By David B. Garner

A God Thing

Exuberant over an experience, an oh-so-sweet manifestation of divine providence, you delightedly seek to give God praise in telling your story. “It was such a ‘God thing’,” you proclaim. As you see it, God wove together an otherwise inexplicable combination of events to deliver a wonderful—even stunning—outcome. The story nearly tells itself, and the words gush with geyser force. In such times, it is good to credit the Lord for his work. That is what God’s people do. But even in such adrenaline pumping retelling of the story, does dubbing the event a “God thing” actually offer the praise due our Sovereign Father?

When Christians take on a new life in Christ, we learn a new vocabulary. Words like “grace,” “forgiveness,” “justify,” and “redemption” grip us with their newfound meanings. But the vocabulary lesson does not end there, and sadly not all Christian-ese is thoroughly Christian. Common church speak can even unintentionally distort the gospel message. Though tempting to many evangelicals, “God thing” has certain liabilities. I want to point out three of them.

Liability #1. “God thing” praise affirms God’s hand only in particular situations.

To identify a particular experience as a “God-thing” says more than we may think. By affirming that God acted in one situation in contrast from others is to speak incorrectly. It is to imply that other events suffer from his lesser intervention. Such a notion counters biblical revelation. Scripture insists that God orchestrates, superintends, and governs all things. The biblical doctrine of providence is not that God inserts himself at various points in history, but rather that the entire canvas of history is his masterpiece. Nothing happens apart from him. All situations are “God-things,” because God is Lord over all things, in all things, and all things exist for him.[1] To be clear, amazing events, including miracles, evidence God at work. But these marvels are not unique moments when God intervenes in history. They manifest God’s unusual work on the stage of his regular providential activity.

The cosmos stays together because of him (Col. 1:17), and history operates by his superintending (Genesis 8:22; Isaiah 45:7). Nothing happens apart from him and his holy purposes. The God of the Bible is sovereign. He works at all times; he works unusually at rare times. “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6). We can put it no better than the Westminster Confession of Faith 5.1:

“God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.”

This cogent statement affirms “from the greatest even to the least” God “doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions and things.” God overlooks nothing; rather, he oversees all things. All our experiences are “God things,” and in them and through them should spring forth our praise: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Liability #2. “God thing” praise suggests that God has been at work only when I like what he has done.

False gospels abound, and “God thing” language can unwittingly preach a representative impostor—prosperity or health and wealth. This distorted so-called gospel claim is as repugnant as it is simple: God exists to make me happy and well. If you are poor, you don’t have enough faith. If you are sick, you don’t have enough faith. Jesus came to make you happy, healthy, and wise. If you are wealthy, you are godly. If you are healthy, you are holy.

“God thing” descriptions can convey a theology of health and wealth. When we declare an experience a “God thing,” we typically mean that God acted in a way that made us happy, satisfied a longing, or surprised us with personal success. We are right to celebrate his hand in our lives. But embedded in this prosperity sermon is its corollary: we imply that negative experiences evidence divine absence. Enjoyable things are God things; less desirable ones are not.

This inference is not the gospel, and it likely not even what we intend when we celebrate his good hand with our “God thing” vocabulary. But the warning remains, as the message of the gospel entails God’s hand in the supernal and the insufferable! With sweeping force, the Bible speaks unwaveringly about divinely purposeful suffering in the lives of God’s people. The wilderness, with its varied testings and trials, is our lot on this side of our heavenly rest (Heb. 4:13), even as it was for Jesus (Luke 4:1). God’s children will only share in Christ’s glory after they have shared in his suffering (Rom. 8:15­–17). The path of the Christian is a pathway of suffering at the good hand of God.

Psalm 84 describes our walk of faith picturesquely:

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion” (Psalm 84:5-7).

In the desert God infuses our hearts with redemptive hope (“highways to Zion”). In the Valley of Baca, the place of tears, God takes his people “from strength to strength.” In the purposed and purposeful wilderness in which he leads us, God meets his people with daily provision: the manna of his grace sustains us as we trek confidently toward his Holy City. “God things”— provisions, his work and his care—are discovered in the “God things” of the wilderness, the sufferings, and the sorrows. Job learned this well, and the praise from his lips must flow from ours. “And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD’” (Job 1:21).

Liability #3. “God thing” praise suggests that God is at work only when I notice.

This point is more subtle, but no less important. Discerning God’s providence is not the grounds for it. God is at work whether or not we acknowledge him, and whether or not we understand his handiwork. All things at all times flow from his holy hands.

With a sweetness and richness that abounds, his providence particularly seasons those whom he has redeemed. This truth surfaces in what is one of the most pastorally tender statements in all of the Westminster Confession, where the divinely good purposes in all our experiences come to the forefront. Westminster Confession 5.5:

“The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave, for a season, his own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.”

It surely is difficult to notice God’s goodness and tenderness in the bitterest of sorrows. It takes great faith to welcome God’s chastisement as much as we do the benefits tasted on this side of glory. Yet even more than the greatest and pointed hardships, perhaps the greatest challenge of faith comes in the normal, the ordinary, and the mundane—that enduring “season” of the doldrums.

Sustained unremarkable experiences draw upon the deepest of faith’s resources. As we run the course of faith, weary in our journey and longing for the finish line, sometimes the routine middle strains us most tediously. The flat road seems painfully predictable. We get up, we go to work, and we come home—day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. We eat the same food, drink the same drink, and pay the same taxes (if that were only the case!). For Christians, the unexceptional occurrences of our lives beg for a rigorous faith with a thankful spirit. Singing in the shower of blessing or in the darkness of desperation can be easier than taking the steps of monotony with gospel joy.

In our perceived tedium, gospel grace calls us to relish the daily provision of God.

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV).

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:17-18)

The eyes of gospel faith awaken each morning to consciousness of the Lord’s faithfulness, his daily mercies. The eyes of gospel faith enable delight in the monotony, because the Lord’s children can know that when we awake, we are still with him because he searches, knows, holds, and preserves us (Psalm 139:1–6). Daily monotony, when it seems God may be distant or silent, is met with living promise.

All things in our lives, including the tedium, are “God things.” We must never rely upon our sense of providence to celebrate the reality of God’s faithful care and provision. God’s special care for his children make even the most laborious, the most rudimentary, and the most monotonous of lives purposeful practice fields, where God’s children learn to rely upon his daily care and trust in his faithful promises.

Conclusion

Scripture presents God as the God of smiling, frowning, and ordinary providence. God not only meets us with bounty and blessing, he meets us in sustained suffering and seeming tedium. In it all, he leads us as the Good Shepherd. Every moment of our lives—from the valley of the shadow of death to the cup overflowing and all in between—comes by divine purpose. God works all things for his good and holy purposes, and at the center of that is his good intent for us, as he confirms us in Christ and conforms us to him (Rom 8:29).

So when we define only our happy experiences as “God things,” we miss the hand of God and convey a shallow and incomplete message about him to others. When we thank him only in blessing and not in hardship, we fail to praise the God who does all things well and sustains us in the wilderness for his holy ends. When we neglect the provisions of grace in the daily grind, we fail to praise the God of daily and eternal provision. As Scripture makes abundantly clear, all life experiences are “God things,” and he is always worthy of our praise. He is worthy of our praise in blessing, worthy of our praise in hardship, and worthy of our praise in monotony.

Not all Christian-ese is Christ-like. To call something a “God thing” may really not be a “God thing” after all.



[1] God is governor of all things, yet neither the Author nor Approver of sin. See Westminster Confession of Faith 5.4.

 


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