again, it is a call to repent in view of the already-known word of God (vv. 2-4, 10).

In both cases, then, you could apply the prophets' words to the bumper sticker in the sense, "When we respond to God's Word with repentance, God listens."

However, if the thought is meant to be, "Just as you are, unrepentant and unbelieving, all you have to do is pray, and God cares and loves and accepts you and will help you fix what you think needs fixing," then it simply is not true. It may be a "precious promise," but it's a false one.

To take some passages opened and developed at length here, Prov. 28:9 says, "If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination." If "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD" (Prov. 15:8), his prayer won't be more acceptable, because "The LORD is far from the wicked" (Prov. 15:29).

My second thought was that the statement is certainly true, taken all by itself — though I don't think it is true in the sense intended.
Proverbs 15:3 — The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.
Ecclesiastes 12:14 — For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Matthew 12:36 — "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak."
So: those times you lied? Those times you manipulated the truth to get your way, to work your will on someone weaker? Those times you denied or twisted the truth of God? Those times you made excuses which amounted to lies and deceptions, to get out of work or trouble?

God listens. And God will judge.

So really, the bumper sticker is true, as-is.

And, to sinners outside of Christ, and apart from the Good News, absolutely terrifying.

Dan Phillips's signature



27 comments:

Robert said...

What comes to mind for me is what predeeds the section of Isaiah 1 that you quoted...

"So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood." (Isaiah 1:15)

I remember when I was first saved and living here in Houston...I tried to figure out which stations I wanted to listen to. The station you mention had Victoria Osteen as a guest many times and that was all it took to drive me away. Couple that with "God listens" and you have a recipe for disaster.

It also reminds me of teaching Sunday School one time and addressing the lyrics from a CCM song that said something along the lines of "God loves you for who you are". I said that the truth is that God loves us in spite of who we are. I got a message from one of those in attendance that the song wasn't really about all of that (although the context of the song doesn't show that). I couldn't help but to think of the same station and how people just look for happy "pop" type music with some semblance (hardly ever any real substance) of Christianity in it. They definitely find it there.

Paul Reed said...

"God is a harmless, benevolent Grandpa just waiting for us to climb up in His lap and vent, or a submissive servant waiting for us to work the machinery to extract our Best Life Now"

Does this sum up Christianity in America or what?

"And, to sinners outside of Christ, and apart from the Good News, absolutely terrifying."

Again very true. The Gospel is good news when one understands where man sits in relation to God. But to a sinner who is delusional about his sin, it's bad news. As one pastor pointed out, it means a person won't be able to do as they please anymore, they're heading for hell, many of their loved ones are likely in hell, and they will answer before a righteous judge one day. But we have a Savior who died for us, even though we we're criminals before God.

Charles Putnam said...

They NEED to contact you to do one of their Sunday 15 minute sermonets (John MacArthur coined the phrase - "sermonets for christianets").

DJP said...

Tell them, Charles. I'm game!

Charles Putnam said...

Done! I also suggested Barry Jeffries from HAFBC (the church we attend)

Rob said...

The single greatest response ever to the KSBJ bumper sticker. Well done.

DJP said...

Houston African Fried Baptist Church?

Alex Philip said...

God was certainly listening to Annanias and Sapphira.

Scott said...

Yes, it can be misleading to non-believers, but can it not be seen as a comforting message to believers that God does hear. Can we not say with David: "Blessed be the LORD! for he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him." Psalm 28:6-7
Knowing that God hears and listens to the cries of His people is an extremely comforting thought.

DJP said...

Amen.

Michael Coughlin said...

I think it was just saying that God listens to that radio station: therefore you should listen as well.

Probably the best celebrity endorsement ever.

Oh yeah, good comments on the post regardless of our distinct interpretations of the bumper sticker's intent. :)

DJP said...

LOL

That didn't even occur to me.

Charles Putnam said...

Just saw your response...my boss thinks I lost it totally...

Humble Area's First Baptist (right down the street from KSBJ)

J. E. Smith said...

I really liked this post (as well as all you have written on Sufficiency). I witness daily to the homeless panhandlers in my area (I was homeless myself) and have learned that the "God's great plan for your life" approach is not nearly as effective (from my perspective) as is asking them if they are actively seeking to do right and live right after they nod and reassure me they "have a relationship" with Him. They'll say "Oh yes, He helps me every day. I woke up this morning, didn't I" and when asked what specific part of God's written revelation are they seeking to obey today they just look at me like I'm crazy, which is of course better (I think) than the big smiles and thumbs up I would get when I would say "God loves you and wants to help you fix your life."

Sir Aaron said...

I couldn't help but to think of the same station and how people just look for happy "pop" type music with some semblance (hardly ever any real substance) of Christianity in it. They definitely find it there."

People like me enjoy music but look for something we like and can listen to safely. That eliminates every secular music station in America. KSBJ is what's left.

So I choose to have my kids sing along to "My God is an awesome God" over "I'm a genie in a bottle, you gotta rub me the right way." I suppose I could just listen to nothing, which would take a great feat of discipline on my part. I'll just have to talk to my kids about how Arminianism has infected nearly every church in America and how the station is the visible proof of that.

Besides KSBJ gives Dan fodder for a great post.

threegirldad said...

So I choose to have my kids sing along to "My God is an awesome God" over "I'm a genie in a bottle, you gotta rub me the right way." I suppose I could just listen to nothing, which would take a great feat of discipline on my part. I'll just have to talk to my kids about how Arminianism has infected nearly every church in America and how the station is the visible proof of that.

+1

J. E. Smith said...

I'm a genie in a bottle, you gotta rub me the right way - sounds a lot like what you DO hear on some "christian" stations. :)

Dave said...

To be fair, KSBJ sometimes rolls out the billboard that says "Adam and Eve *should have* listened." But even so, that's almost cutesy, and takes the teeth out of the message of the Fall.

I'll never see the KSBJ bumper sticker the same way again.

What's sad is, most people have never put as much thought into that message as you just did. (Which is itself typical of church folk sometimes, and sad to consider.)

Michael Coughlin said...

I gotta +1 Sir Aaron as well.

As much as I loathe much of what I hear on the local (and national) Christian radio station; it is, as Frank would put it, "an obtainably less good" solution.

And I have to admit, once in a while, they really do proclaim something with substance which takes courage. I like to believe they are mostly brothers.

Robert said...

Aaron,

Point taken, but you're being quite generous in your song selection there. Honestly, I'm much happier with being able to use streaming music these days instead of counting on the radio.

DJP said...

Wow. A lot of hating on the stars.

Kerry James Allen said...

DJ's be spinnin' hate.

Paul Reed said...

"To be fair, KSBJ sometimes rolls out the billboard that says "Adam and Eve *should have* listened." But even so, that's almost cutesy, and takes the teeth out of the message of the Fall."

Almost cutesy? It's *completely* cutesy. Adam and Eve should have listened to God. But oh haha! -- it means they also should have listened to our radio station. The Fall is about the serious consequences of sin. And this makes a joke about it. And we think it's no big deal, until the issue of sodomy or abortion comes up, and we sudden want people to take sin seriously. And the same people who see nothing wrong with that joke about making light of sin, don't see what abortion or sodomy is a big deal. So they ask "Why shouldn't people 'marry' who they want?" "Why shouldn't a woman be able to get a legal abortion with no consequences?" "Why take the law of the Bible seriously?"

Sir Aaron said...

Robert, I don't think so. I could easily list a dozen songs off the top of my head that KSBJ plays including contemporary versions of the same hymns you sing in church. And streaming is great...except when you can't or for the fact that you are still stuck with the same choice.

Paul Reed: So what does your radio station put on billboards?


Everyone else: I didn't know there were so many in Houston-College Station. We need to have a Pyro meet!

Sir Aaron said...

I wanted to add one more thing. When you have a bunch of Arminians running a ministry you get "God listens." It's a function of their theology which at its core says God loves all people equally and man makes the first move.

When we Calvinists start running decent music radio stations instead of sniping in the comments of a post, I'll give a listen.

Neil said...

The slogan in question is one of the less offensive things I've seen them do. They used to be more biblical, having the courage to not play Amy Grant after her affair. They would also promote pregnancy centers quite a bit, though they seemed to have stopped doing that.

Their fundraisers use a lot of sloppy God talk. I wrote them on that two years in a row. The first year they blew me off, then this year the guy conceded my points about how they shouldn't claim that God told them about how many people could give such-and-such, and they shouldn't hold it out as praiseworthy when bankrupt people give what little they have to KSBJ, and they shouldn't just share the "I gave the grocery money and then got blessed stories" if they won't tell the other side, etc.

They were a nice alternative when I was a newer Christian and we wanted an alternative for the kids. Now none of us can stand the format.

Robert said...

Aaron,

Nice tu quoque there.