It’s Tuesday.. Time to discuss Evolving in Monkey Town. Today’s excerpts come from “God Things”—one of the most talked-about chapters in the book.
From page 147:
The first time I heard someone call something a “God thing” was in 2005, the Saturday after Hurricane Katrina hit. A friend of mine was getting married in Dayton and expecting family from all around the country to attend the wedding. At the reception, I spoke with a member of the family who expressed thankfulness that the entire family had made it to the ceremony, despite some major airport delays across the South.
“It was such a God thing,” the young man said as we waited in line for a piece of the groom’s cake. “It was like God had his hand on the weather. Clearly, he intends to bless this union.”
I’d just spent the entire morning watching news footage of desperate families trapped on their rooftops awaiting rescue, so I couldn’t help but bristle at what he said. God had his hand on the weather? If God had his hand on the weather, then why didn’t he stop the hurricane from coming in the first place? Why didn’t he keep t he levees from breaking? Why would he go out of his way to help this family get to a wedding on time but leave thousands of people stuck in the Superdome without food or water?
Over the years, I’ve heard all sorts of things described as “God things”—scholarships, job opportunities, new cars, remodeled kitchens. Appealing to God things has an effect similar to appealing to “God’s will.” when a friend tells me that it’s God’s will for her to date a certain guy or buy a new car or go to a specific school, it’s difficult to object or ask questions without looking like I want to pick a fight with the Almighty himself. Similarly, when a friend hails her low interest rate or her airfare or her concert tickets as a God thing, it’s nearly impossible to get away with asking if she really needs a new house or a vacation or yet another Dave Matthews experience without seeming to rain on God’s parade. Every good Christian knows that the best way to insulate yourself from criticism or input is to say that God wants whatever you want. It has been done for centuries, from Constantine’s military conquests, to America’s ethnic cleansing in the name of Manifest Destiny, to the televangelist’s “love gifts.
Dan says I’m far too cynical. He says that Christians talk about God things in an effort to show sincere gratitude to God, to remind themselves and others that the good things in their lives are not earned or deserved but are gifts…
I know he’s right. I know that, deep down, my problem isn’t with Christians who celebrate their blessings but with a God who seems to bless arbitrarily. What bothers me about God things is that they remind me of the cosmic lottery—that sobering dichotomy between the world’s rich and the world’s poor, between the lucky and the unlucky—which has always been a sticking point in my own fitful walk with God. If God’s goodness is qualified by how much stuff he gives out, I reason, then he’s not especially good. He might be good to that family that made it to the wedding on time, but he’s not especially good to orphans like Kanakarju.
I couldn’t quite piece it together at the time, but in India I began to suspect that the problem lies not in God’s goodness but in how we measure it. Laxmi and Kanakaraju and the women and children at the AIDS ministry, they prayed for basic things—food, shelter, health, peace—and they did not always receive. Yet I saw in their eyes the kind of joy and spiritual connectedness most Christians I know long for…
Maybe we aren’t the lucky ones after all.
From page 151:
It seems that in the kingdom of heaven, the cosmic lottery works in reverse. In the kingdom of heaven, all our notions about the lucky and the unlucky, the blessed and the cursed, the haves and the have-nots are turned upside down. In the kingdom of heaven, “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt. 20:16)…
To be present among [the least of these] is to encounter what the Celtic saints called “thin spaces,” places or moments in time in which the veil separating heaven and earth, the spiritual and the material, becomes almost transparent. I’d like to think that I’m a part of this kingdom, even though my stuff and my comforts sometimes thicken the veil. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—these are God things, and they are available to all, regardless of status or standing. Everything else is just extra, and extra can be a distraction. Extra lulls us into complacency and tricks us into believing that we need more than we need. Extra makes it harder to distinguish between “God things” and just things [read more].
Have you encountered the expression “God things”? What do you make of it?
How can Christians talk about the good things in our lives without confusing temporal stuff with true blessings?
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