Wednesday, February 3, 2010

God Told Me to Read Acts Chapter 5 Today

Today my son asked me if I had read a recent article at the Christian Standard.  I had a look and was struck by one thing the author said in an otherwise good article:

Real communication with God, as in all relationships, is a two-way street. I don’t just talk at him; I listen for him. I ask God, “What would you have me read this morning from your Word?” And a funny thing happens when I listen for his answer—I hear it. And he directs me to the passage he wants me to read, knowing what I need to hear.

I have been complaining about this whole idea for (probably) far too long.  (Find a recent example here.)  It sounds so good and Godly.  I’m sure it is very sincere.  As a song in one of my favorite musicals asks, “How can there be any sin in ‘sincere’?”  I’m not sure about sin, but there can be plenty of mistakes that thrive in the soil of sincerity, and this is sure one.

What, exactly, is being affirmed when someone says of God, “When I listen for his answer – I hear it.”  Is the author claiming that He asks God what part of the Bible he should read and an audible voice speaks to him?  If I were there, would I hear it too?  Even though he does not make this clear, as many who make these kinds of claims do not, I suspect he would say this is not exactly what he means.

I don’t think we should have to guess when people make these extraordinary kinds of claims, but since this author seems to hide in this bit of ambiguity, we must make our best guess.  And my best guess is that he means that after praying that God will tell him what part of the Bible to read today, he has some kind of non-verbal, inner ‘sense’ that God is telling him to read a certain passage.

The problems with this idea are many, so I will mention only a couple here.  First, where does God promise that he will communicate with us through ‘senses’ and ‘urges’?  While that is a famous bit of ‘pop theology’ it is not a promise from God’s word that I am able to locate.  That being the case, when you assume that your urges, even the most sanctified of them, are God speaking to you, you are in essence ‘putting words into God’s mouth.’  That, my friends, can be very dangerous.

Also, even if you assume that ‘senses’ and ‘urges’ are sent from God, how do you know exactly what they mean?  How is some urge translated with any real certainty into “read Acts chapter 5 today”?  And if you then retreat to, “well, I just know, but I can’t explain how I know or show with any certainty that I know” you have retreated into a very foggy kind of mysticism.  It is a kind of mysticism where the real ‘messages from God’ are always somehow ineffable, that is, they cannot be put into words.

But if that is indeed the case, what is the value in reading the verbalized, written, word of God?  Exactly because it is words, it has been demoted to, at best, a kind of second-class message from God.  And notice how, on this view, the written word of God is not really accessible in any significant way unless God first reveals to each one of us which part we should read today.

In spite of the obvious sincerity of those who hold this kind of view, in the end it is not God-honoring.  It is simply mistaken.

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