Thoughts on Theology
God does not use people.
“I just want God to use me.”
“God wants to use you.”
“Use me oh, God.”
I classify statements like these as Christianese — commonly used Christian jargon thrown around by the Saints of the Church. I’ve heard it said by leaders in their sermons. I’ve had people say it to me. Heck, I’ve said it plenty of times.
“God wants to use…”
It wasn’t until I read Lies We Believe About God by William Paul Young that I became aware of the toxicity of this term. What prompted this rant — or what I hope will be seen as a plea — to express my frustration with such statements was the suicide of pastor Jarrid Wilson.
I wasn’t familiar with Wilson and his ministry before his passing. However, the news rattled me in a way I didn’t imagine. I panicked at the thought of an individual who at a glance had all the supposed answers at his disposal…but it wasn’t enough. If Jesus, hotlines, medicine, and counseling aren’t answers, what is?
I came across an enlightening article quoting a statement Wilson made in his book Love is Oxygen where he speaks of his struggles with mental health.
“I wanted to be used by God.”
In context of the little I’ve learned about his life, I honed in on this statement because it speaks volumes. He lead a megachurch, was a mental health advocate, he penned three books, and had a large following. By general Christian standards, I’d say he was mightily used by God. Why then would he take his life? Did he not see it that way?
Maybe this is entirely far fetched. Maybe this is just me desperately grappling for answers but I can’t help but think did Wilson’s request to be used by God, a request that many are taught demonstrates the coveted arrival at complete surrender to God, play a role in his mental health battle? I know absolutely nothing about what was going on in Wilson’s psyche but the idea of God using anybody infuriates me.
I hear the intent behind the words.
“I love God so much, I’d do anything for him.”
“God, you do amazing things that I want to be part of.”
“I want purpose for my life and I want to be a part of something great.”
I don’t find any of these attitudes problematic. What is problematic is the misrepresentation of God’s character that can be conveyed, most times unintentionally, by the simple use of the word “use.”
Etymology has become profoundly important to me. When I take a moment to learn the origin of a word and understand its original intent, it can radically change aspects of my worldview. More significantly, it’s teaching me the importance of asking why. Why is a word being used in a given context? This is a critical question to ask because the implications drawn from words used have cosmic-altering power not to be taken lightly.
With this in mind, there are a four inferences I draw with the usage of the verb “use.”
- The subject has an agenda.
- The subject’s agenda is self-serving.
- The subject has expected results.
- Consent is ambiguous.
Let’s say I had a beautiful framed picture that I took and would like to hang an my wall for my viewing pleasure. I now need a hammer to secure a nail into the wall to hang the frame. I grab a hammer from my tool box, hammer away at the nail, and hang my picture to my satisfaction.
In this scenario, the agenda behind using the hammer is to hang a framed picture. My agenda has nothing to do with the hammer because I’m hanging the picture for my own viewing pleasure. My expectations are that the hammer will secure the nail in place in the wall. Since the hammer’s an inanimate object, consent is not needed for me to grab it and start banging away at the nail.
Imagine this playing out in a human to human relationship. I’ve pondered this for a bit and I can’t come up with a situation in which using another person is a good thing. I can’t imagine anyone consenting to a relationship in which expectations are set for them to be a means to a self-serving end.
That is abuse.
The God I know isn’t an abuser. God doesn’t want to use anybody. As a mother, I can’t fathom having had my children with the intention of using them for anything. Why would God do that? What I think is we’ve projected this image of the ultimate purpose of life as one of being used by God. A lot of the times, that involves some kind of large-scale evangelistic effort like Wilson’s ministry. I think about my aunt that continues to believe that God is “training” her to use her for something big. I used to feel like the only way I’d be validated is if I did something on the mission field. What lies!
I understand the desire for a purposeful life but we must understand the ultimate purpose isn’t in what we achieve but in simply who we are: creations to be loved. Everything we do is simply a response to that love. There’s no agenda. There are no expectations. There’s just an invitation to take part in love and we consent if we choose to, not because we should or have to. I hope we can learn to embrace that so we can stop this cycle of abuse.