10 December 2013

Is God the worst girlfriend, ever?

by Dan Phillips

Men, at our worst (and, some would say unkindly, at our best) can be rather cheeseheaded. We don't do it on purpose, usually; it's just the way we are. Women, at their worst, can be a pretty impatient about it.

And so you have the classic scene playing out something like this:
Poor Dullard: Wait — you're angry, aren't you?
Angry Shrew (icily): Oh? You're so perceptive. What gave me away?
PD: So... you are mad. Why? What did I do?
AS: (furious silence)
PD (growing desperate): What? I don't have any idea. I thought I was doing what you wanted. What did I do?
AS (deadly calm): Oh, I think you know.
PD (whites showing around eyes): I don't know! How could I know? I don't know! Just tell me.
AS: If you loved me, I wouldn't have to tell you.
Is God like that?

Oh, a reader might scoff, nobody thinks God is like that.

I would agree that nobody says he thinks that God is like that, but there is a whole school of thought that insinuates that God is exactly like that. Like that, indeed, and much, much worse.

This is the subjective-revelation school, the pinprick-individual-semi-revealed-will-of-God school. Most Charismatics hold this, and all Blackaby fans are bound to it. If you haven't, I'd urge to your read the multi-part takedown (starting here), where I laid out the approach and showed the disastrous pastoral implications that advocates never deal with.

On this school, you can (theoretically) be doing everything you know God wants you to do, out of deeply Biblical, Spirit-breathed faith and love — and walk right out of God's will. You can marry the wrong person, take the wrong job, turn the wrong direction, buy the wrong car, and be out of God's perfect will for your life for the rest of your life. In my Proverbs book I tell the tale of the woman who told her daughter that she'd married the wrong man — meaning she was out of God's best will, forever — and meaning that her daughter should never have been born!

She had, to my knowledge, violated no Scripture in marrying this man. He wasn't an unbeliever, he wasn't married to someone else. He was human. He was of the opposite sex. But she was convinced she hadn't read the signals right. She hadn't caught the arched eyebrow, the pursed lips, the slight tilt of the head, the tense posture, the icy tone. She hadn't divined the Divine properly. And now there was Hell to pay for it for the rest of her life, a Hell into which she now had pulled her daughter.

This is the popular image of God, as Worst. Girlfriend. Ever.

By contrast we have the God of the Bible, who spoke to the fathers in the prophets and, in the last of these days, spoke to us in one who was His Son (Heb. 1:1-2). This God has told us in so many words absolutely everything we need to know in order to be saved, and to be fully-equipped to serve Him (2 Tim. 3:15; see also this post, and this sermon).

If something is important to the real, living God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ — He has told us. We've got it in writing, and it binds and informs and guides us sufficiently (1 Cor. 14:37).

Beyond that, if He wants something done, He is more than capable of doing it without subjecting us to the bondage of abusive-girlfriend treatment, by His sovereign working of all things in accord with the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11), by which even bad events serve His purpose (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28).

Brothers and sisters chained to mysticism, find out what it really means to trust God, and to have a relationship with Him. It's freeing, and wonderful.

Dan Phillips's signature


Anonymous said...


That's all I have to say about that...

Randy Talley said...

There are reasons God said not to go beyond what is written (I Cor 4:6).

David Regier said...

You hit it out of the park. Like a bald eagle off of one of Frank's wind machines.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

I went through some old journals and shuddered over how I thought like this at one point. I had to throw them away. No one read them but me, but I was still embarrassed.

matt said...

Amen and amen!

donsands said...

Good word Dan. I was meditating last night, as I read God's truth, and thanked Him, that I love Him, and this love is powerful, and at times weak.
But His love with which He loves us His sons, is anything but weak.

I also was thanking our Father today, and Jesus our Savior, and also the Holy Spirit, who lives and abides in us, and who loves us, and fills us with Himself, and God's Word.

Thanks again.

Cathy M. said...

It truly is freeing. When calamity came into my life, it was especially comforting. Although my initial reaction was to question, "have I sinned? Is this coming upon me because of something I've done, said, or left undone?"

I spent a lot of time having essentially the same conversation with God that you illustrate in your opening. Eventually, I remembered that my sins were dealt with at calvary, and my calamity was in God's sovereign plan. Even when my expectations were the most grim and I had my first experience with anxiety attacks, I could eventually rest in the certainty that it was well with my soul and blessed be the name of the Lord.

DJP said...

Cathy, you help me take another step in my own thinking about it.

If I held to the popular view, and someone said to me "What is God trying to teach me through this tragedy?", I'd be forced to say "I don't know! You'll have to ask Him to tell you, and listen for the answer!"

But as a sufficientist, I could say (though not this compressed and abrupt) "I know exactly why God is doing this, and exactly what God is trying to teach you. He is doing this because He loves you, because He is your heavenly Father, and because you need this to conform you to Christ's image. He's trying to teach you to trust Him, to rejoice in His salvation and attributes, to submit to His Lordship - in other words, to be more like Christ."

All of which I know with 100% certainty because: sufficiency.

Dale Wilson said...

Sure, God may be an awful girlfriend, but the popular view today is that He is an awesome boyfriend or husband. For example, in Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts she writes:

I am in Him. He is in me. I embrace God in the moment. I give Him thanks and I bless God and we meet and couldn’t I make love to God, making every moment love for Him? To know Him the way Adam knew Eve. Spirit skin to spirit skin.

In both your analogy and in Voskamp's writing, the underlying problem is the sufficiency of Scripture. In your post, the Bible is insufficient to reveal God's super-secret hidden will for our lives. In Voskamp's work, the Bible is insufficient to provide emotional and intellectual satisfaction in our lives. Sufficiency appears to be the key battleground these days with attacks coming on all fronts.

DJP said...

I agree with your last sentence. Too much "friendly fire," too.

Angry Shrew said...

[Glares at DJP] I. Can't. BELIEVE. You. If you can't figure out how you insulted me by writing this post...

DJP said...


Angry Shrew said...

[Icily] I take you laughter as an admission of guilt.

Jules said...

Now I wanna' know who Angry Shrew is.

DJP said...

Are you angry?


Jeri Tanner said...

Just excellent. Thanks, Dan!

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Jules, it's Frank. It's ALWAYS Frank...

Jules said...

I'm not angry. I'm Old-n-Tired.

Michael Coughlin said...

Heb 12:3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Question: If God has said he will send discipline in His Word, how do we identify when the discipline comes and how do we know it is from God so that we can be comforted by this scripture?

1 Cor 11:29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

It seems to me that scripture states that some are weak or ill or have died due to this type of disobedience...doesn't that seem to imply that it wouldn't be a terrible question to ask when you are sick whether it could be rooted in a similar sin as Paul was addressing in this chapter?

1 Peter 3:7
7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Doesn't the scripture above imply that if we believe our prayers are hindered that we may need to look into our lives and see if we are living with our wives in an understanding way?

I'm just trying to understand what you're saying here, DJP. I don't see it as an entirely charismatic experience to believe that a Sovereign God sent calamity (Isaiah 45:7) which He knew would cause me to consider my life and learn the lessons you described - and that He intended it, nay ordained it so.

But when I read the posts and comments there's this sense that subjective feelings can NEVER be said to be from God, they are NEVER possibly something provided by our Lord for our direction - if I am reading you wrong, please show me because it is very confusing to me.

DJP said...

You must see some connection between those verses and the post. So which ones do you think view God as becoming inexplicably angry and distant, leaving us no clue and freezing us out until we rightly read the tea leaves, chicken livers, circumstances, signs and portents?

Michael Coughlin said...

I see the connection more to Cathy's comment which you commended as helpful and the general theme of what sufficiency means (of which this post is a member).

And no, I don't believe God has left us no clue, nor is He inexplicably angry and distant. I'm not referring to the fact that we need to run to scripture to find answers. Your follow up to Cathy's comment was an excellent distillation of what we should believe is the solution to any of our woes (or joys).

My question is focused on (and please forgive me if it is not closely related enough to the topic of the post) whether or not God actually does intend to get our attention through experiential means like sickness, calamity, tragedy or even victory and prosperity - which He grants even if through ordinary means.

I'm only asking if God, in fact, intervenes in this way - not whether we always know it at the time or even ever, I suppose. But if you are sure He has said He will not do that, He will never in fact intervene in this manner - and therefore, every time we think He may have we are as bad as the charismatics...then that's a serious mess to clean up as I know a lot of Christians who ascribe credit to God for many events in life!

It seems to me, from the scriptures I cited - that God does, in fact, use circumstances at least in some way. I'm trying to ask what way?

It's an honest question from a seeking heart. I'd appreciate if you would keep from any implication that I am advocating tea leaves, signs and portents or any other idolatrous concept and help readers understand these difficult things you've studied for decades more than the rest of us. I get that you're funny and sometimes sarcasm is helpful, but maybe you could give me enough credit that I'm trying to learn, not troll. Forgive me if I am misunderstanding what I thought was a sarcastic statement in your comment, brother. I just want to learn these things.

Solameanie said...

Probably one of your best posts of the year, Dan.

donsands said...

"If God has said he will send discipline in His Word, how do we identify when the discipline comes and how do we know it is from God so that we can be comforted by this scripture?"-Michael

Seek the Word Michael, and look to your pastors and elders, for they are here to keep us accountable, and the best is simply to:

Trust and obey, there is no other way. Trust by grace and obey by His grace.
Jesus loves us with "sovereign" grace.

Mike Meadors said...

Brothers and sisters chained to mysticism, find out what it really means to trust God, and to have a relationship with Him. It's freeing, and wonderful.

Chained to mysticism. I have often told others that is like being strapped into a roller coaster. A bad roller coaster. And of course, along with all the opportunities to be locked in anxiety about God's will and our available life choices, there is the ever present danger to wrongly believe you are in God's will even though you are disobedient to His revealed truth in scripture.

DJP said...

Michael, if God disciplines us, it is for sin, or to build the nature of Christ in us. Both are revealed in Scripture.

When Paul ran into "many adversaries" in conjunction with a wide-open opportunity to preach the Word, he didn't sit down and search his gizzard to see if God was trying to mumble at him to stop preaching (1 Cor. 16:9). When he was slandered and abused and felt anxiety, Paul didn't conclude that these were signs that God was waggling His eyebrows to get him to stop preaching the Gospel or change his message (2 Cor. 11:23-28).

So a marriagable guy who marries a marriagiable woman and then has issues and tensions in marriage shouldn't stop and start asking himself if God is signalling that he married against God's will; nor should a man who starts a Gospel ministry and is persecuted start wondering if God is hinting and nudging his message is off or he isn't really "called."

If it isn't in the Word, God doesn't want us sweating it. He's not the worst girlfriend, ever. Or any girlfriend.

Anonymous said...

Well said!

Maria Frieder said...

Sadly I had been raised by a mother who had a view of God as a bad girlfriend, or a God who keeps us walking on egg shells, waiting in the shadows to pounce.
There was constant fear and anxiety that at any moment we could be out of His will and our lives would be in danger because we would no longer have His protection from satan and his demons.
Every decision we made was to first be prayed about, which is all well and good, but the catch was we had to have "direct revelation" from God and He had to speak directly to us in our minds.
I can say with certainty that whatever voices my mom heard, and she seemed to be the only one who did, it was not the One True God.
She ended up making terrible decisions for herself, entered abusive relationships, been used and abused by others, quit jobs and ended up financially strapped (and not searched for another job because she "heard" God tell her He doesn't want her to work), put her young kids in negative circumstances all because she thought it's what God wanted.
Every bad thing that happened she thought was a punishment for sins or for disobedience.
Lots of guilt, fear, and anxiety.
For the longest time I thought this is what Christianity was until I moved out and got away from her influence and started studying God's Word for myself and reading blogs and listening to true Christian podcasts.
True Christianity and the true God of Scripture is, thankfully and wonderfully, different then what I had been raised to believe.