Unfortunately, way too many of these forwards end with a line or two that sounds something like this:
"Pass this message to 7 people except you and me. You will receive a miracle tomorrow. Don't ignore and God will bless you." or: "If you're not ashamed of Jesus, forward this on to 10 other people."
(Those of you who've read a good bit of what I've written know what's about to happen. I'm gonna drag out my soapbox and climb up on top of it and commence to preaching.)
I just have to ask: what in the world do we think we are doing when we send stuff like this out!? Has spiritual encouragement become so impoverished in our world that we are forced to use emotional blackmail to get people to say nice things to each other?
Because what the "not ashamed of Jesus" line implies is that if I refuse to forward the e-mail, I am ashamed of Jesus. It has an element of pride in it - because, of course, the person who sent is obviously not ashamed.
Hogwash. If the test for being a devoted follower of Christ is whether I can hit the "reply to all" button on Outlook Express, then faithfulness has been majorly devalued. In the classic illustration of the carrot & the stick (two ways to get a donkey to move), this is the "stick" methodology.
In the same vein, the promise of a miracle and/or blessing is just as big of a theological problem. This is the "carrot" approach to inspiring people to forward the e-mail... in other words, "send this on and you'll get paid off by God for your good behavior."
Now, God clearly promises to bless us and that we will experience miracles (things beyond natural explanation)... but nowhere in Scripture is that tied to chain mail. Nor is it a formula: "if A, then B". Saying it another way, "If I do this for God, He has to do that for me." We cannot obligate God to perform for us!
Yes, the Bible clearly says that if we ask anything in His name, He will do it. But take a close look at that passage:
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:12-14 (NIV)
The purpose of giving us what we ask for Jesus to bring glory to the Father... not to make our lives easier or our health better or our bank account fatter. If those things happen, well & good! Give God thanks... but when we ask Jesus for things "in His name", we must not use his name like a magical incantation.
Let me draw that out a bit... when we view God as someone we can 'force' to do our bidding by our behavior, it's as if we turn the prayer, "Jesus, please heal my son" into "Abracadabra, heal my son!" And that's not any different than "God's gotta give me something good if I hit 'reply to all.'"
(OK, I'm climbing down off the soapbox now... sort of.)
Here's what I do. When I receive a forward with one of those lines or something similar on the bottom, I delete it. Nuke it. Zap it. Consign to Deleted Items Folder for all of eternity. And I do that regardless of the quality of the rest of the e-mail.
One last thought: seems kind of nutty that I've gone off like a Roman candle about this, doesn't it? I mean, it's "just e-mail."
Well, here's something for you to chew on: I "went off" not because forwards are irritating but because the underlying theology is bad. This week, try and look carefully for the underlying theology of some things you take for granted in your life: what you watch on TV; a magazine article you're reading, a discussion you have around the water cooler at work. All part of that "taking thoughts captive" thing, right?
This article originally appeared in 3/30/05 issue of "the Grapevine", the weekly newsletter of NewLife Community Church.