A God Thing

August 27, 2018

by David Garner

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 an 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.

False gospels abound, and “God thing” language can unwittingly preach a representative impostor.

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. 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 (Gen. 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” (Ps. 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 Thes. 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.

The wilderness, with its varied testings and trials, is our lot on this side of our heavenly rest even as it was for Jesus.

This inference is not the gospel, and it is 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” (Ps. 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).

. . . continue reading at Place for Truth.

David Garner

Dr. Garner (PhD, Westminster) is associate professor of systematic theology and vice president for advancement at WTS.

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