5 Bad Churchy Phrases: “God Showed Up in the End”

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Well Shut My Mouth: 5 Bad Churchy Phrases

Part 2: “God Showed Up in the End”

Psalm 139:1-18

Church culture is full of “churchy” phrases, shorthand we use to get across certain ideas. They are so much a part of church speak, we often fail to consider what the phrases might mean to new believers and pre-believers.  So, we’re taking a few weeks looking at 3 “churchy” phrases that can convey some unbiblical ideas and 2 phrases straight from scripture that are often used WAY out of context. 1
Last week we examined the phrase, “It was a God thing.” By breaking down how Paul describes Jesus in Colossians 1:15-20 we saw how absolutely everything was, is, and always shall be “a God thing.” God created, sustains, and ordains ALL things. So it’s not simply the events we believe are happy endings that qualify as “God things.”

Another phrase we use to describe our own version of a happy ending is, “God showed up in the end.” There is certainly scriptural support to say this in some contexts. The entire Revelation of John is a series of pictures describing the way God shows up in human history. John sees God show up in judgment upon all the rebellious and in eternal blessing for all his people at the consummation of all things. 

Peter describes the hope of final and eternal glory this way:  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Pt. 5:10).

But we often hear the phrase “God showed up in the end” in the context of someone’s story of a happy ending or a “victory” in some situation they consider bad. “My boss was making my life miserable; but God showed up in the end and my boss was transferred.” Or, “I had stage IV cancer, but God showed up in the end and now I’m healed.”

In those contexts, the phrase “God showed up in the end” implies that God was not present in the unpleasant parts of our stories; he was only present in that part of the story we believed to be a victory. That’s the myth we’re going to debunk this morning by examining one of David’s hymns, Psalm 139:

 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. 

Omniscience – “Know-everything-ness” (1-6)

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! 2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. 3You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. 4Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. 5You hem me in, behind and before, 

and lay your hand upon me. 6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. 

Omnipresence – “Everywhere-ness” (7-12)

7Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. 11If I say,“Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” 12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. 

Ownership – “Personal-to-ME-ness” (13-18)

13For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; 

my soul knows it very well. 15        My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16Your eyes saw my unformed substance;         in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. 17How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you

This is a great text to examine in light of the phrase “God showed up in the end.” It contains some important theological propositions; but they are framed in the light of David’s personal experience. It is theology in practice, “the very essence of worship.”2

First, David praises God for his “know-everything-ness” (God’s omniscience).

If the phrase “God showed up in the end” implies God didn’t know about your situation until he finally learned of your distress and took action, David has a word for you this morning.

David says God knows everything about David (1):

Knows when David sits and stands (2a);

Knows what David is thinking (2b);

Knows where David goes and what he does whether David is awake or asleep (3);

Knows what David is going to say even before David can form the words to speak (4);

Protects David like a sheep in a pen with God’s guarding hand (5);

Knows so much about everything David can’t begin to understand how God does it or exactly what God knows (6).

One theologian says of God’s knowledge: “God knows Himself and all that is contained in His plan. He knows all things as they actually come to pass, past, present, and future, and knows them in their real relations. He is fully acquainted with the hidden essence of things, to which the knowledge of man cannot penetrate. The actual as well as the possible is present to His mind.” 3 (See: 1 Kings 8:39; Ps. 139:1–16; Isa. 46:10; Ezek. 11:5; Acts 15:18; John 21:17; Heb. 4:13)
God’s all-knowledge is personal and active: discerning us (2b); sifting us (3a, where searches out is based on a term for winnowing); knowing our minds more closely (altogether) than we know them ourselves (2b, 4; cf. Amos 4:13); surrounding us (hem me in), handling us (5).4

Could any human being invent a god like this, a god who not only knows everything but knows all the infinite possibilities of everything because he created everything and decreed everything before he ever began creating?

If we could invent such a god, few if any would think to make him a PERSONAL god – one who not only knows everything in all its infinite possibilities, but who knows ME and YOU as individuals. We are not simply a name and a description in God’s vast filing system.

That’s part of the problem with the phrase “God showed up in the end,” it reduces God to the level of a human invention, an entity too busy know and care for you from before the foundation of the world until that moment when you enter crisis mode because your story is not being written the way you want it written.

“God knows instantly and effortlessly all matter and all matters, all mind and every mind, all spirit and all spirits, all being and every being, all creaturehood and all creatures, every plurality and all pluralities, all law and every law, all relations, all causes, all thoughts, all mysteries, all enigmas, all feeling, all desires, every unuttered secret, all thrones and dominions, all personalities, all things visible and invisible in heaven and in earth, motion, space, time, life, death, good, evil, heaven, and hell.…”5

Part of David’s praise of God is the fact that David is awed, perhaps slightly disturbed, by God’s “Know-Everything-ness.”

David sings, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (v. 6).

Perhaps one reason the phrase “God showed up in the end” made it into The Book of Churchy Phrases is that no one really wants God to know absolutely EVERYTHING about us – all our thoughts, all our desires, all our dreams and all our failures.

Not even David can comprehend such “God-ness.” Do you REALLY want to know that God sees absolutely EVERYTHING you do – even the stuff you hide from your spouse, your closest friends, your parents, your teachers, your bosses?

How about this? God knows every thought you have; he knows every self-defense you make when your conscience accuses you. He knows when you’re faking it. He knows that the ends never justify the means, even when I tell myself otherwise. He sees though the way I rationalize my sins to myself and others.

But if we can see God as a “god who merely shows up in the end,” then we find God to be just a little bit more comfortable. Then, he’s only a powerful helper when we think things aren’t going our way. Then he’s merely a superhero.

Then, God is nothing more than the Israelites’ idea of God in the time of the Judges. We get attacked, we’re facing slavery and we cry out. God sends a Judge like Sampson, to come deliver us from trouble. “Thank you, God; we’ll take it from here and call you the next time we need you to show up in the end.” 

What a nice, manageable God who knows his place! He sets the universe like a clock and only shows up when he’s really needed. That kind of god has the good manners to let me get on with my life. “Thanks for showing up; I’ll be sure to call you when the plumbing backs up again.”

David praises God for being everywhere, all the time (vv. 7-12).

“7Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?”

Here’s why it’s IMPOSSIBLE for God to simply “show up in the end.” GOD NEVER LEFT! 

God is not a plastic Virgin Mary statue you can Velcro to your dashboard in bad weather and put back in the glove compartment for the next storm.

Everywhere David could possibly go, God is already there. “…the highest point to which we can rise is heaven and God is obviously there, and the lowest point to which we can descend is hell (the Hebrew word is sheol) and God is there too…. In fact, the thing that makes hell so terrible is that it is run by God.”6

The devil doesn’t “run” hell as some popular myths assume; God does. He is present there in his entire terrible wrath against sin.

The prophet Amos says of people trying to outrun God’s judgment, “If they dig into Sheol [hell], from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down” (Amos 9:2). 

Up or down, God is present. East or West, God is present. “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me.” To David’s east was the sunrise, with the light of dawn racing across the land. To his west was the sea where the sun appeared to sink into the depths of the sea every sunset.

God told the prophet Jonah to head east with a message of salvation to a pagan people. Jonah headed as far west as he could possibly go. But God “showed up” in the middle of the sea. God didn’t “show up in the end;” he was WAY ahead of Jonah.

God is present in heaven and hell. He is present from sunrise to sunset. He is present in the dead of night. “11If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ 12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

God was present when David and you and I were conceived inside a womb. “13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

There was never a time when God was not present, since God created time. There was never a point when God didn’t ordain and sustain David’s life, or your life, or my life – even when that life was but a microscopic blob of cells dividing in a mother’s womb.

Job, in the middle of all the miseries of his life, kept demanding that God “show up in the end” and explain himself. What Job forgot in his suffering was that God WAS present from before Job’s tragedies began and God had ordained all Job’s suffering. 

In other words: God was present before the beginning. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:1-5).

David saw comfort where you might see oppression, judgment, even fear,

Why do we like to say bad churchy phrases like, “God showed up in the end”? Because it makes God a little more manageable, a little more comfortable. It makes God an actor in the story we write for ourselves, not THE author of everything. It makes my life all about me, not all about Jesus.

If God modestly or disinterestedly turns his back on our darkest thoughts and actions, then we don’t have to deal with our darkness – not really. If God is busy saving someone or something else until we really think we need him, then our lives belong to us to manage as we see fit.

God “the Superman” is busy fight evil General Zod until God hears our Lois Lane crises cry, breaks off his battle with Zod and comes rushing in to save us before returning to vanquish the villain. That’s the kind of deity our Old Adam, our sin nature, wants – comic-book-hero god, the “god who shows up in the end.”

But the God who was there from eternity, before ANYTHING but him existed, who decreed all things before he spoke anything into existence, who sees not simply everything generally, but ME (and all my dark thoughts and secrete deeds) particularly? That’s NOT a comfortable God for those of us who want to hide from him!

God is not tame. He is not comfortable or manageable. He knows absolutely everything about you. He sees clearly and perfectly past the public you down into the depths of your heart.

You can front for your loved ones and friends. You can (and do) often delude yourself. But you cannot front God. He made everything that exists, including you. He knows you better than you know yourself.

BUT YOU DO HAVE A HIDING PLACE, a place where God will not judge your dark thoughts and will not take mind of your secret sins, a place where you do not have to defend yourself. It’s a place where you can be real – warts and all.

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5).

Your hiding place from the untamable God who is everywhere and sees everything is the cross of Jesus Christ. 

If you are trusting into the perfect life Jesus lived to fulfill God’s demand for your perfection and into his bloody death as the payment for your sins, then you are hidden in him. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4).

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).

You don’t need to invent a super-hero God who only shows up when you can’t get what you want the way you want it. You can have the One True God, who freely offers you himself in all of his love and all his approval and all his loving control of all things and all situations.

He’s not far off. He’s always and everywhere near.

18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. 20 The Lord preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy” (Ps. 145:18-20).

1 See: Jason Johnson, “Stop Yourself Before Saying These 5 Bad Phrases” accessed 4?19/16 at: http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/172462-jason-johnson-yourself-before-saying-these-5-phrases.html

2 James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 107–150: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 1201.

3 L. Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1933), 65–66.

4 Derek Kidner, Psalms 73–150: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 16, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 500.

5 Boice, 1203; quoting Tozer.

6Id., 1204–1205.