This is probably my favorite article of any ever written. Please leave a comment, pro or con. I'd like to discuss it.
No Voices In My Head
God may or may not have told me to write this.
by Bill MacKinnon billatclarksondotedu
I’m a lousy Christian.
There. I’ve said it. People say that admitting it is the first step. What makes me a lousy Christian you ask? Hidden sin? Lukewarm commitment? Worldliness?
At least if it were one of those, I could do something about it. No, what makes me a lousy Christian is something I don’t seem to be able to do anything about. You see, God isn’t speaking to me. He won’t give me assignments. He didn’t tell me who to marry. He was obstinately silent when I had to decide whether to take my current job. He doesn’t give me secret knowledge about other people or situations. In short, He isn’t doing for me what seemingly the rest of the evangelical church claims He is doing for them.
Why not me? What have I done wrong? Why this slight? Everyone else has all this extra revelation straight from God. They’ve got intense feelings, and power, and special instructions and don’t have to make any of their own decisions. God tells them what to do and when to do it. In fact, some of them claim they don’t do anything until it is clear what God wants them to do. If I waited for God to tell me what to do, I would never get out of bed. All I’ve got is a Bible and the Holy Spirit within me. (at least, I hope He’s there. I can’t feel Him moving about, but the Bible says He’s there)
I’ve done quite a bit of study on this issue and I’ve gathered quite a few theories and teachings. God seems to be telling different people different things, but perhaps we can sort them all out and come to some conclusions.
First is what I like to call the Ham Radio teaching. I’m sure you’ve seen people fiddling around with the dials on a ham radio. They twist and turn and adjust until the voices become clear. The voices were there all along; they just couldn’t hear them until the right adjustments were made. Some people say God is like that. He’s always speaking. He just can’t get through to us until we make the right adjustments in our lives. As soon as these adjustments are made, His voice is loud and clear! The adjustments generally involve getting rid of all sin in your life. How lucky for the really good guys in the Bible like Cain and Jonah to get it right the first time. Oh wait…
Second is what I call the Walkie Talkie theory. If you have used a walkie talkie, you know that as long as you are speaking, the other party cannot be heard. You can only hear them when you stop speaking and listen. I naively thought that prayer was generally one-way communication with God. But I’m told it is really two-way communication, and that I can’t hear God until I stop talking. Then I’m supposed to listen. How long I wait to see if God is going to say anything is directly proportional to my faith. I apparently missed this part when Jesus taught His disciples to pray, but I’ll go back and look.
Next on the list is the Easter Bunny theory. God’s will is mysterious and he hides it carefully and then asks you to find it. People are always saying that they are “looking for God’s will for my life.” Things like strong feelings and coincidences are clues. God wants you to do things, but He won’t tell you what. But evidently He will hold you responsible if you don’t do what He wants you to do but won’t tell you. Hold on, I’m looking up the verses that support that now….no, no, just a moment…no, not there. Well anyway, I’ll find them later.
There’s the Bull Ring theory. Have you ever seen a ring in a bull’s nose? It’s not there because he’s rebelling against his parents. It’s there for people to pull on. When someone pulls on the ring in a northerly direction, the bull “feels led” to walk north. When the person pulling the ring changes direction, quite remarkably the bull does as well. I have probably heard the term “I feel led” or “I felt led” from other Christians more than any other phrase. But when I ask them what “feeling led” feels like, they are at somewhat of a loss to explain. From what I can gather, it’s a kind of strong desire or impression. Well, if you can’t trust strong desires what can you…uh, never mind.
One of my favorites is the Paxil theory. Paxil is a drug that calms you down and gives you a feeling of peace. I’m told that if I’m wavering between a number of options on an important decision, I should kind of semi-decide upon one, and see if I have a “feeling of peace” about it. If not, move on. Now the thing is, I don’t get stressed or nervous about much of anything. So if “peace” is my main decision making criteria, most of the decisions I’ve made in my life have been correct. Woohoo!
Last but certainly not least is the Back to School theory. Put simply, you can’t hear God’s voice until you learn how. Somehow, without it being recorded, it is known that all the folks God spoke to in biblical times had learned how to hear God’s voice. How they learned it or what is involved in learning it has never been fully explained to me. If I ever do learn it, I will gladly teach it to others, but only if they call me “sensei”…
Well, that was fun. There’s a whole lotta teaching goin’ on out there about God speaking. They all seem to be a bit different but perhaps we can find a common thread among all or most of them. I think I’ve spotted it. Have you? The common theme among most of these (which although I’ve presented them in a tongue and cheek manner, are common and serious teachings) is that God is trying to speak to people and often failing to get His message across.
So now I have a question. Is that a picture of the God of the Bible? Does the God of the Bible try? Does the God of the Bible fail? Is the God of the Bible limited by the failures and foibles of His creatures? Did Abraham “feel led” to go to the land of Canaan or did he hear God speak loud and clear? Did God hide Jonah’s mission to Nineveh ? Was all the sin out of Job’s life when God spoke to him from the whirlwind? Did Moses have to learn to hear God speak from the bush? In short, where the heck did all these ideas come from? Certainly not the Bible.
If you email me and tell me I’m putting God in a box I swear I will hunt you down and kick you in the shin. This isn’t about what God can do. This is about what we can teach. And (hopefully) we can agree that our teaching authority and doctrine comes from the Bible, not the voices in our heads. God can do whatever He wants. But we can’t teach whatever we want.
What does the Bible teach about God speaking? Well obviously God spoke to people in many ways: the burning bush, angels, a voice, writing on the wall, etc. Notoriously absent are things like impressions, feeling led, and feelings of peace. When God wanted someone to do something, He told them and they heard and understood. Period. They didn’t always like it, and they didn’t always obey, but they heard. How could they not? Were they more powerful than God? Are you? Is there anything within your power or imagination that can keep God from getting a message to you? Who do we think we are?
God may choose not to speak to you, but if He does speak, you will hear.
Please don’t come back and quote me the “if you have ears to hear” verses. Read those in context. To “hear”, as Jesus was employing the term didn’t mean to hear, as in perceive with your auditory appendages. It meant to accept and obey. Obviously the crowd “heard” him in the sense that I’m talking about.
It is curious to me that if someone in a typical evangelical church stood up and said an angel spoke to him and told him that God wanted him to be a missionary to Africa , we would be very skeptical at best. Yet if that same person stood up and said that he “just really feel led to go to Africa to be a missionary”, the "amens" and applause would be deafening. Yet the former is biblical and the latter is not.
So, should we be looking for angels or burning bushes? No. Moses wasn’t looking for one. We shouldn’t be looking for anything. What we should do is read our Bibles. You want to hear God speak? If you have a Bible, you have thousands of years of God-inspired instructions, messages, exhortations, rebukes and praises right at your fingertips. Why do we think we need more than that? God’s will for your life is written there. God’s instructions for living are there. To want them piped directly into your brain is just foolishness and laziness. Worse, it opens you up to the worst kind of doctrinal errors.
So in conclusion, a lousy Christian I may be, for many reasons. But my inability to hear God’s voice isn’t one of them. I have a Bible, and God speaks to me whenever I open it.