Several years ago, Accra, Ghana’s capital city, experienced widespread flooding after days of torrential rain. One evening during that event, a gas station in the city caught fire and nearly seventy people were killed by the fireball that erupted. It was one of the worst disasters in the country’s history.

A journalist at the scene of the accident interviewed a young lady who was one of the survivors. Asked how she had managed to escape, the lady replied that “God was working that night.” In her mind, she had been saved by the grace of God.

I was stunned by her response. Since then, whenever I recall that encounter, I wonder whether she had actually meant what she said, or it was a gaffe. Scores of people had just perished in the fire when the journalist approached her, and I’m not sure what she thought of those souls. Were they not worthy of God’s grace in her eyes?

Invocation of the name of God in such circumstances happens too often unfortunately. Athletes and coaches are the most notorious in this regard. At the conclusion of sports matches, journalists normally step onto the field to interview players and coaches of winning teams. Invariably, triumphant team members are asked to share their thoughts on how they achieved their victories. Good preparation and in-game tactics are usually mentioned, but quite frequently, someone would add God’s blessing as a contributory factor.

Outcomes of sporting contests are some of the most unpredictable things in life. Throughout history, there have been numerous instances where clearly better prepared teams with the best players, coaches, and resources have lost games to sides that everyone expected would be defeated. Those are called upsets. Sometimes all it takes to win or lose is an accidental bounce of a ball. If there were ever the hand of God in these random movements of game balls, the victors never explain why they think God wanted the opposing teams to lose.

One of the most important teachings of Christianity is that whether we are believers or non-believers, we are all God’s children. The scripture also says that God is a just being. It is thus incomprehensible to hear some people say that they have had special blessings showered upon them, helping them to avoid harm or defeat in certain situations, while others are left unprotected to perish or suffer heartbreak in defeat.

I cringe whenever I hear people making such public claims about being beneficiaries of divine grace. My guess is that most people do so reflexively without realizing how their words might be interpreted by others around them. Losing a sporting match is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things so rubbing a bit of salt in someone’s wounds is perhaps not overly harmful. But there are some situations in which doing so can be psychologically damaging to others. No relative of mine was affected by the flooding in Accra but I was quite bothered by the young lady’s statement. I could only imagine how those who lost loved ones in the disaster must have felt.

The line between religion and politics is becoming increasingly blurred in many places nowadays. For the sake of social cohesion, we must ensure that this way of thinking does not create an entitlement mentality within communities of faith. Show of gratitude is a positive act. But in some situations, it is best to do it privately and quietly. After all, Christianity also teaches that communication with God doesn’t always have to be vocal.