Faith Works 3-17-12
When God speaks to me
There are probably few statements that unnerve non-believers more than when someone says "God speaks to me."
We've let an idea gain credence in everyday discourse that the belief God "speaks" to someone almost inevitably leads to violence, oppression, and cruelty.
Well, I call BS on that one. Blessed Suspicion, that is, that those saying so have actually spent even five minutes talking to religious people.
My own personal Blessed Suspicion meter says that the problem begins with the idea that there's anyone Out There to hear from, hence the strong negative reaction.
Also, I'll freely admit: I don't hear God talk. The whole "auditory phenomenon" isn't in my experience base. There was once a time when I strongly felt, in the dark, wondering about a very important question, that I internally heard a voice clearly speak to me . . . but the pronouns made it clear it was me, speaking to myself (hopefully my better self, telling my everyday self how things should be).
For those who are not in support of the idea of a Divine Being, or at least one that actually pays any attention to us puny humans (as opposed to say, Cthulhu), this is what they think any of means when we say "God told me [blank]." They argue: we're hearing what we want to hear, or maybe our subconscious is masquerading as a separate entity to make a point, but God isn't on the telephone line.
Could be. You check out your assumptions about the universe, and I'll live out mine. Here's what I experience myself, though, and it's in line with most believers I end up talking to about this. I'd say: God isn't in the speaking business very often. That's how WE miscommunicate, for the most part, when we aren't sending tweets or texts. We talk, but like my mom, who doesn't do e-mail, God doesn't talk. Much. (Could happen, I guess. Wouldn't want to rule it out!)
God communicates with me in a variety of ways, and my real challenge as a person of faith is learning how to rightly hear what's coming across. You can mock that as projection or a highly developed imagination all you want, but it took me almost 24 years to understand what my wife was and wasn't saying about how the dishes should be managed in the sink, too. And she's pretty darn real, and no one would argue with me on that one – of course, you haven't all met her, so maybe I . . . nahhh.
There's a process of what we call "discernment," and it starts with a faith stance that God does want to communicate with us, and guide us, and cares for our best outcomes. If you can't get to "Go" on that score, whether because you're adamant that there is no God, or if there is a god, it's a flying spaghetti monster of benign indifference to human concerns, then you're not going to go on to the next step.
The next step is learning to "listen," to the urgings and hints and leadings – us evangelical Christians are big on leadings, but we're still pretty bad at explaining them to others – and over time and with practice, you intend to sort out the "devices and desires" of the heart (I want a burger) from the stirrings of the Spirit (go to the Burger Place and talk to whom you meet there). And they can intersect, sometimes pretty interestingly.
And you can be wrong. At least, I'm pretty sure I've been wrong; there've been times when I really was sure God was nudging me to do something in particular, with a fair amount of urgency, and in the end, nothing really happened to make me think "this was a God-led, Kingdom-driven moment." Except, maybe my getting that kind of confirmation wasn't the point, at least that day.
These are ways that (again) the unbeliever finds unbearably subtle and highly qualifiable about all this. "Wishful thinking and wish fulfillment, Jeff; it's God's still small voice when it works out right, and you just blame your own sinfulness when it turns out you 'heard' God wrong." Fair enough.
Except there are these moments, when the cosmos lines up: and it's not always, or often, to my own comfort or personal satisfaction. But you follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, you act in obedience to what you perceive as God's will, and you can find that you are standing on holy ground. Not always a happy place, but a certainty that you are in the Right Place.
And that's what keeps me listening.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he talks to God. Yes, sometimes God answers. Tell him what you believe you're hearing at email@example.com, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.