God’s Peace Is Not Always God’s

How to know when our feelings are truly from the Spirit.

Our deeply reported March cover story examined multiple perspectives on the role of evangelicals in America’s growing commercial surrogacy industry. One supporter of the practice was quoted as saying, “God called me to seek out what seemed like unconventional ways to serve others.” Another said, “I’m so glad I have a peace about this being God’s plan” (emphasis added).

Pulling these quotes is not a judgment on their decision, and this is not an editorial about the ethical dynamics of surrogacy (which are complicated enough to merit a separate piece). Rather, the italicized phrases catch one’s attention for a different reason: They are phrases often used—and misused—by evangelical Christians.

Such phrases run hand in hand with “I felt the Spirit’s leading,” “God spoke to me,” and “I sensed God’s confirmation.” They can be accompanied by a reference to something that brings anxiety or to a major purchase or financial decision or to grave ethical decisions. What all these phrases have in common is this: The self is portrayed as the final court of appeal.

This is no small matter, but one crucial for the health of evangelical Christianity. How do we determine God’s will, especially given that we believe God is active in our daily lives? Unfortunately, in some circles, “God spoke to me” and “God gave me peace” have become unassailable. I was speaking with a friend, wondering about the ethical decision of someone else we read about in the news, when my friend said, “But the story says God spoke to her about it.” As if that settled the matter.

Evangelicals used to be rightly criticized …

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