“God told me to date that person.”
“The Holy Spirit led me to take this job.”
“God spoke last night.”
“God put it on my heart.”
You’ve probably heard a Christian play the “God card” in conversation—claiming some decision is divinely ordained. There’s tension in those moments, and whether it’s me or someone else talking, I wonder, Is this legit or contrived?
When the conversation turns from concrete biblical revelation to promptings, senses, urges, spontaneous thoughts, and claims of “God told me so,” it can feel squishy and prone to abuse.
So rather than fostering an “anything goes” culture that indiscriminately accepts every inkling as prompted by God, discerning believers must test everything (1 Thess. 5:21). Part of testing is recognizing counterfeits, so to that end, here are four faulty reasons Christians might use the God card.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that isolation from Christian community is fertile ground for bad theology to grow. When alone, it’s easy to become deceived and disoriented, mistaking sinful urges for God’s direction.
A jaw-dropping example of “isolation gone wild” is the documentary Tread, which follows the dark downfall of Marvin Heemeyer. He spent months secretly fortifying a bulldozer that he eventually uses to destroy his enemies’ businesses. Chillingly, in his tape-recorded manifesto, he understands his rampage as a God-ordained mission.
Though Tread is isolation writ large, in the digital age, poised solo in front of screens, it’s easy to think we’ve “heard from God” when actually we’re just talking to ourselves. We feel connected and accountable to others but unwittingly drift from reality without counsel from those who really know us.
Before claiming God “told you so,” bring what you’re sensing to trusted, embodied Christians in your church. Until you “test everything” you’re sensing from the Lord and other believers have weighed in, leave the God card in the deck.
2. Inherited Vocabulary
In some Christian circles, God’s direct guidance is attributed to a dizzying number of actions: God led me to shop at this store, find this parking spot, write that person a note, walk down that street, and order eggs instead of pancakes.
Until you ‘test everything’ you’re sensing from the Lord and other believers have weighed in, leave the God card in the deck.
This precedent—that God speaks every five seconds—is unbiblical. Instead, Scripture provides wisdom principles to guide us along with the freedom to live within them. I once heard it said that, when living under the authority of the Bible, “God’s will is more like a garden to enjoy and explore, rather than a maze we’re trying to anxiously navigate.”
It’s freeing to know you don’t have to muster a “God told me so” for every decision. Instead, you can root yourself in Scripture then take risks, make decisions, and pray your guts out in the unknown. But to flippantly co-opt God’s name to endorse your every whim risks putting words in God’s mouth. This is never a risk worth taking.
If you pull the God card frequently, consider whether it’s become thoughtless jargon you need to eliminate or a genuine reflection of what you’re hearing from the Lord.
3. Avoiding Accountability
Sometimes the God card is used to overrule anyone who disagrees with you. By baptizing your agenda in God’s name, you get to bend the rules or disregard the majority’s pushback.
When someone plays the God card to shirk accountability, get his way, or excuse sin, he isn’t likely to forfeit his hand willingly. If you confront him, he may recoil: What right do you have to question my relationship with God and what he’s spoken to me?
This objection reverses the clear teaching of Scripture: healthy communities sift and correct one another (Matt. 18:15–20). When one believer claims to have heard from God, it’s necessary for the larger body to discern whether it’s authentic or not (Acts 9:26–28; 11:1–18). Exclusive access to God, or perceived immunity to accountability, is the seedbed of cults, not Christianity.
If you use the God card to bolster your opinions, especially against the counsel of other Christians in your life, consider whether you might be using God to enact your will, not obeying his.
4. Fear of Failure
Many walk through life paralyzed by decision making or burned by past failure and therefore won’t make a choice unless it’s unmistakably stamped with “God’s approval.”
Exclusive access to God, or perceived immunity to accountability, is the seedbed of cults, not Christianity.
Though it feels good to have God’s endorsement for a decision you’re intimidated to make, outcomes are rarely predictable in life. Why not trust him, come what may, rather than insist your desired end goal is his will? Even if we have good intentions and wise planning, God never promises to spare us from risk or failure. He isn’t a PR agent who spins our foibles into victories—he’s a Good Shepherd who stays with his stumbling sheep, often teaching them the most when they’re at their worst.
Clarity, Mystery, Humility
At the end of my life, I don’t want to realize I pulled the God card carelessly. But I also don’t want to realize I was too afraid or rigid to heed his promptings or boldly weigh them with the help of my church community.
As with anything pure, fakes exist. So to approach the God card wisely—avoiding the polarized pitfalls of audacity and timidity—Scripture points to three postures: clarity, mystery, and humility.
Clarity: God’s Word is the clearest revelation of God’s will, and much time can be lost panning for “spiritual gold” when he’s laid cartloads of precious ore in our hands already.
Mystery: God is infinite and we are finite. Let’s not shoehorn the Alpha and Omega into a systematized box. From the precipice of our cognitive limitation, God is the Grand Canyon times a million. He’s able to speak however he wants, and though he’ll never contradict himself, we may find our preconceived boxes flattened.
Kenneth Berding has helpfully plotted examples of God’s guidance in the Bible on a continuum from clearest to least clear (his article is worth a full read), and he concludes,
There are not any biblical assurances that we will always experience special guidance each time we have a decision to make. . . . Still, the Christian who desires to be truly biblical in decision-making needs to allow space for the occasions when God chooses to guide—sometimes directly and unambiguously, but at other times through urges, promptings, and redirected thoughts.
Although mystery frustrates our quest for definitions and predictability, Scripture undeniably makes room for God to speak in surprising ways.
Lastly, when we do sense God speaking or guiding, our language should be humble. Rather than absolutized language (“God told me”), Scripture models softer language: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28) and “If the Lord wills, we will . . .” (James 4:13–15).
If we’re to be “slow to speak” with one another, how much more should we be when we speak of God.