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The Seductive Lie of “God’s Favor”

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:45

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Sometimes the lies we believe are so subtle and so seductive that it’s really not a fair fight. The sales pitch can be so enticing and the promises so grand, that we can’t be blamed at all for embracing them without greater scrutiny, because that might mean having to give-up what our hearts want so desperately to be true.

Every day, I come across Christians who are quite certain that they have #godsfavor upon them, and they boldly declare the fact to anyone within earshot and timeline.

Not surprisingly though, this declaration nearly always immediately follows reports of their success, advancement, or some perceived external “blessing” (not unlike the NFL field goal kicker who points to the sky only after the ball sails through the uprights and never when he misses wide right). These folks look at the nice run that they’re currently experiencing with health, career, relationships or some other tangible measuring stick, and then simply assume that this means that they are God’s favorite kids.

This lazy, damaging theological language reduces the complex spiritual life to a simple cause-and-effect system where God rewards those who do right with nice things, happy times, and smooth travel; while allowing horrible pain and great failure to rightly befall those who cross or disappoint Him.

This is the faulty math of the undoubtably more blessed:
My favorable experiences = God’s Favor.

The idea of Divine preference is dangerous to our souls for so many reasons, not the least of which is the way it promotes a seductive prosperity apologetic; one where pleasant circumstances indicate the presence and approval of God, while difficulty and adversity, the opposite. Such an approach to the Christian faith isn’t only problematic, stress-creating, and guilt-inducing for us as we experience all sorts of suffering and disappointment in our daily existence, it’s almost the complete antithesis of the greater Gospel narratives of radical self-denial, adversity in faith, and love as sacrifice.

In the life of Jesus and of those who followed him, the idea of God’s provision and affection weren’t synonymous with luxury and convenience. In fact, Jesus’ disciples were as close to divinity and seemingly as “favored” as one could be, and yet this proximity and affinity often didn’t translate into ease and comfort and material things, but rather homelessness, poverty, duress, exhaustion, and in many cases a premature and violent death.

In other words, back then, the people of Christ weren’t using bank accounts, beach houses, and sports cars to validate their faithfulness or assess their beloved-ness. Maybe we shouldn’t either.

The idea of God’s favor might seem like just a well-meaning but misguided way for people of faith to express gratitude for what they believe God has provided for them, but in reality it’s a slippery slope that places us in the dangerous position of using external, visible data to determine someone’s inherent worth or their moral standing. When we claim the favor of God for ourselves, we simultaneously declare many other, just as faithful, just as loving, just as devoted people to be less-than in His eyes. We wrap our narcissism and ego in religion and we gladly kneel before it.

This all forces us to construct a God who is able to be swayed by our conduct, who can be lobbied to love us more, and whose partisan preferences are manifested in either kudos or butt-kickings.

To my brothers and sisters who are quick to openly claim Favored By God status: the good things that happen to you don’t necessarily make you more cared for or valued, in the same way that the really nasty, painful stuff you experience doesn’t mean that God is mad at you or distant from you. That’s really not Who we’re dealing with here. People, even people of faith may operate that way, but not God.

Do yourself and the rest of us a favor and stop saying you’re favored or chosen or set-above.

You aren’t favored by God, though you are loved by God.

This is the unwavering, unearned, undeniable reality you can claim without any reservation regardless of your circumstances or success. It is your default status as you navigate your days. It is the Grace and goodness your life rests securely in.

And it’s equally true for every single one of us—when the sun rises and when the rain falls.

#YouAreLoved

Photo credit: “Stone Saints,” Mark Morgan via Flickr, cc.

This piece originally appeared on JohnPavlovitz.com.

Pavlovitz-JohnJOHN PAVLOVITZ is a father of two and husband of one. He is a 17-year ministry veteran, specializing in rabble-rousing, engineering mayhem, and generally trying to live-out the red letters of Jesus.

He enjoys songwriting, exercising, cooking, hiking, eating emotionally, and saying stuff that needs to be said.

He blogs at JohnPavlovitz.com. If you are encouraged, challenged, or blessed by his writing, please consider supporting him financially by clicking his Patreon Page. You can also find John on Facebook HERE.

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