Interesting little conflict going on here about “messages from God.” Salvageable wrote a couple of posts that are the easiest and most concise to unpack, so I’m going to use his two part series for some background called, “A message from God.”
DPatrick Collins wrote another post I really enjoyed called, “Hearing Voices.”
So first let me share my beliefs. I think a huge part of the Christian life involves hearing from God. It’s a personal relationship, which means we are engaged and having a conversation. I also believe that one reason why our faith in the Western world is often so lifeless, so powerless, so take it or leave it, so I’ll-just-go-be-spiritual-and-not-religious, is because we are not hearing from God. Trust me, anyone who has actually had a close encounter of the God-kind and sees His hand in their life is not just going to church once a year on Easter anymore.
He changes you.
Nor is this a new problem! CS Lewis once wrote about children hiding, sneaking about the house looking for God and finding Him. The real problem however is, what if He has found us? It is one thing to be safely hidden away and catching a glimpse of Him from afar. It is quite another thing to come out of the shadows and let Him have a good look at you.
There are lots of ways to hear from God. Certainly reading the Bible! I have never seen God contradict His word. He is “not the author of confusion” and He knows how hard it is for us to try to “see through the glass darkly.” Also, we need that tangible substance, that guidance that helps us sort out the difference between indigestion, our own will, and what God actually has to say.
But there is also prayer. Worship. All of creation. Watching the sunset. His still, quiet voice. Dreams. Words from others. Good preaching. Art. Music. And puppies. You have to remember the puppies. I was at my wit’s end once and the Lord actually whispered to me ever so gently, have you forgotten the puppies? Indeed, I was hurting and just in desperate need of some puppy therapy. I had forgotten the puppies.
A big problem in our Western Christian world is that like much of the culture around us we worship reason. Rational thinking. Observable reality. The tangible. The concrete. Science, registered trademark. Absolute Truth. The physical and material. We tend to get a little freaked out about things we can’t taste and see. This is a real problem, a huge stumbling block because the Bible, our tangible concrete word of God says, “taste and see that I am good.” It also says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
We used to have a “spirituality faire” here. Crystals, Buddhists, herbs, meditation, you name it, if it could loosely be called “spiritual” it was there. But there were absolutely no Christian displays or options. I asked some people why that was, some people who should have had a good answer. I suppose they did have a good answer in an odd way, “our faith is not about anything spiritual or supernatural. Our faith is the cure for spiritual things.”
Think about that one! There are Christian faith leaders in the world today who really believe that following Jesus is NOT a spiritual pursuit.
Somebody I care about said something very interesting about that church, “I don’t have to feel, talk to anyone, or be seen.” Well, flat out another word for that is, “I don’t have to ever grow.” Many of us are simply parking the car in the Christian garage and calling it good.
So, I want to address fear here. Accepting that people can really hear from God can be scary. We can’t control that. People are weird! Also, our minds will go right to the bad, to the negative. I had a chuckle reading Salvageable’s “Moe and Joe tale.” I’m in my 50’s now and I’ve been listening to God for a long, long time. I have never heard Him tell me to just make some golden tablets, run out into the desert, and start a polygamous cult.
I found the notion somewhat amusing because I am keenly aware that it is
God’s word in me and God speaking to me, that prevents me from doing those kind of things. Like if you’re really concerned about my propensity to enslave the masses and march myself towards world domination, then talking and listening to God even more, is the solution, the cure, the safety valve.
I actually grew up on the fringes of some cults, all secular, all atheist. I have a few insights into how that whole dynamic tends to go down, the nature of human psychology. It really is kind of scary how hungry people are for love and how easy it can be to exploit that longing for belonging.
Ironically, one of the biggest threats to cultians and bullies everywhere is the notion that God speaks to me. Right?! It’s gotten me into all manner of trouble with unsavory people. People who think they are “god,” don’t like the competition. If God speaks directly to me, if my Holy Spirit is thriving and leading me well, than needing the favor of men just becomes null and void. It’s really hard to exploit and tempt people whose are no longer hungry.
I have indeed, encountered some people who claimed to be speaking for God, and it has been really painful stuff for me. So while I am chuckling, I really do understand what that looks like. Like, “my sheep know my voice” and that is so not His voice I am hearing! People can be fairly transparent to some of us. Like, “God told me to divorce my husband” or “God told me to undercut the bid, make a ton of money, and exploit the crap out people.” God’s will my foot, this is totally your will, one you are trying to rubber stamp with God’s approval, because you know it just ain’t right.
Such notions often leave you in a moral conundrum. Do I just deny that God speaks to people? Do I trust that God is up to something that I can’t see? Does God condone things that I think are wrong? I mean, how do you process something like that? What’s the mental grid? You just have to pray for wisdom, you have to trust in the Holy Spirit. You have to understand that there are variables, that situations can be unique and circumstantial. The Bible was not given to us as a cut and dry book of rules for every situation. We have the Holy spirit, we have our dependence on God, we have spiritual discernment. We have lots of tools at our disposal.
I think in reaction to anything that involves uncertainty within our faith, there is going to be fear. I mean there shouldn’t be, “in Christ there is no condemnation,” and the Bible has at least 300 admonishments about fear. Just the same, we can be a reactionary people, kind of allergic to dealing with uncertainty. It tends to give us hives and a bit of a twitch.
The thing is, another word for “uncertainty” is mystery. The Lord invites us into the mystery of it all. If we can’t trust enough to welcome some uncertainty, we aren’t going to be so keen on welcoming His mystery either.
I just want to mention DPatrick’s post called, “Hearing Voices.” Man, have I had to deal with this one all throughout my life. Gas lighting, crazy making, irritating accusation from fear based people. My atheist parents used to accuse me of having an imaginary friend and hearing voices. Evangelizing atheists on the internet today sometimes echo those same sentiments. And sadly, Christians are sometimes known more for their propensity to eat their own, then to love one another.
Why “insanity bytes?” Because I finally just surrendered all and realized that it was far better to be crazy with the “Holy Spirit” then try to sane without Him. The last time I asked God for confirmation, for evidence that I wasn’t crazy, He had me sit down next to man wearing a loincloth with a bone through his nose, in the middle of winter. Said man proceeded to inform me Christians were weird and unhinged and in that moment I quite comically had the revelation that chasing people favor and approval was a fool’s mission.
Like Alice learns in Wonderland, we’re all quite mad here.