Language matters. Let’s start there. Now, let me rant a bit.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not as intimately acquainted with the evangelical subculture as I used to be, so I don’t cringe as much about evangelical cliches these days. But there is a phrase I keep hearing that is driving me crazy. It seems to pop up everywhere. It may be the new evangelical mantra:
“Connect with God.”
Here is the phrase as it is used, in actual examples from evangelical churches and writers:
Our Mission is to help people connect with God and develop them into fully devoted followers of Christ. (Matthew 28:19-20)
Music is the language of the heart, and it is our hearts that connect with God.
In the Pentecostal church, we were encouraged to connect with God through supernatural phenomena.
Now is the right time to connect with God and with others as you reach out and serve the community, study, and celebrate together.
I’m not attending church anymore, because I think there are other ways to connect with God.
I want to connect with God more deeply, but I don’t know how.
I suppose this way of describing a “personal relationship with God” is inevitable and to be expected in this day of technological “connections.”
We stay connected (that is, in communication) with others in a multitude of ways: cell phones, social media, email, etc. And it is the technological character of the phrase that irks me. I enjoy the benefits of these days of miracle and wonder as much as anyone, but I can’t quite get myself to think of making a connection with God in the same way that I send a message to a friend on Facebook.
We also use this word in our culture to describe the kinds of transactional contacts that can benefit us, say in business connections or when we need a good repair person. “Hi, John gave me your name. Maybe we could connect at Starbucks and talk about it.”
Having a latte with God to discuss what I need. How inspiring.
Oh yes, I know that those who use it are trying to communicate some kind of deeper bond, a personal connection, an intimate connection. But I don’t think the language works. It doesn’t occur to me to use the language of “connecting” when I think about my relationships with my wife or my kids, or anyone that I know and care about, unless we’re just talking about making casual contact, such as, “I was traveling, but we were able to connect by phone.” “Connect” just sounds so cold, so techie, so transactional.
To my ears, this phrase simply has no poetry to it, no emotional content. The metaphorical world it evokes is empty of human personality and depth. It’s as personal, sensual, and profound as flipping a switch or plugging in a cord, as expressive as a string of computer code. It has no heart.
For example, I don’t see people in the biblical story “connecting with God.”
I see God surprising them, awakening them, encountering them, speaking to them, wrestling with them, thundering out commands to them, overwhelming them, listening to them, eating meals with them, rescuing them, forgiving them, leading them, providing for them, asking them to do strange or hard things, hiding from them, bringing the consequences of their sins down upon them, making promises to them, reassuring them, helping them, saving them.
I see people walking with God, hiding from God, rebelling against God, seeking God, praying to God, singing and making music to God, following God, trusting God, clinging to God, obeying or disobeying God, longing for God, loving God, complaining to God, crying out to God, asking God for help and provision, praising and thanking God, bowing before God, shutting their mouths in God’s presence, falling on their faces before God, trying to comprehend God’s ways, waiting for God, resting in God.
These are vivid, sweaty, tear-filled terms describing relational beings who live face to face, long for one another, and love in word and deed. This is the stuff of literature, poetry, and song, not bits and bytes on a screen. To describe such knowing we need words that strain to voice the mysteries of I and Thou, not digital tones from lifeless steel and plastic. We really must learn that our metaphors matter.
I know, I know. How ironic it is that I write these words to be read in cyberspace by a “community” of blog readers. The incongruity is not lost on me. I hope I’m “connecting” with you!
Anyway, back to the bad theology.
If I must use this language, let me at least remind you that we are all already “connected with God.”
In God we live and move and have our being (Acts 16:28). Where can we go from his spirit? Or where can we flee from his presence (Psalm 139:7)? There is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:6). It is not a matter of us making a connection, but a matter of waking up to see that we are swimming in an ocean of God!
If that isn’t enough to convince you, remember the Story of Jesus. God came to us personally in flesh and blood, with words and touch and actions, to live and die and to accomplish whatever remedial “connecting” work needed to be done for us because we consistently fail to acknowledge God’s good and loving presence.
God already “connected” with you in Jesus Christ. You don’t need to plug in, flip a switch, sign on, update your status, or send a tweet. You don’t need to do anything to connect to him. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (Titus 2:11). The connection has been made. You don’t need to “connect with God,” and no person, no practice can “connect” you to God. You are connected.
Believe it or not.
And stop talking like that, please.