Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Audible Voice of God

In a recent article about the importance of Bible reading, I came across this interesting passage:

Has God ever spoken directly to you? While I’ve never heard the audible voice of God, many credible people have. This morning I spoke with the wife of one of our elders about her recent experience. Betsy had just finished teaching a Bible lesson on the experience of Hezekiah as recorded in 2 Kings 20. If you remember the account, the prophet Isaiah told the king he was about to die. The king fervently prayed, and God spoke through the prophet once again, promising to extend Hezekiah’s life by 15 years. Isaiah knew exactly what the Lord had said.

Does God ever clearly speak like that today? Betsy said shortly after teaching that lesson to her class, God taught her one as well. After a coffee break, she was praying while walking back up the stairs to her classroom. Her prayer concerned the possibility of her husband’s job being moved to another city. She was anxious. But during the prayer, she was stunned by a calm but challenging voice: “Why do you not trust that I will take care of you?” The surprising clarity of that message brought immediate peace. Even though Betsy didn’t yet know where her husband’s next assignment would be, the message God spoke was both deeply calming and convicting. She renewed her commitment to simply trust the Lord.

Kent comments:

I know we are not supposed to comment on things such as this, so, or course, I will comment.

First, if God will speak to us in an “audible voice” why do we need to read the Bible?  Do we just “fall back” on the Bible when God refuses us the audible voice?  (By the way, I’ve always wondered how an inaudible voice of God would sound.)

Second, since this is God speaking, why shouldn’t it be inscripturated (written) with all the other recent messages people claim to have received from God.  Should we expect the Holy Spirit to become involved in assuring that these messages are accurately recorded?  Do these then form the newest book in the Bible?

Third, How does Betsy know this voice she heard was from God?  One answer might be, “She was praying, so of course this ‘answer’ must be from God.”  The problem with this kind of reasoning is that God has never promised to answer prayers in an audible voice.  So the mere fact that Betsy reports hearing a voice does not mean that voice is from God.  And while the writer reports that “the surprising clarity” of the message brought “immediate peace” this also does not prove it is the voice of God.

Finally, notice how the writer of this article attempts to connect the case of Betsy the elder’s wife with the case of Hezekiah.  If it could happen to Hezekiah, why not to Betsy?  But notice that in the Biblical episode of Hezekiah, Hezekiah’s prayer was answered not through an audible voice of God, but rather, through the prophet Isaiah.  The two cases are not really parallel, it seems.

What if I were to claim that just now, God spoke to me in an audible voice to tell me that He did not speak to Betsy in an audible voice?  How could we even begin to evaluate two such claims?  Does Betsy’s claim win because she is the wife of an elder?  (I’m not even a wife!)

This kind of thing comes up periodically in Christian circles.  Usually, no one points it out or questions it.  I suppose such questions are simply considered unseemly.  In the case of Betsy, it all seems very innocent enough since nothing important is at stake.

But what happens when later, perhaps, God speaks to another elder’s wife explaining the “correct” understanding of the Book of Revelation?  (Or something else, perhaps – try your own example here.)


TucsonJim said...

And, here's the other argument ...

The book of Acts contains the stories of ten conversions (Acts 2:22-41=Jews from Pentecost, 8:5-13=Samaritans, 8:26-40=Ethiopian eunuch, 9:1-19 and 22:3-16=Saul, 10:34-48=Gentiles, 16:13-15=Lydia, 16:16-34=Jailer, 17:22-34=Athenians with Dionysius and Damaris, 18:7-8= Crispus and Corinthians, and 19:1-7=Ephesians). In these conversions, wholly audible instructions from God, the Holy Spirit, an angle, or vision seem core to a genuine conversion process.

For example, in Acts 8:26-29, the Holy Spirit instructs Philip to go to the Gaza Road and join the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip did that and won the eunuch to Christ. In Acts 9:10, Ananias has a vision and a conversation with God in which he receives explicit instructions from God about the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. In Acts 9:4, Jesus speaks to Paul (then Saul of Tarsus) from a cloud after knocking him off his horse, blinding him, and says, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" In Acts 10:11, Peter falls into a trance and has a vision in which the Holy Spirit gives him explicit instructions relating to the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentile Cornelius. In Acts 10:22, the Gentile nonbeliever Cornelius is directed by an angel to give an audience to Peter. In Acts 12:7, an angel speaks to Peter in order to rescue him by leading him out of jail. In Acts 13:2-4, the Holy Spirit speaks with clear instructions for Paul and Barnabas' first missionary journey. In Acts 16:6, Paul is forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the Word in Asia. In Acts 16:10, Paul has a night vision of the Philippian jailer beckoning him. Therefore, the next day he goes to Macedonia and wins the jailer to Christ. In Acts 18:9, The Lord speaks to Paul in another night vision at Corinth, encouraging him not to be afraid but go ahead and preach the Gospel with boldness. In Acts 22:16, Jesus appears to Paul in a trance while he is praying and has a detailed conversation, instructing him to leave Jerusalem to avoid capture, which Paul doesn’t do and then gets captured. In Acts 23:11, Jesus appears at Paul’s side to encourage him and tells him he will witness in Rome just as he has in Jerusalem. Paul, Peter, Philip, Annanias, and even Cornelius all had clear and ubiquitous communications from God (Cornelius and Saul even as non-believers). The Spirit did not only speak to Philip, but also "beamed" him from the Gaza Road.

The New and Old Testaments frequently record thunderous spiritual voices that made it unquestionable that truly godly works were being done. With every breath we should pray our hearts and minds be protected from evil and that Jesus should speak to the Father in case we forget. Are your godly conversations like these? If not, why not? Do we simply expect too little from God as well as from ourselves?

In John 14:12 Christ makes it clear that those who follow Him will cast out demons and do miracles greater than even Christ had done. We somehow, however, always skip over and forget such such verses pretending they don't exist. But, I've personally done miracles greater than Christ and I've heard God audibly speak to me (sadly, I've rarely listened). The question of how we discern truth is a very critically important question. It would seem to me evil (Satan or our own desires) would try to help us escape our fate while godly instruction is instead designed to prepare us for it. Plus, the measure of success seems key. A few years ago, for example, the January 1st predictions of a famous deviner turned out a year later to be 77% correct. BUT, they were vauge enough that they should have been 87% on the mark. Godly instruction (like healing) should be 100% on the mark.

TucsonJim said...

I forgot how the number of conversions in Acts - ten - is so important to Jews both of Biblical times as well as today. Ten represents everything ... and God is everything. Similarly, the number 5 represents a relationship or partnership with everything ... or God. This is specifically why David picked up 5 stones when he went for Goliath. It was NOT because he worried he might need more than 1 stone. He knew a righteous man would be 100% successful (the first metric of a godly person). His picking up of 5 stones in fact was a clear message of his certainty to anyone able to understand the Jewish perspective of the Bible. Alas, I was unable to learn this from any Christian or Church and I had to seek out a Rabi to understand.

The idea that God (and all) is one runs contrary to the earlier Zoroastrians (they were known in the Bible as the Magi) and their popular (even today) doctrine of dualism, which propounds the idea of two conflicting powers -- good and evil (or the yin and yang common to other religions). While most every Christian Church teaches about a great spiritual war, the Bible actually teaches God is all powerful.

shema yisrael adonai eloheynu adonai echad

Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

The above Shema prayer is one of the two most important Jewish prayers along with the Amidah. The Shema speaks of loving God, learning the Bible, and passing on the tradition to one's children. And, it is spoken before the Amidah as the Shema reaffirms the most important tenets of Judaism.

One imparts a kiss from lips to doorpost with fingertips, where the above starting six words hang, every time one enters a Jewish home to remind Jews of their duty to serve as witnesses to God's sovereignty by leading exemplary lives and to speak of His Word at every opportunity. Likewise reciting it before bed as the paramount verse to ward off evil is also a commandment (Deuteronomy 6:6–7) and alluded to in verses such as "Commune with your own heart upon your bed" (Psalms 4:4).

The Shema is specifically spoken with one's eyes closed (as in death) to symbolize striving for an understanding upon death of how even the "bad" in our lives were actually for the "good." In fact, it is the first verse taught to a Jewish child and used as the ideal deathbed confessional. For example, five members of a Dutch family were part of the fifteen deaths in the Sbarro Pizza bombing in Jerusalem. The father had managed to reach over and just hold the hand of his 4-year old son as the two of them lay bleeding, burning, and dying. Spoken together, their last words were heard to be the Shema.