Friday, October 9, 2009

When Did "I Did it" Become a Four-Letter Word?

The photo is from a scene in the original Poseidon Adventure (1972). I haven't seen the movie (or the remake) since 1972 so my quote may not be exact. However, a great controversy erupted in my little corner of the Bible belt when the priest, played by Gene Hackman, seemed to accomplish the work of getting the people to safety on his own. I think the most blasphemous thing that he said in the movie was something like, "God I can understand it if you won't help us . . . but now You are just getting in the way!" (Okay maybe he said something very differ but with the same message).

This movie scene was an extreme example of the issue that I want to raise. I do not condone the attitude of the priest. I do think it was a form of blasphemy in the way that he spoke down to God. I can understand the expression of human emotion, especially in just stressful conditions. I mean I can remember shaking my fist at the stars and screaming, out loud, "God . . . where the hell are you?" But of course God is there, and when I come back to my emotional senses I ask Him for His forgiveness in doubting Him.

But I use this photo and story only as an introduction to a far less offensive area and this is us taking credit for things we have done. Why is that blasphemous? It feels nasty, but I suspect that nasty feeling isn't of God (or intended by Him).

I shared a couple of postings ago about my nightmare saga with my passport being lost by the Nepalese embassy and then the US Department of State-Passport Office put my "expedited" passport replacement on indefinite hold. The problem is, I suppose to leave for Nepal in about 10 days. When I did that posting, it looked really grim.

I am happy to say that I do have my new passport and everything is back on course.

But once again an important theological-sociological issue is brought to the forefront.

In my desperation I e-mailed the person who does our church's prayer chain. I told them the story and asked for prayer. I was sincere about it because I wanted prayer and I do believe that God can and still does change the rules of nature to do things.

However, I just didn't pray. I spent, literally, a few hours on the phone working my way up the Department of State chain . . . pleading, begging and showing some anger. Finally . . . on Tuesday morning I was speaking to the supervisor in Charleston, S.C. who was sitting at her desk holding my actual application in her hand. I was able to use a credit card and start the application all over over the phone (btw it is true . . . it got rejected because the postage that we included for the return package was 35 cents short. Ironically, it was the postmaster at our post office who told me the amount of money to send). I was also able to buy the fastest Fed Exp package (delivered by noon the next day) to make sure I got it quickly.

So here is where things get interesting. Did God do a supernatural work? I honestly don't know. I mean, if I had not sent the prayer request along, maybe I could have never gotten anyone on the phone. However, now that I've informed people that I have the passport . . . it is an immediate assumption that a supernatural event did occur.

There is nothing wrong with giving God credit for doing a supernatural work when He chooses to do such. I am concerned though, if we believe in supernatural works . . . when they were natural works . . . we perpetuate a culture of dishonesty. Once again, our Evangelical kids are brought up to believe that God steps in and does supernatual works all the time. Then, later on, and their wife is diagnoses with breast cancer, or they loose a job or fill in the blank, and God does not do a supernatural work . . . will they become disillusioned?

When I heard one person giving credit to God for a supernatual work in my passport case, and I added . . . but I too worked very hard to get this done . . . they seemed appalled and offended. I am not bragging. I did nothing that a monkey with a cell phone couldn't have done. But my point is . . . us keep the situation honest. If we delude ourselves here why is that different from lying and saying I caught a 36 inch salmon when it was a 12 carp?

No, I would never try and compete with God about anything. I do honor Him highly. He created me, he gave me my brain, my fingers my thoughts and all that is. That is how I see monism as different. I truly believe, in my heart of hearts that every thing this side of the creative moment is indeed "supernatural." But in that case the word "natural" means without God's influence, because I do believe that nature is also "supernatural" because it is not without God's influence and cause.


Anonymous said...

Yes... I remember learning the lingo in Bible College... Originally, I would feel/sense/think about something and then go do it. I learned that, no, we say, "I'm sensing the Lord leading me to do ____," or "God wants me to ____."

And you are so right, in that it's the same thing with situational outcomes. Good ones are miracles, supernatural things, and you'll get disapproving frowns if you share the physical/tangible things you did to help make that outcome come about.

I get that the desire is to give God glory. It's just that the skeptics and the watching teenagers, etc, are going to see right through this. Not to mention, as you said, those who keep hearing about all these neato things God miraculously does and not realize all the hard real-live-person work that went into it, so when their cancer diagnosis comes back, they feel like God must love everybody else more...after all, He keeps doing all these miracles for everyone else...

My favorite is the praise reports about how God saved us from a car wreck, because the semi rolled over on the car behind us instead of our car, praise the Lord.

Hmm. That's probably not what the people in the car behind you are thinking...

Don said...

Congratulations, good phone work and wheel squeeking, and am glad you will get to enjoy the mission trip and do more good work there.

We belong to Him and we make it our aim to please Him,'nt the US Postal Service really something???

Brittany said...

This reminds me of the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner. He talks about how religious people often say things like, "It's a miracle" when they are kept safe from things like cancer or accidents. People think something is special about them that they were saved. For example, my uncle got hit by a deer on a motorcycle and walked away unscathed and for some reason I have always thought "God really has a plan for his life and didn't want him to get hurt." Essentially, he loves him more than someone else who wasn't so lucky...I believed all that until reading that book and sites like this. On the other hand, I don't want to take advantage of the fact that I am safe, healthy, etc. So am I still able to say "Praise the Lord" while also mourning with those who aren't so fortunate?

Anonymous said...

And just how do you think "God Did X For Me, God Did Y for Me, God Did Whatever for Me..." without Real True Christian EVER having to lift a finger goes down on those of us who scraped and suffered and actually worked to get where we are? Or worse, when we're the only one to never get anywhere (no matter what we do) while they get everything handed to them for free, wipe their mouths, and intone "God Provides"?

It's like God hands everybody else Divine Welfare Checks on Silver Platters while we're the only ones having to grub for matches.

MJ said...

I agree that we use terms like "Miracle" and "God did this or that" very flippantly. In the end, this is a disservice to God in my humble opinion.

I felt bad about my situation. As I said, I submitted my concerns to our church's "prayer chain" because I was distressed about it and I do think that God might, sometimes, do things above the natural order.

But then yesterday in church, the reviewed the prayer chain and mentioned how my passport had come and God had done a miracle. I spoke up and added that there was a lot of phone work done in between submitting that request and seeing the passport arrive.

To make things even worse, a lady shared how she shared my prayer request to a group of young women in her Bible study on Thursday morning (I had submitted the request on Wednesday and the passport arrived on Friday). Then she said when she heard the next day that I had gotten my passport she called the women to let them know that God had answered. One woman "was amazed and said this situation helped to confirm to her that God was really there."

"No way!" I thought. I don't want someone's belief in God to depend on my experience with my passport. It isn't like I want to the credit for getting it, but is that I don't want to propagate mis-information. There is no evidence that a supernatural work happened Friday. But when I tried to correct the falsehood in church, I was made (a bit) to look like a un-believer (as apposed to nonbeliever).

Anonymous said...

Perhaps God did work "supernaturally" but through you. Giving you the strength, endurance, and wisdom to complete all those phone calls.
I mean anytime the God works it is supernaturally, it does not have to be a "miracle healing" to be supernatural. I think He uses many means to accomplish His will here on earth.

Jaimie said...

I like the comment above this. Also you have a lot of chutzpah belittling the prayer chain in church, haha.

Scott in Boston said...

In cases like this, I wonder about how the brain works: often, when I'm facing a tough problem at work, and I attack it from every possible direction and still cannot solve it, only THEN do I resort to emailing someone else about the issue. I really avoid doing that, trying to cover every conceivable suggestion that will be made, since I don't want to appear dumb or incompetent. I even wait a few minutes after composing the email before hitting the [send] button. Regardless, it's uncanny how often right after sending the email, that one more perspective on the problem occurs to me...and often it's my solution. Could it also be so with prayer requests?