Be careful of ‘God-talk’ without any meaning

Ever get tired of an abundance of words? Of a lack of listening in a group or context you were in? Sometimes it may not only be a diarrhea of words, but also a lack of any meaning behind them. This can be troublesome for words on any subject, but perhaps especially so in religious language. Another way to describe this is ‘God talk’. Words about faith or God or anything close that actually seem to not be backed up by any meaning or commitment. I say ‘seem’ to not be backed up by meaning as of course we can’t ever know the heart or inner motivation of the person speaking. Perhaps they actually believe what they are saying, or do intend to follow through and live out what they are preaching so fluently or beautifully. But to you it may just seem more ‘blah, blah, blah’ and you have heard it all before.

The concern of this post, though not recent as I have had it for a while, was recently stirred by an experience my wife and I had on a short holiday in Hawaii. After teaching at a mission training school our daughter is helping lead, we went to another part of the island for a four day holiday. We were having it at a nice hotel we had stayed before. We learned at that time that if we listened to a 90 minute sales presentation on the possibility of owning a ‘timeshare’ on our next visit, we would only have to pay one night and stay three more nights for free. Sounded like a deal! (for those of you that don’t know, a ‘timeshare’ means you pay quite a large amount of money to pay able to stay at specific hotel destinations around the world. You are in one way a ‘owner’ of those places, in that you can book a short stay at the property. But there are also lots of hidden costs like maintenance fees and the like. Many people do go for these things, and then later want to get out of the contract when their circumstances of life change, but it is very difficult. There are actually lawyers now that specialize in helping people break out of these timeshare agreements.)

On the last morning of our stay, we went to the room to listen to the sales presentation. We had done one of these before, about fourteen years prior and gotten a trip to San Francisco. It was the most hard-sell blather we had ever experienced, the best unbridled capitalism could offer. But somehow we found the fortitude to not give away money we did not have. And as a result, had a great weekend away. This time didn’t seem as hard. We spent over an hour with the first sales lady, and she was respectful and clear in her attempt to sell us. We were honest as to our limitations, that we didn’t live full-time in the US, etc. But then she left, and the hard-hitter in the company food chain arrived.

This guy met all my stereotypes as to the young every hair in place alpha American male. I knew it would be even harder to resist, but what happened next stunned us. He must have heard from the first lady that we were missionaries, religious people. After a couple of minutes of continuing the presentation strong points, he made a deep dive. Now it was full-on ‘God-talk’ at its finest, but in a form and strength I had not often seen. He began to say that we needed to consider that ‘God’ had brought us there for that moment, that ‘He’ had a plan for us, and started peppering us with ‘He’ did this and ‘He’ did that. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time, and almost just blurted out, ‘stop the God-talk already’!! In the end, we did not buy of course, although they tried one more woman who was the ‘good cop’ to what became the former guy’s ‘bad cop’.

Sometimes after a time like that, in what became almost two hours, after basking in the full-on glow of 21st century American advertising and manipulation at its finest, you feel like taking a shower. But then we did get a nice although too short vacation. Though really it was the ‘God-talk’ that put this one over the edge. Words without meaning. Declaring God’s Name without any intention of hallowing Him, or so it seemed. Using the Name to try and manipulate and sell a product to religious suckers.

So as a result of my angst, here are a few points to consider:

  1. Don’t bring God into an attempt to sell a time share, or any product whether it be pillows or laminated Bible covers.

2. Be careful when we use ‘God-talk’, making sure that our words have meaning behind them.

One time a few years ago I was with my spiritual director, pouring out my heart about something. But without realizing it, instead of sharing honestly where I was at, I had been spinning a series of platitudes and ‘God said this’ and ‘God did that’. All of a sudden, my director lovingly but firmly said, ‘Steve, stop the God-talk. Just be honest about how you feel.’

3. Be extra careful not to use too much ‘God-talk’ when you are trying to comfort someone in a time of grief and loss.

I’m reading right now the wonderful biography of Eugene Peterson by Winn Collier, titled A Burning in My Bones. I highly recommend it. On pg. 178-179, Peterson is at his dad’s funeral in Montana. Collier describes what happens next: ‘As Eugene sat with his daughter, Karen, after the service, a well-meaning pastor approached, offered a few vacuous words, and quoted a few scriptures. When the pastor mercifully left, Eugene turned to Karen. “Oh, Karen, I hope I have never done that to anyone.” Karen looked at her dad with love. “You’d never do that, Dad. You’d never make someone even lonelier by handing out words like that.”‘ Be careful of our words, friends. Of course that pastor meant well, but had developed habits of words without meaning, or ‘God-talk’.

4. Learn to love the silence. We can always do well with less words.

5. Be careful in politics using ‘God-talk’. Both right and left do it, though I do think in the United States in the last few decades it has been done more on the right generally. Baptizing your particular brand or version of what you want for the US in ‘God-talk’. Equating your version of the US with the Kingdom of God on earth.

6. Listen, listen, listen.

I don’t know what God thinks of us blathering on using His name. Certainly there are the right times to talk about Him, or to Him. But I do think we need to listen more and speak less generally. And that goes for religious (and political) people especially.

And the moral of this blog post is to be wary of buying timeshares, or any product, from a salesman who says ‘God’ too much.

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