Does God “use” us? Brad Jersak
In his first non-fiction book, Lies We Believe About God, Wm. Paul Young challenges a host of commonly accepted Christian assumptions that he feels need to be second-guessed, given the track record of harm they do in the real world. In chapter six, he addresses the expression, “I just want God to use me.”
At first glance, we might be tempted to concur with the phrase. Pretty much all people are looking for meaning and purpose in their lives. We would rather feel useful than useless and if we feel that God has a role for us in the grand scheme of his kingdom, then our sense of self-worth and importance to God grows, doesn’t it? That seems so reasonable … at first glance.
But our friend Paul has a highly-tuned ‘discernometer’ and has been known to say, “Something about that feels all-kinds-of-wrong to me.” He will pause to think and listen and question. And so, both in his book and our discussions, he’s come to see a glaring problem with the language of using when it comes to our relationship with the God who Jesus called Abba (or in English, Papa).
If we begin with an understanding that we are, first of all, God’s children, we can begin to see the problem quite quickly. Let’s do a thought experiment:
Imagine that when I die, my beloved children share a eulogy at the memorial service. Image one of my sons beginning, “I always knew my worth growing up because of how Dad used me.” And then maybe a daughter-in-law takes the mic and says, “When I entered the Jersak family, I knew that I belonged because very quickly, Dad was using me too. That made me feel special.” And then our beautiful little granddaughter takes her turn. At first, she has some stage fright but with the family coaxing her on, she closes the service with a grand tribute to her “Grampy.” With a broad, proud smile, she announces, “Grampy always made me feel special. He would say to me, ‘Little Dolly, I look forward to the many ways I can use you.'”
Are you starting to see how … creepy that is? First, we are children in God’s family, not tools in God’s shop. We are dearly beloved children, cherished apart from our utility. Papa’s affection for us vastly exceeds what we can do for him. Our value is in who we are, not just how well we serve the family business. We are people created in Papa’s image, not implements in God’s shed.
And part of the cringe factor with the language of using probably stuck out in my eulogy analogy. Were you triggered by between-the-lines connotations of abuse? I can tell you that those who have experienced misuse, especially by family members, feel the deep pain of that betrayal whenever we glibly talk about God using them. If Papa is the next in line to use them, they’re right to react and say, “No thanks!” My request is that even if readers can’t see the dehumanizing implications of “used by God” lingo, for the sake of our brothers and sisters who have been used, misused and abused (as Paul Young had been), we would drop that language as an act of loving care.
Instead, let’s learn our infinite value to God, not by the measure of our productivity for his projects, but by the immeasurable gift of the Son and his sacrificial love toward us.
P.S. Brian Zahnd, a dear friend of PTM and regular contributor to CWR magazine, interviewed Paul Young on the topic of Lies We Believe About God. With permission, we’ve added that interview here as bonus resource material for our readers: