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Come, and Die

5 January 2009

qb has long thought that the “call of God” gets tossed around awfully carelessly among evangelicals.  “I wouldn’t be here leading this [affluent, suburban, mega-] church if God hadn’t called me here,” to paraphrase the so-called “pastor” of the new regime.  “I didn’t ask to come here,” he said repeatedly and often in the early days, “I wasn’t looking for a new ministry.”  It was clear then, and is clear now, that the “call of God” was a rhetorical trump card that this man would pull out of his sleeve whenever he needed to suppress dissent.  We were to understand, apparently, that he was doing us a favor, reluctantly but obediently responding to God’s call to wrestle a bunch of spiritual ne’er-do-wells and nincompoops into submission.

It is an ace of spades, really:  In one meeting of our search committee, when we were considering the two finalists and voting to select one of them, one of the associate ministers who had spearheaded our contact with the guy recounted the story of “God’s call” to him while he and his family were visiting an ailing relative here in town.  Driving down Coulter Road, if I remember correctly, the “Holy Spirit spoke” to him and issued God’s call to Amarillo.  Another committee member replied, “if he says the Holy Spirit called him to us, who are we to argue with THAT?”  My heart sank as the rest of the committee snapped into line.  Ace of spades.


The opening chapter of Gary Wills’ What Jesus Meant got me to thinking about what happened to people who received God’s direct call.  When you think about it for any length of time, you have to conclude that God did not call very many people.  What do we have, 5,000 years of biblical history, plus or minus a thousand?  Comparatively speaking, the number of people that God called, with a direct voice, for an unambiguously divine purpose, amounts to a handful or two.  Abraham in Ur, Jacob in a wadi, Moses in Midian, Samuel asleep, David (indirectly), Isaiah in a trance, Ezekiel, Jonah, and a few others.  And Mary, betrothed to Joseph.


The remarkable thing is, God’s call really wrecked their lives as they knew them.  God’s call was seldom a major promotion on a corporate career track or a lateral move to a more agreeable “ministry” or location.  I have to imagine that Bonhoeffer would scoff at such uniquely American notions as those.  Bonhoeffer knew that the call of God was more likely to destroy a man than to feather his nest, surround him with fawning, sycophantic handmaids and bodyguards, or upgrade his company SUV.


The “call of God” is, in qb’s estimation, more likely to be a self-indulgent flight of imaginative fancy than a truly divine call.  Far too many people hear one these days, which suggests that it, too, has surrendered to the ineluctable forces of commoditization.  And strangely, the “call of God” to a “pastor” seems almost inevitably to lead to a larger congregation with more resources, a better physical plant, less competition (!), greater visibility, and a freshly paved, glorious “vision.”

And there’s this:  given the history of how God’s hand-selected servants fared, do I really have what it takes to be numbered among them?  If it means the destruction of my life as I know it, do I really, really long for God’s call?


Hot off the presses, Mr. Burris refers to his appointment to the U. S. Senate as something “ordained by God.”  One might suppose that Burris is chumming for support from the Rev. Wrights and Sharptons and Jacksons of the world, who will undoubtedly oblige him, like Pavlov’s dogs.


A great blog piece on the narcotic dimensions of God-has-a-plan-for-me faith, with oblique applications to the topic we’re considering here.


At very least, we do well to be skeptical of theophanic claims.  I’m just sayin’.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. 5 January 2009 11:27 am

    But qb, if one doesn’t have the imprimatur of the Holy Ghost, one can only appeal to the Pope or one’s wit in struggling with the reality of the text. And, sigh, it is so easy and bespeaks of intellectual laziness and magical thinking rather than wit. It is false spirituality, abused as much as tongue speaking at Corinth. Such avoidance of reality characterizes the addictive personality. And many of the addictive folk I deal with immediately receive the call of God after a week’s forced abstinence. In a church where this kind of “thinking” goes on, we would do well to refer to Marx’s statement about religion being the opiate of the people.

    Blessings for the New Year

  2. queueball permalink*
    5 January 2009 11:33 am


    Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I ever concluded that Marx was wrong…inconveniently astute, perhaps, but not wrong. (About that, at least.)

    Happy New Year.


  3. Dan Smith permalink
    5 January 2009 12:21 pm

    Gary Friesen has a great discussion of “God’s call” in his “Decision Making and the Will of God” which is readily available cheaply from Amazon. It is the best thing I’ve read dealing with the agony caused by seeking His “will” as we decide where to go to school, whom to marry, what job to take, etc.

  4. queueball permalink*
    5 January 2009 12:57 pm

    Great idea, Dan, thanks much. I’ll check it out. qb

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