The Problem With Living In Your Body
The Problem With Having a Conscience

Speaking for God

This morning I received an interesting email, sent to the email address found on the KC website. It was from someone whose name I didn't recognize, and it asked, "Is there a hell beyond this life, and is anyone actually going there, and if so, why?"

Wow. Those are really big questions, and its pretty amazing to me that anyone would suppose I would have an answer to them. So my first reaction was to feel humbled. What an awesome thing to be in a position to speak or write about those questions, and to have my answers be given some kind of authority becuase of my position.

And shortly thereafter I began to feel annoyed. I was pretty sure, after all, that the person who asked the question wasn't really looking to me for insight. Rather, I was pretty sure the questions were asked for the purpose of engaging me in a debate for the purpose of proving that he was right and I was wrong. And in the end, conversations like that are really not the way I like to spend my time.

So, I wrote back and suggested that since I can't speak for God, I can't give answers to those questions. I can speculate, but in the end, what's the point of arguing about my speculations versus anyone else's? Well, that response led my correspondent to ask: "Isn't that precisely what a pastor is called to do? Who is it you speak for from the pulpit week after week, if not God? Are you just speaking for yourself? And if so, what sort of "ministry" is that?"

Despite it's irksome tone, I think that's a pretty good question. Each Sunday as I begin to preach I say a prayer based on Psalm 19, "May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts together, be acceptable to you O Lord, for you are our strength and our redeemer." I love that prayer because it helps me to remember that everyone in the room is working with me as I preach, but that in the end, what happens will happen because of God. My prayer is that somehow, in the midst of all my words and all our thoughts, the Word of God will be spoken and received. But I would never, ever suggest that when I open my mouth to speak, I'm speaking for God.

I do know that I am called to stand in for Jesus at times--when I invite people to his table at communion, for example, or when I sit at someone's bedside in the hospital and hold their hand. In those moments, I know its "not about me", but about the one in whose name I act. We often talk at KC about being instruments of God, or being put to use by God in the world, often in ways we don't expect.

So, I imagine there are even times when the words I speak are used by God to teach or console or inspire. But also know that a lot of what I say is colored by my biases, my particular life experiences, my place in the world. I would never suggest I could untangle true insight from the stuff that mixed in.

Luckily, I have found that I don't have to. My job--my calling--as a preacher, as a pastor, is just to show up to God with as much honesty as I possibly can, to listen as well as I can, and to witness out of the relationship with God that results as simply and clearly as possible.

Comments

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Robin Abello

Heather, thank you so much for sharing. Your blog is refreshing and inspiring. The words that you speak (and write), and your actions are what people encounter in you as a witness for God, so in some ways, you do speak for God. May God continue blessing you in your ministry.

Tracy A Wade

Heather,

While you may not speak for God, you have a wonderful way of opening people's minds to all the potential that God has given us. I've always felt that the questions were more important than the answers, and you raise the questions and bring them right up to the surface.
I feel that I have grown more spiritually in the year you have been with us than all the years I participated in the religion I was babtized into.
You are such a gift to us.

Tracy

Jim

I'm no expert on the subject of understanding why people ask certain things.

However, the question that you were asked was not unreasonable for you to answer it...in all honesty.

Imagine a poor prostitute comes to your door with the gripping realization that she is living in a lifestyle that will take her to hell and she asks you the same question: Does hell exist?

If you say no, you are not only a liar, but you damn her soul to hell by giving her a false security that she need not turn to Jesus.

If you avoid her question or simply do not answer it, you precisely do the same thing, but add the confusion of how God is not willing to answer us or show us the truth.

It sounds to me like you were right and this guy simply wanted to see what you would say. But the fact of the matter is that nothing you say will ever appease his lack of God.

Could you not have simply just said that since Jesus said there was a hell, then there is a hell.

Heather Kirk-Davidoff

Jim, you're right--my answer to the questions about whether hell exist and who's going there would be quite different if someone came to me with that question burning in their heart, genuinely wondering. It's usually not that hard to tell the difference between a question which is asked as a test of my own theology, and a question asked by someone who is genuinely engaged in a spiritual search. This question asked over the internet, I'm quite certain, was of the first sort.

Jim

As it was a test of your theology, the answer of uncertainty proved the guy's next point: "You call yourself a pastor"

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