During my time as a youth leader I led a number of mission trips. Typically, after we returned from a mission trip we would stand in front of the congregation and the students would talk about how awesome the mission trip was. Yes, it was always awesome. Everything was awesome. The people we met, awesome. The food we ate, awesome. The other students on the trip, awesome. It was so awesome to tell all the awesome people about how awesome Jesus is. But what was most awesome of all?
God showed up.
Language is important. It matters how we talk about ideas. The words and phrases we use to communicate concepts is important because they shape how we see the thing we talk about. For example, if, when I talk about love, I use language and phrases like “fall in,” “hopelessly in love,” and “longing” it will shape how you think about love. You would probably begin to think of it as something out of your control. You would, more than likely, associate it with emotions and feelings. There may even be a sense in which you don’t want it. After all, who wants to fall, be hopeless, and always long? On the other hand, if I talk about love using words like “intimacy,” “commitment,” “faithful,” and “adoration” you would have a completely different opinion about love.
The words we use to talk about God matter.
So, if I may, let me make a motion. It is time to remove some of the words and phrases we use to talk about God. Let me be the first to offer one up.
“God showed up.”
I understand why we say this. We use the phrase when we experience the reality of God’s involvement in our life in a way that is unequivocally different than our normal experience of God. We may gather every Sunday at a church to worship, but on one particular Sunday, “God showed up.” Or while on a mission trip we feel more in tune with God’s restorative work in the world and so when we arrive home and tell people about the trip we say, “God showed up.” Or we go on a retreat. Or we get out in the woods for a walk. Or in a conversation with a friend. Or a stranger. There are moments in life when God seem uniquely present and so we say, “God showed up.”
But when it comes to this phrase, it’s time to stop. Seriously.
Because God didn’t show up.
We all buy into the theology of omnipresence. It is the idea that God is everywhere at all times. David dwells on this idea in Psalm 139.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
David understood that God didn’t show up in those places, he was already in them. The picture, and it’s quite comical, is of David trying to find a place that God is not, and so he goes up a mountain only to discover God is already there. Then he goes to the bottom of the see only find, oh yeah, he’s there!
Our speech is profoundly different than David’s. We speak as if God is not somewhere and, like a magician with a smoke bomb, suddenly shows up. God wasn’t at church the other 51 weeks during the year, but that one Sunday God showed up. Really? Speaking about God in this manner makes his presence an arbitrary aberration we are occasionally lucky enough to experience. And while we are being completely honest, many times this phrased is used in connection with the special events Christians sprinkle in their lives: mission trips, conferences, retreats, service opportunities, or special worship services/concerts. It is uncanny how often God shows up in these places while being all but absent on any given Sunday at your local church worship service.
What is different about these experiences that causes us to say “God showed up?” You are. My contention is that God is no more present at a concert than he is during the instrumental by a 13 year-old girl during the offering at your average church. What is different is how you show up. You show up expecting God at the concert. You show up expecting God on the mission trip. For some reason you have decided (yes, I believe it is a choice) to open yourself up to the presence of God that is already in that place. Because we expect God to “show up” on the mission trip or the retreat or the concert, we show up differently. That slight difference in our posture allows God to do something in us. The reality is that God’s presence is readily available to us in the everyday, mundane, ordinary events because he is there as well.
So let’s stop saying, “God showed up” and concentrate more on showing up ourselves.
What what do you think? Is it time to retire this phrase? What other phrase would you like to see go?