Language evolves. One of the ways it is evolving today is that more and more nouns get used as verbs. Google has become a verb just as xerox became a verb some decades ago. Because of Facebook, friend has become a verb. And since we have largely stopped using old-timey language in prayers in church, our evolved language creeps into our prayers.
Lately I have been hearing prayers asking God to “impact” some circumstance. The petition is for God to impact the situation in the Middle East, for instance.
Impact used to be a noun. It was a fairly violent one involving a collision. A boxer’s fist made an impact. But if a pitcher in baseball made an impact on the hitter, the hitter was awarded first base. A meteor made an impact on the moon and left a crater.
I have a friend I went to seminary with who tends to gossip a little about colleagues. He keeps track of the careers of our classmates. Some of these people have screwed up, alienated whole communities and ruined churches. My friend describes this as “leaving a crater.” So and so, he says, was the preacher at Podunk, Missouri. He is gone now and he left a crater.
This is an impact but not in a good way.
When we ask God to impact something, we probably do not mean to ask for a repeat of Sodom and Gomorrah. We probably don’t want him to leave a crater. Jonah wanted that for Nineveh and was most unhappy when God declined. I expect that God is similarly reluctant to answer our prayers for impact.
We want God to make a difference in the world. We want to make a difference ourselves. But how we go about that is important. I know people who are bomb throwers. They feel that before you can build something, you first have to destroy. They are impact-makers. But the results, I have observed, are often disastrous.
God sometimes destroys Jerusalem so that a new Jerusalem can come. But that is rare. And that is God. The rest of us should be very cautious about impacting anything.
Back in the 70‘s I was in some Christian Education class . We were all about doing away with the lecture model for teaching. We were learning to teach by creating an experience and then facilitating reflection on that experience.
One of the experiences we had in class was to take pipe cleaners and shape and twist them into something. We were supposed to shape them in a way that expressed our desire to make a difference in the world. We were then supposed to report to the class how our reshaped pipe cleaners expressed our vision for change in the world.
I did not do anything to my pipe cleaners. I left them sitting just as they had been handed out. I tried to explain to the class that I had no right to twist and shape people. Neither my classmates nor the professor got it. My grade probably got docked. Later in that decade I resonated to Pink Floyd singing We Don’t Need No Education. “Teachers, leave them kids alone.”
If we are pipe cleaners and God can twist and shape us, I think God often declines to do so. He is God, so of course he does impact us. He creates us in the first place. In the end he takes his spirit back and we die. I consider death a pretty big impact. But I do not pray for God to impact people that way. I think God usually is more subtle and indirect. He certainly does not treat us as just another brick in the wall (Pink Floyd reference).