As I was driving the other day, I passed a sign in front of a very large and popular church that read “God abounds in faithfulness.”
At first glance, I thought nothing of this statement. God abounds in faith? Sure, that makes sense to me.
But as I began to think about the message behind that statement, the more disturbed I became. My uneasiness with that message is twofold – first, it is suggesting that God is reliant on our faithfulness in order to abound; secondly, it is suggesting that those without faith will never have God abundant in their lives.
Now you may be thinking to yourself that I am overthinking this message and exaggerating its negativity. You might be right, but what good is my faith if I cannot critically think about the messages I receive on a daily basis? I would argue that most Christians would agree with this statement at first thought, just as I did. But stopping at “first thought” is a terrible ending point when we examine doctrine and theology.
So let’s move beyond our first thoughts of this sign, and figure out what message it is conveying.
When we simply look at the phrasing of this statement, it already becomes troubling. If we are saying that God abounds in faithfulness, then aren’t we implying that God does not abound outside of faith? That God does not abound if we are not faithful? This may not be explicit, but anytime we make a statement in the absolute positive, we are also affirming the negative (or opposite) of this statement.
This is incredibly limiting of God. Is this saying that God needs our faithfulness to abound? Are we putting boundaries and boxes around God and trying to define how and where She can abound?
This statement also suggest that God will not abound in your life if you aren’t faithful. This is very exclusive to those who are not faithful (and how are we defining faithfulness, by the way?). Are we suggesting that God cannot hold a prominent place or presence in the lives of non-Christians (because, let’s be honest, this is what is meant by not faithful)? This is another way in which this statement limits God while simultaneously excluding a large amount of people.
God is certainly bigger than this, right? A better phrasing of this statement would be “one way in which God abounds is in faithfulness.” And before you argue that that I’m nitpicking, know that the way things are phrased can have a profound impact on how they are interpreted.
For example, notice the powerful difference between these two phrases:
“Men should allow the ordination of women.”
“Men should support the ordination of women.”
The subtle change from “allow” to “support” makes a huge difference. On the surface (our “first thought”) these two statements seem to mean the exact same thing. However, this is not true. The term “allow” implies that the person who is doing the allowing has the right to also not allow the same thing. The first phrase suggests that men are being graceful in giving permission for women to become ordained. It is a very sexist and patriarchal statement. Changing the verb to “support” has now made it no longer sexist. The power of phrasing is real. One word (or lack thereof) can dramatically change how something is interpreted.
Where was I going with this? Oh, right! I am saying that the phrasing of the message on the sign can lead to a very dangerous interpretation of God and of Christianity. In this specific case, the phrasing of that sign leads to an exclusive message of Christianity that limits the presence of God.
The moral of the story? Choose your words wisely and your church signs even more wisely.