A God Thing

All life experiences are “God things”

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.

 

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 8:22Isaiah 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!

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