I keep seeing and hearing this. It shows up in Facebook posts and on Christian radio, in Internet memes and bromides of every sort.
This little saying, “God’s Got Your Back” is meant to encourage us by reminding us that God is concerned with the circumstances of our lives, and while life looks to be spinning out of control, God is there in the background, sovereign and everything, and is going to make everything work out OK (we usually spiritualize this by quoting Romans 8:28). You can rest, dear Christian, because your happy ending is just around the corner and if you have faith to see that, you will also have peace and can relax knowing that Everything Is Going To Be OK.
It really would be nice if shutting our eyes to the realities of life somehow caused our faith to thrive. It really would be nice. But it doesn’t.
I might be the voice of one crying in the wilderness here but in my right-now-more-angry-than-humble-point-of-view, this is horrible theology.
God does not have your back. God doesn’t have mine either.
Try telling Job “God’s got your back” as he sits there in the ashes, scraping at boils with a potshard and staring at the shrouded bodies of his ten dead children. Were they lined up in a neat row from youngest to oldest or do their bodies lie crumpled at the scene of the crime?
Try telling David “God’s got your back” as he takes the humiliating descent from Jerusalem into a wilderness of his own making, the messianic throne hanging in the balance, while his favorite son, Absalom, rapes ten women on a rooftop as a way of proving to David he has been dethroned.
While you are at it, how about saying it to the women on the rooftop, the nameless ones, the ones we would today call sex trafficking victims. Did God have their backs? Did anyone?
Want a more immediate example? How about the 230 Nigerian school girls stolen from school by the worst sort of cowards, men petrified by the idea of an educated, empowered female? Look these schoolgirls in the eyes as they endure rape and torture, as their rapes are negated by the “virtue” of marriage (that is so profane I can barely type it), as they watch powerlessly while their friends and sisters are emotionally, sexually and physically abused — look them in the eye and tell them God’s got their back.
I hate this saying because it smacks of faith in faith, not faith in God, a God who does not answer us with explanation or even necessarily with provision but with theophany, with Presence.
I hate this saying because it only really works with our first world problems. As those brave Nigerian girls remind me, their lives cannot be reduced to a bromide and if not theirs, then not mine either. This is a desecration of all that is holy, a denial of the tension of life in God, a shutting our eyes to what is real in the world and to what is God’s part in it all.
I hate this saying because we don’t have a beat on what God is up to. We are merely projecting our wishful thinking and calling it Christian faith. Nope. We simply don’t know looking forward at people’s experiences whether they are going to come through unscathed or whether they will be wounded for life. We cannot know if the illness will lead to life or to death, if the child will thrive or be crushed beneath the weight of disability. We pray. We hope. We come alongside the ones who weep and we weep too. But for the love of God, we don’t tell them God’s got their back.
I hate this saying because it trivializes suffering, and friends, God does not trivialize human suffering. To the contrary, God so honors suffering that He shows up in the midst of it to bear witness, to absorb our grief and pain and confusion into His very own self and hold it there, to hold time eternally still so we can take all the time in the world and in our lives to process our grief. We wish God would just intervene, end the suffering, punish the evildoers. Someday God will. I believe that. I do.
Lastly, I hate this saying because it relieves us of duty. I mean, really, if God’s got your back, I don’t really have to, now do I? But we are the body of Christ on Earth. It is our job to have each others’ backs. To stand against evil even if it costs us our lives. To take our place alongside our brothers, our sisters, and defend them from all manner of arrows, those slung by outrageous fortune as much as those that originate in the pit of hell.
There is so much more to be said on this topic, so many nuances and angles to this idea of God having our backs. We didn’t even touch on the way this idea centers our theology on us (personal salvation and sanctification) rather than on God’s Kingdom agenda, that shalom pervade earth as it does in heaven, and our role in that epic story.
Maybe that’s a post for another day.