“I’ve been praying about it every day, and… I’m sorry, but I just feel like God is calling us to break up. I want to be faithful.”
The “God Card.” Perhaps the oldest trick in the Christian break-up book.
I can almost see the sweet, teenage girls in Corinth letting their beaus down easy after Bible study, because they read a letter from Paul that supposed it may be better not to get married at all.
“Cornelius, I really like you, I promise I do… but I think God wants us to take some time apart. You heard Paul’s letter… maybe it’s a sign.”
(To be fair, Cornelius probably married her anyway. It was a different time. But that’s beside the point.)
I’ve only had the God Card pulled on me once or twice, and, of course, it’s almost exclusively pulled by the most well-intentioned people. So, I don’t write because I think Christians are maliciously throwing around God’s name as a get-out-of-relationship-free-card all the time, but because there are worthy questions raised by its sting: important, challenging questions about the way we talk about God.
The first question, of course, is the same one I, and countless others, have asked when presented with a God Card.
“So, you’re saying God told you that? Because I pray too, and He never mentioned it to me.”
Ah, the infinite mysteries of God that He can send your faith through a paper shredder while simultaneously letting you know that your newly-single former partner’s faith has achieved Eden-esque intensity.
Talk about a punch to the gut. Talk about a testament to the power of Christian language.
I found myself genuinely struggling with the thought that my God no longer talked to me. Or, perhaps, I had wandered so far from him that I could no longer hear his voice.
When Did I lose my relationship with God? How did her’s become so deep and personal?
I must have been the only thing standing in between her and God.
It was as if a dove landed gently on my ex’s shoulder, and a voice from heaven declared, “This is my daughter, in whom I am well pleased. Also, you don’t get to kiss her anymore, because you don’t pray enough.”
I never would’ve thought that such a simple sentiment could cause so much pain and confusion.
But hey, Jesse, are you saying you don’t believe that God can put it on someone’s heart to end a relationship?
Good question, faithful reader! Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe that God calls people into and out of relationships in his timing, whether those relationships are romantic or otherwise. Our Father is immensely concerned with our hearts for one another. One might even go so far as to say the only thing he cares about more is our relationship with Him. So, I think it’s fair to say He is intimately invested in our intimate investments (clever, right?).
But how often are our “I feel God is calling me to…” statements more a reflection of our own desires than testament to divine intervention, and when is it better to leave God out of it?
Let’s face it, the girls who pulled the God Card on me were right about one thing: we didn’t need to be together anymore. They knew it, and they felt it. There’s nothing wrong with that (other than their loss, of course). I’m certain they even spent plenty of time praying about it. But the truth is, it’s likely they were simply no longer interested nor willing to invest in the relationship, and that’s a very natural, human thing to feel. In that case, feelings of unease and disenchantment may have been mistaken for a peace that seemed spiritual.
But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that God was indeed silently but actively convicting these young women. I am open to the idea that God knew that he had better mates out there for each of us (TBD), and decided we had tried being together long enough. Maybe we had learned all the lessons we were going to learn from each other, and it was time to go our separate ways.
Be that as it may, the point remains the same: putting the burden of responsibility on God means he’s left holding the baggage.
Many of us Christian folk have been brought up in a culture that teaches us to act Christian, look Christian, and speak Christian (especially those of us from the Bible Belt). These things, in-and-of themselves, are not bad, but as we have seen over time, the pressure to act, look, and speak Christian has the tendency to water-down the earnest following of Jesus’ teachings. It becomes status quo to meet the general requirements of what it means to appear Christian, and the Way gets lost in the process. I believe the God Card is a product of this facet of Christian culture.
We want to talk sweet, so we come up with sayings that soften the blow of what we really mean.
“Bless her heart.”
“We are very blessed.” (This has a dual meaning as a common replacement for the secular terms “rich” and/or “lucky.”)
“I hope this isn’t gossip, but I’m just worried about her witness.”
“God just needed him in heaven more than we need him here. He’s in a better place now.”
Usually we just don’t know what to say, so we come up with saccharine sweet Christian-isms to fill the awkward silences. They can be place-fillers. They can be condolences to mourning. They can be backhanded insults. They can be shackles. They can be daggers.
So, what do I mean about “leaving God out of it”? In spite of our best intentions, we can break hearts in our efforts to give God credit for the work in our lives. We inadvertently tell people that their prayer life is fruitless, or that losing a loved one shouldn’t hurt because the dearly departed is ‘better off.’ We do it all in the name of speaking Christian.
I wholeheartedly believe that God is here, and He is working on us. He’s working to redeem all of us and all of creation back to his original design so that we may dwell in perfect, renewed relationship with him. He wants to re-order chaos, and make right what is wrong, broken, and destroyed. He’ll even take heartbreaking chaos and weave beautiful stories out of it. But I’m still not fully convinced that he begins and ends every high school romance, determines the outcome of football games, and finds us spots to park our SUVs.
When we give Him credit for those kinds of things, at the very least, we need to be aware of who is going to be walking away carrying the baggage. I mean… What happens when he doesn’t find you a parking spot?
It may be easiest to load the burden up on God (He’s been setting the gold-standard for carrying others’ burdens since before time, after all), and tell your boss you’re leaving because God called you rather than discuss your underlying dissatisfaction with your current postion. Or it may seem nicer to tell your girlfriend that God is the reason to split rather than the other pretty girl who just made you realize there are other fish in the sea. It’s certainly simpler to say “God just needed another angel up in heaven” than to try to navigate the stormy waters of grief, mourning, and untimely loss. But when we place those burdens on God, we need not be surprised when the brokenhearted find fault in Him.
Perhaps, sometimes things just… happen. Maybe it’s the presence of chaos in creation or our misguided, human free-will… but I think it’s fair to challenge yet another phrase from the Christian language and allow for the possibility that not everything “happens for a reason.” Or if it does, maybe sometimes the “reason” is chaos and disorder. I believe it’s possible that hearts get broken and storms come because things are not all as they should be.
I don’t have all the answers for why things happen, and my theology on this (and in general) are always up for questioning and debate. But one thing I know is this: when someone pulls the God Card, they are usually playing a much bigger hand than they realize.
There is immeasurable power in the words we speak. Especially in the words we speak about God.
In our words we carry the power to create or destroy, the power to bind wounds or break hearts, the power to bring order or cause chaos and confusion…
May we learn to take care in how we use them.