Looks like this commercial aired during the Super Bowl using Paul Harvey’s “God Made a Farmer” speech is the fan favorite this year. But my friend Robin didn’t like it so much.
And I agree with her now … even though I didn’t at first.
She expressed her objection to the ad in her most recent “Choosing Comedy” blog post entitled “Speak for Yourself.” (http://www.choosingcomedy.com/?p=1139)
Her main objection? “He put words in God’s mouth,” wrote Robin.
Initially I thought Robin was being unduly critical of Paul Harvey who was a well-known radio personality. He professed a strong Christian faith so we should consider him “one of us.” And he was considered someone of high integrity. His “Rest of the Story” commentaries are certifiably legendary.
Surely someone as unabashedly dedicated to God as Paul Harvey wouldn’t intentionally offend God, right? After all, wasn’t he speaking metaphorically, not really putting words in God’s mouth? That’s O.K. isn’t it? For someone like Paul Harvey?
Not O.K. with Robin. And I would add, especially because this regards Paul Harvey. With more influence comes more responsibility.
Here’s the thing to watch for as we negotiate the roads of life trying to be attentive to God’s voice. Many will claim to hear from God and many more will try to speak for God. People we consider the most credible are also the ones who can lead us most astray – Because we trust them and assume that what they say is true. Which is why God holds teachers (and, may I imply, influential people?) to a higher standard.
Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life. (James 3: 1-2, The Message with underline and bold added by me)
But no one is perfect. Not Paul Harvey, not Billy Graham, not the Pope, not our pastors. Only God.
In this remark by James* in his letter to the church in Jerusalem, any “speech” by anyone other than God is to be presumed imperfect, containing at least some untruth. When the speech is about God, our radar should be up – way up. Elders and Pastors who teach should generally be prepared for this elevated radar of ours but the rest of us including Christian celebrities like Paul Harvey may not be.
Wrote Robin, “If anyone can be trusted to speak for himself, I think God can. He certainly has said a lot. More than most of us are familiar with. He has certainly said more than I am familiar with, and He has definitely said more than I have heeded.”
Much of what we know God did say is in the Bible. A few things the Bible says about itself are:
- It is God-inspired: 2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4
- It is to be used by believers to test whether something is from God or not: 1 John 4:1, Hebrews 4:12; 1 Thess 5:21
- It is not to be added to or taken away from: Rev. 2: 18-19, Prov 30: 5-6, Deuteronomy 12: 32
Paul Harvey died in 2009 so he can’t defend his decision to use this “God said…” phrasing in this speech. And although I agree with Robin’s objection to Harvey misquoting God, I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt – that his intention was to honor God and farmers with this speech that he delivered at the Future Farmers of America convention in 1978. While I believe Robin would still object in that context, her warning becomes more potent with this latest use of the same speech that was recorded then so is now available for “reuse” but in an entirely different context – as a commercial to pay for the Super Bowl broadcast and to sell a truck and to promote the truck’s manufacturer.
Wrote Robin, “I don’t know that God minded the thoughts. But I do wonder how He views the accreditation?” A few lines later she added, “I wonder if this is not something that God was aiming at when He commanded us not to use His name in vain.”
Cursing is what comes to my mind when I think about using God’s name in vain…
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. (Exodus 20:7, ESV)
But Robin’s use of the word “vain” seems to regard the broader definition of “vain” or “in-vain.” (from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/in+vain)
adj. vain·er, vain·est
1. Not yielding the desired outcome; fruitless: a vain attempt.
2. Lacking substance or worth: vain talk.
1. To no avail; without success: “Our labor was in vain.”
2. In an irreverent or disrespectful manner: “took the Lord’s name in vain.”
God’s name honors God himself. Any other use of his name is a “vain” use of it – not yielding the desired outcome.
I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. (Psalm 138:2, ESV)
Does the old “slippery slope” come to mind here? Once you start the slide, its hard to stop it. Harvey started the slide when he put the words, “God said….” in this speech followed by statements that could easily be tested as not said by God.
Harvey was a superlative writer and orator. He could have written something just as inspiring and commercially useful without the “God said….” phrasing. I don’t know if he ever regretted that phrasing but given how his speech has now been used for a different purpose, I wonder if Harvey might now join with Robin and God to protest the use of his name and message as being used for vain purposes “not yielding the desired outcome!”
What are your thoughts?
To looked up Scriptures referenced in this post: http://www.biblegateway.com/
* The book of James is widely regarded in the church as the wisdom book of the New Testament – like Proverbs in the Old Testament.