I believe that we can know God’s will. I believe that God speaks. I believe that we can hear from God.
That has not changed. What has changed is how I picture that and thus participate in it.
I used to teach a weekend class called “a Map and a Compass” that focused on reading the Bible and hearing the voice of God’s spirit. It got great feedback, bore lots of fruit, and gave our congregation(s) a common language with which to engage in dialogue and mutual learning.
I don’t know how much of it I would change if I taught it these days but I definitely would add something major to it. It is more that a word picture or a metaphor – it is an actual understanding that I was lacking and has come to mean more to me than the entire excersise combined.
confession: I love Venn diagrams. When we talk about how we hear from God it is really important to recognize that we, as humans, are environments – like little ecosystems. We are a group overlapping ingredients that are not simple containers of multiple components.
We have emotions, a mind, a body, a community, a history, a personality, and so many other overlapping components. None of them are totally ‘us’ and all of them contribute to ‘us’. Humans are complex and evolving ecosystems.
Most people will not contest this word picture, but here is the the part that gets contentious: “where is God is this picture?” or asked another way, “where does God speak from?”
There are two predominating answers to this in our culture today. The first is that a transcendent God is up there or out there and only once in a while “breaks though” and speaks or that this God only speaks through certain people. Some people locate this in Scripture and say that God has said all of what God wanted to say in the Bible (God’s Word).
The second view is that there is nothing but the physical and that all this God talk is a personification or anthropomorphic projection of our desires or fears. These folks would say that the Bible is only a record of what folks mistakenly thought ‘God’ was saying to them but was really just them.
I think that these two ideas form not just a bad dualism but a harmful picture of how God works.
My suggestion: if we look at all those overlapping circles (ego, emotions, mind, body, community, etc.) from our earlier Venn diagram, I don’t think that God is a big circle up there or out there. Nor do I think that God is circle within our circles. I am suggesting that God is an overlapping reality that is neither totally independent of us nor is God a circle completely encompassed by us.
God is interacting with our emotions and thoughts and this means that God speaks both to and through our emotions. God speaks to and through our thoughts. God speaks to and through our community.
God is not totally independent of those things nor is God completely contained within them.
When we feel something – that is not God. But neither is it independent of God.
Here is where this becomes serious: When we make decisions, they are not independent of reason. There are reasons. Saying “God told me” is fine – but tell me WHY God told you. There are reasons there – emotions, thoughts, relational stuff, body stuff, etc.
God is not speaking in a vacuum, independent of your situations and circumstances. God is speaking both to and through your situation and circumstances. Your circumstances are not God – but neither are they independent of God.
God is here and at work among us. There are reasons that God leads us to do what we do. “God told me” is only half a reason. The rest of the reasons are why you felt like God told you.
We have to get rid of this idea that god is just up in heaven watching and once in a while says something. God is speaking all the time and that is happening to and with our emotions, thoughts, body, community, history, scripture, etc.
God is not just an anthropomorphic personification of humans, nor is God up there and out there like a clock maker or puppet master. Those ideas are failing us big time.
March 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm
I love this topic! It couples nicely with how we ought to pray, if we reject the puppet master idea of God. I do believe God speaks to each of us via a chorus of voices and that the conversation should be ongoing. Really great post!
March 30, 2011 at 8:04 am
Good one. Well said. That is a great way to frame it.
March 29, 2011 at 1:55 pm
God is here and working among us for sure. I feel that He speaks to me in many ways but only when I continually acknowledge Him. It’s kind of hard for me to explain or even wrap my mind around it but I know that if He were not in me that almost every decision I make would probably be different. My priorities would be totally different for sure. That does not mean I can sit here and say “God told me……” but if you are connected “upward” He is going to “tell you”. Does this make any sense??? I know that there are times when I am not acknowledging him and just giving in to “self” completely and I can absolutely say He is not talking to me at all.
Example: One day I’m driving my son to school – feeling really spiritually empty – not sure why – but I cry out to God – Lord I don’t want to feel this way – Please show yourself to me. About two miles later – I see this sad looking woman standing at the bus stop. Her face kind of sticks in my mind because it was kind of “illuminated”. I drop my son off at school and as I’m coming back down the same street on my way to work – I see her again. Her face is so sad and empty – I roll down my window and say – hey are you ok? She says she needs to get a ride fast or she is going to miss her bus to NC. So I tell her to get in. Long story short. Her boyfriend kicked her out, she has no money, hasn’t eaten in a day, social service bought her a bus ticket home to NC but she was about to miss that bus since the local bus was late at the stop she was at. So, that day – God answered my cry to him by showing me His face in that women. I was able to get her food, get her to the bus etc etc. Now that isn’t anything I would ever do on my own. It had to be God talking. I am usually so focused on getting to work that I would not have even seen that ladies face….but God…. does this make sense?
March 30, 2011 at 8:09 am
YES. that is what I am talking about 🙂 ya know – having these little ‘conversations’ is so helpful. It helps me think through some difficult topics – translating them for the modern world.
Look at this one: if I interview at a church and they offer me the position and I fell like I am not suppose to take it… there is a REASON that I feel that way. If i think that ‘god is telling me’ because God is up in heaven and can see something that I can not see – I am thinking about this wrong. NO – God is leading me for a reason and if I don’t look for it I may not find the reason. Look, I picked up on something, I perceived something – God is not working independent of my faculties, God is working with me 🙂
March 30, 2011 at 7:55 am
Lately I have enjoyed the exercise called “lectio divina” when a group of people read a passage out loud and meditate on it, read again, meditate then share what God is telling them.
One time as we were sharing one guy said, “I think God is telling me to do more.” Now, I had been convinced that God was using the passage to say the very opposite, stop striving, rest and trust God. So I thought to myself, “He’s an over-driven workaholic. That’s just him speaking.”
I share that for two reasons. First, I need to be humble and realize that God can speak differently to two different people in two different situations for the same passage.
On the other hand, maybe he is letting his own worldview dictate reality and so he is not hearing God’s voice say, “Relax.”
I think in the Venn Diagram we need to add another intersecting circle, the community of faith. We can easily deceive ourselves and we need brothers and sisters who will “call us out” when we are self-absorbed.
March 30, 2011 at 8:19 am
Good story – thanks for sharing 🙂 Yah. I have seen that before too. (that is why I had ‘community’ as one of the overlapping circles) but I like that you said community of faith’ . This is specific.
We do need each other. I have tons of examples of people doing this very thing that you were talking about. Some of them are pretty funny. some are sad. BUT in the end I think that it is EXACTLY why we need to have this conversation and possibly change the way we talk about this topic.
I should also mention that I have seen the opposite of your story too. That god was calling a person to a moment of faith and their community was saying ‘no’. Part of it was legalism and part of it was conservatism. So that is why we don’t rely solely on faith communities, church history is too littered with ugly stories.