A Manipulative God? – The Abusery of Usery

use santa
Have you ever wondered how Santa feels? He has kids asking him for presents every year, yet no one really takes the time to develop a relationship with him or even thank him for that matter. He’s just the dude to go to to get presents.

Every year, people use him.

I wonder how he feels about that?

What I’m writing about today is this language of “using” people. There’s a common use of this phrase among believers today that bothers me because it portrays a distorted view of God. Here’s the phrase: God uses us.

Let’s take a broad look at the use of this phrase, starting with some linguistic observations.

First, notice that this phrase is always used negatively when it’s referring to human beings. When we say “I feel like so and so is using me,” it always expresses a sense of manipulation and control, never anything positive.

Second, being “used” expresses a sense of unawareness on the part of the person being used as to what the user is up to. The user is using the other to accomplish some purpose, but the person being used has no part in that purpose and may not even know what it is.

Bottom line: If you’re being used, you’re being abused.

i use you

How about the bible? Does it ever express this idea?

Nope. Phrases like “____ was used by God” or “God used ____” do not exist in the Bible (at least I didn’t find any after looking at every verse using the letters “use” in the NASB, which is a very literal translation). More importantly, the idea behind it, that God is somehow controlling people to accomplish his will, does not exist in the biblical narrative.

Here are some things that the bible does say. He does things with us (Mark 16:20; Acts 14:27). We work together (2 Corinthians 6:1). We are his fellow workers (1 Corinthians 3:9). These express a totally different concept of our relationship with God than being used by him does. Instead of manipulation and control it conveys union, togetherness, and intimacy.

John 15:15 tells us that Jesus no longer considers us slaves because slaves don’t know what the master is doing. What does Jesus mean by this?

Slaves are given orders to carry out, but the master does not tell them his intentions, the “why” behind his decisions and actions. They are just told what to do.

Friends, on the other hand, disclose their plans and their heart behind it to each other. Friends don’t need to tell each other what to do because they know each other. They know the needs and desires of the other and act to fulfill those because they love the other.

And that’s what Jesus counts us as. Friends.

We are not God’s slave-laborers. We are his co-laborers.

You are not a tool in God’s toolbox. You are his lover.

Perhaps you feel that I am being too obsessive over a few words. Here are some reasons why I think the use of this kind of language matters based on the effects that using this kind of language has on people:

  • Consider what an unbeliever or a new believer will think when they hear that the God who supposedly loves them wants to use them.
  • Since God uses us, and we can’t make him use us, we just have to wait patiently for him until he chooses to use us. In other words, passivity is encouraged.
  • This kind of language implies that God’s ultimate goal is to get us to do stuff for him.
  • It sounds like God is separate from us, outside instead of inside.

Perhaps you don’t agree with or mean any of the things listed above when you talk about how “God used you.” I hope so. What most people actually mean when they use this phrase is probably along the lines of “I chose to respond to God’s working in me.”

Okay. I get that.

But intentions are not the only thing that counts in communication. What is actually likely to be communicated matters too. And this phrase does not communicate God working in us and our response. And it totally misses the internal relationship that we have with Christ and instead pictures the relationship as external.

“God using us” is simply a poor way of expressing the biblical concept of co-laboring with God. And, instead of bringing clarity, using this kind of language nurtures misconceptions.

I have often heard people pray, “Lord, please use me.” And I have good news for those people: God will not use you. Not because your not good enough, but because you are too good to be used. God’s not going to control you. He could if he wanted to, but he’s not interested. That’s why he gave you a spirit of self-control (2 Timothy 1:7).

So let’s enjoy living life with God.

Quit asking God to use you; you have the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead living inside of you, backing you up (Romans 8:11). And you are one with that Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17).

Don’t wait for God; God’s waiting for you.

Without God, we cannot; without us, He will not. – Augustine

This is not to say that it’s all up to your efforts. Thank God it’s not!

Simply acknowledge that you have died with Christ and now it is him living through you.

You have been united with Christ (Galatians 2:20Romans 6).

There is no usery between you and him. Only love.

And remember the best Christmas present you ever got and will ever get – God himself.


8 thoughts on “A Manipulative God? – The Abusery of Usery

  1. Pingback: A Militant God? « Supernatural Gospel

  2. First, I want to caution you to never throw the baby out with the bath water. It is true that there are many things that the Church has held to and believed and practiced that need to be completely thrown out because it is completely unfounded in the Bible. However, there are other things that they are wrong because they have overemphasized one teaching of the Bible to the exclusion of another. I could give many examples of this, but maybe another place for another time. My caution to you is to not do the same. Don’t go the other direction and focus soley on another teaching to the exclusion of another.

    So, in response to your post I say “yes” and “no.” On the one hand the Bible teaches much of what you were talking about. Clearly the Bible teaches that God does not abuse us. It also teaches that we have such an incredibly intimate relationship with Christ that it would be blasphemous to say or claim it IF it wasn’t true!!! =D

    On the other hand, the Bible ALSO says that we are: His “workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10); our bodies are to be offered to God “as instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13); “slaves to God” (yes it says that plain as day in Romans 6:22 with the result leading to holiness and eternal life); “instrument for noble purposes, made holy, USEFUL to the MASTER” (2Timothy 2:21); and I could continue to go on. You can check for yourself and see that I am not ripping these out of context. PLEASE check the Bible with the Bible; meaning, balance your view with what ALL of the Bible has to say, not JUST a few places. God is continually checking and correcting my view of Him in this way. Part of why I have an incomplete understanding of God because I do not take ALL His words into account.

    I must not understand God in the way that best makes sense to ME, but according to what ALL the Word of God, Jesus Christ Himself, says about Himself. EVEN (and I might add ESPECIALLY) when it appears to either contradict, or offend me, or simply doesn’t make sense. I CAN’T discard ANY of the Word of God (which includes BOTH Old and New Testament). Instead, through the Spirit I seek to understand Him better and be taught how these two (or more) seemingly contradictory things actually and beautifully work hand-in-hand.

    Having said that, I agree, that our position in Christ is SOOOOO awesome that it takes the breath away! And He DOES actually WANT and CHOOSE to do His great works through ME! What an absolutely incredible God!

  3. One more quick thought. Paul and many other apostles did not hesitate to use the word slave when describing their relationship to God, even in the same passage that they teach that we are His children!

    I agree that we should be careful not to use words that are confusing, But since the Bible DOES teach that God uses me (in that He works through me, takes my offerings and uses them for great things, takes my life that I have offered to Him (Romans 12:1) and directs me as He wills and to His pleasure) and it is actually a beautiful thing because God ONLY does what is for my good (Romans 8:28). So, the question I have is, if the word “used” is easily misunderstood to mean “abused” then what alternative word should be used (no pun intended =D) to convey this Biblical teaching?

    • Hey Caleb, thanks for reading and responding.

      I think you know my intention is not to throw out the baby with the bath water. What is this “baby” you speak of? That God uses us, particularly in the way that I described it in this post? Or the use of that language? Or both?

      Let me address each verse you mentioned (and that they do not speak of “being used” as I have described it).

      We are His “workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10) -This is simply telling us that we were beautifully created by him.

      Our bodies are to be offered to God “as instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13), and we are “slaves to God” (Romans 6:22) – I’ll address these two together. Sandwiched in between in verse 19 Paul makes sure his audience know that he is “speaking in human terms, because of [their] natural limitations.” In other words, Paul is writing metaphorically, not literally. He uses two images very familiar to the Romans – instruments (which remind of the instruments used in the temple uner the Old Covenant) and slaves (of which there were plenty back in their day). Paul’s not talking about God using anyone. He’s not even talking about relating to God. He’s talking about sin and righteousness. To take from these verses that God uses us would be to exegete something Paul did not intend to communicate.

      “Instrument for noble purposes, made holy, USEFUL to the MASTER” (2Timothy 2:21) – Since this was also penned by Paul, I contend Paul is again using a metaphor to talk about acting righteously (“noble purposes, made holy”). I went to look at the context, and that’s exactly what Paul was talking about.

      An additional note regarding being “slaves of God”: when Paul penned Romans, did he even know the words of Jesus, that he had told his disciples that he no longer called them slaves but friends? Even Paul grew in understanding the nature of his relationship with Jesus.

      Anyways, my point was talking like that isn’t helpful because it creates misconceptions. In th end, my point that it is not a biblical use of language (nor a biblical idea, i would contend) still stands.

      You defined God using you as: “He works through me, takes my offerings and uses them for great things, takes my life that I have offered to Him (Romans 12:1) and directs me as He wills and to His pleasure.” You defined it completely differently than how I did, so this discussion may be pointless. In my experience, I have found that most people who hear “God uses us” take it in a negative way. So I suggested we stop talking like that.

      A more accurate way of describing it would be God influences us (as opposed to controlling us, which “use” connotes). Also, that we belong to him (not like a possession, but more like we are a member of his body, in the same way we belong to the human race). And most importantly, and like I mentioned in the post, that we act *with* God.

      Ultimately the word misses the whole relationship because it connotes a one-way interaction – God uses us while we are used. It sounds like we don’t participate. But if only one party is acting, then there is no party. There’s no relationship there.

      What do you think?

      On a separate note, I found it confusing that you call both Jesus and the bible the Word of God (they are very different things). Regarding this matter, I throw out the bathwater (the bible being the Word of God) but keep the baby (Jesus being the Word of God) here: https://supernaturalgospel.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/is-the-word-of-god-a-book-or-a-person/

      • Tyler,

        As far as the word “use” I agree that it is a definition issue. But I would disagree that most people misunderstand it. I have talked to many non-Christians that have understood it in the same way that I do, and some after having heard that have been led to want to know more about this God because He would care so much about them and be so interested in them to want to use them for great things. Anyway, that aside . . .

        I understand that Paul was using metaphoric language when he calls us “instruments” because clearly we are people not wooden or metal objects, yet even in the metaphor, it says a lot about part of our relationship with God. Namely that while He greatly desires relationship with people and as Christians we have entered into that relationship with Him, the fact still remains HE is God. HE is the King. HE is the Creator. WE are the created. WE are the subjects of the King. But to be a subject of the King by no means lowers our immense status in Christ. It is like the word “submit.” In this world, that is a bad word, especially where marriage is concerned and yet God explicitly uses it for wives to husbands and believers to each other and of Christ to His Father. In other words, WE have to readjust OUR understanding of submit. What we have turned into an ugly thing of force and selfishness, was originally intended by God to be a beautiful thing. Likewise, to be a slave to Christ (who is perfect and loving, etc) is not a lessening thing.

        A slave in its simplest definition means to be owned by someone else. Isn’t that exactly what the Bible says? I Corinthians 6:19-20, Romans 7:4 and other verses speak of this, that we are not our own, we belong to Christ. This is not a bad this, this is a glorious thing. Again, my main point to you is that we must look at ALL the ways that God describes our relationship to Him. We are both His bride yet also His brothers, yet also His children, yet also His subjects and creation. To look at one to the exclusion of the others leads us into faulty thinking and sometimes into outright falsehood. We need to be careful. THIS is the “baby” I was talking about. You, as a complex person cannot be adequately described in only one word. How much more so the God of the universe? This is why we have the WHOLE Bible (and all eternity to discover Him and learn more about Him and marvel at Him).

        To comment on “when Paul penned Romans, did he even know the words of Jesus, that he had told his disciples that he no longer called them slaves but friends? Even Paul grew in understanding the nature of his relationship with Jesus.” . . . be VERY careful. You are walking a dangerous line when you say that, Tyler. DO NOT twist the Bible to fit your ideas. We let the Bible change US into HIS mold. When we find something that doesn’t seem to fit, we need to adjust our understanding until it does. 2 Timothy 3:16, “ALL Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness . . . ” 2 Peter 3:16 (speaking about Paul) “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the OTHER SCRIPTURES, to their own destruction.” Don’t be like those people. Don’t go down the path of choosing which parts of the Bible are accurate and which are not, which are from God and which are not. That path will lead to all sorts of things, NONE of which are closer to Jesus. Take me to Scripture to argue with me, but don’t question it’s authority or truthfulness. If Paul (and Peter) used the word, “slave of Christ” then there is a good reason for it. And it is not ignorance. Not because THEY are infallible, but because the Spirit IN them is infallible.

        On your side note, the Bible itself uses the term Scripture (which literally means Holy Writing) as a self description even as it says that Jesus IS the Word. So, I don’t see why it should be confusing.

  4. I’m guessing that when you talked about it with unbelievers, when you used that language, you also gave an explanation along with it or said many things implying what you meant by it, and that that is why they understood it the way you do. Because, as I explained in the post, that language is a very unnatural usage that we don’t encounter elsewhere.

    I will again mention that Paul’s purpose for invoking those metaphors (which we know by looking at the context) is to speak of acting righteously. Again, in those passages Paul was not making statements about the nature of our relationship with God.

    Actually, I’m pretty sure “scriptures” (graphe) just means writings. It was used to refer to the Old Testament (in which case it would be *the* writings), but it was also used to refer to anything written. I don’t think “holy” is included in its definition.

  5. Pingback: Choosing Your Feelings | Supernatural Gospel

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