3 reasons why we need to rethink the phrase “God wants the best for you”

"God wants the best for you!" If you’ve spent much time in and around evangelical churches, chances are you’ve heard this phrase – or some derivative of it – on quite a few occasions.

Maybe you’re going through a tough time with your health or finances, or perhaps you’re struggling to feel optimistic about the future. Whatever the specifics of the situation, when you feel trapped in a corner and everything looks bleak, isn’t it nice and encouraging to be told that God wants the best for you?

While this innocuous-sounding expression is undoubtedly well-intentioned and may sound reassuring, if we stop and think  about the statement for just a moment, it will be easy to see that it actually masks some quite problematic ideas.

Does God want the best for us?

First, the idea of “best” often only works inside a system of exchange.

If I’m going to be the best in my class, it follows that no one else but me can occupy that top spot. Similarly, in order for me to have an above average income, someone else (or rather a lot of someone elses) has to earn less than the average.

Seen from this perspective, the very idea of “best” only makes sense within a hierarchical system. And in any hierarchical system there are inevitable winners and losers, the haves and the have nots.

It follows from this that we can’t all have the 'best”, whatever that might be and in whichever area of life it might apply. Simply put, if we all had the 'best”, by definition it would no longer be the 'best”; it would simply be the norm or the average.

That being the case, does God perhaps want some people to have the best but not others? Well, Romans 2:11 tells us that God has no favourites. Food for thought.

Second, in our acquisitive, greed-and-success-driven consumer society, it’s hard not to think of the "best” in a way that the prevailing culture understands it: most expensive, most impressive, most influential, most inspiring of envy in others, and so on. Do we really believe God is remotely interested in helping us attain any such thing?

And third, underneath the idea that God wants the best for us lies the unspoken assumption that God is just itching to intervene on our behalf to make sure we get it. This is problematic because it tends to make God into a genie whose primary role is to fulfil our desires.

And, of course, it raises the vexed question of why, if God is prepared to intervene to get me that dream job, house, partner, grade, and miracle I so desperately want, is he apparently content to sit back and observe while millions die of starvation and disease?

One might go so far as to say that if God really wants the best for people, he’s spectacularly bad at doing anything about it.

Like many nuggets of Christian-speak, then, this little phrase collapses into meaninglessness as soon as you poke and prod it a bit.

What kind of world did God choose to create?

It’s my firm conviction that God is not the slightest bit concerned about helping you, me or anyone else to have or be the "best”, partly because to think that he is concerned about such a thing introduces the kinds of problems and contradictions set out above, but mainly because that’s just not how God operates in the world.

I do believe, however, that there is one kind of best that God does indeed desire for you. But it has nothing whatsoever to do with your bank balance, marital status, career advancement, physical health or even happiness.

The only kind of best that God wants for you and me is this: to be the most complete, whole human being we can possibly be – which is to say the most loving, compassionate, patient, kind, and merciful people we can be.

But even here, there are no magic prayers we can pray or shortcuts God can open up to fast-track us to the finish. How God can and will help us become these kinds of people is by nudging us by his Spirit so that we learn to let go of grudges and forgive those who hurt us, and by loving and encouraging us so that we dare to expose and receive healing for our wounds.

Oh, and by the way, be warned: while the destination might be desirable, the journey to it often hurts like you wouldn’t believe.

So much for well-intentioned encouragement.

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About the author

Rob Grayson is a freelance French to English translator in Coventry, United Kingdom. He has a keen interest in the intersection of theology, faith and life and writes at faithmeetsworld.com