Does God still speak to people in the same way that he did as recorded in the Bible?
So while I was thinking about this for the purpose of discerning what my life is to be about and for the purpose of writing theologically sound music, I think there is a potentially revolutionary outcome that can occur depending on how you answer.
This question is a big one because, depending on how you answer, you may find yourself viewing the stories of God speaking to humanity in Scripture a little differently or you may find yourself reevaluating how you may have thought God spoke to you in the past (present or future as well). For example, if you come down on the side of "yes", that is, God does still speak to us in the same way that he did in the Bible, then you must decide how you think that is. Often times in Scripture, we see God explicitly making verbal conversation with people (e.g. Abraham, Paul, etc.). If this is the case, then we must expect to hear of God speaking verbally to people today. This should push us to evaluate our own theophanies (God encounters) and see if we've heard from God in a clear voice. Without trying to find reasons why we may or may not have experienced this, one can reasonably see that this hypothetical would play out into your life in a much broader way than one might initially assume.
On the other hand, if one decides that God has ceased speaking in the same way that he did in the Bible then we are free from expecting God to be explicit with us in a verbal way. The issue here is that you are then left with figuring out how God does speak, since all Christians agree that he wants to know us and be known by us. Many have suggested that perhaps since the close of the Christian cannon (Scriptures), God uses the Bible as his mouthpiece or since the establishment of the Church as a corporate and formal entity that then is his speaking mode. While this may be a bit more palatable (for it excuses our lack of audible theophanies), one is then left with trying to draw lines between what is indeed divine message and what may be distorted due to human intervention.
Just as a spoiler alert, I should say here that I won't be able to give you the whole answer. Not only would that be presumptuous of me, but I would be shouldering a burden I'm fairly sure I cannot bear. So, let me tell you where I came down on this issue and perhaps that will help you to think through it yourself.
I personally do not agree with those who think God suddenly changed his mode of communication. I just cannot find any good reason for this to be done (not that my own reasoning is the highest of authority), I have not found it confirmed in Scripture (though I'm not a biblical scholar, so if you are, please let me know if it's there) and it has not been a unified belief throughout Christian tradition. I think that it makes all the sense in the world that God would still speak to humanity the way he did in the Bible. I, however, also believe that in the cases in Scripture where God is recorded as speaking his explicit will, there may have been literary liberty taken on the part of the writers.
I believe that God could speak by auditory if he so chose, but from what I can tell in Scripture, Christian tradition and my own experience, God likes to work within the laws of reality which he established from the beginning of time. This means that in order for him to do so, he would have to commandeer a set of vocal chords and, gentleman that he is, God is not in the possessing people business.
So how does God speak? I think that God speaks through feelings and impulses but also through internal confirmations of ideas. For example, I felt that a while back (in answer to my trying to discern the future for my family) God gave me the phrase "eyes forward, hands on the plow" to hang onto for encouragement, direction and support. Now, this phrase is clearly playing from Scripture in which Jesus says that whoever lays his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom. So I think that (in this case at least) God may have helped me to use the Scripture which I had hidden in my memory to speak relevance into my current situation. Was it audible? certainly not. Was it powerful in my life? definitely.
You may be wondering how I know it was God at all and not just my own recollection. Furthermore, how does anyone know when God is speaking to them? I have found that there are a few ways one can seek confirmation. Some of them are:
- God only speaks when you're listening. I know that seems like a no-brainer, but in practice, we tend to say too much when we pray and not spend enough time listening.
- God's messages are usually (as I've experienced them) messages which I doubt I would come up with on my own. This is usually the case when I am being prompted inside my mind to love or sacrifice when I know I would rather be selfish.
- God's messages will always align with the Character of God as seen in Jesus. Notice I didn't say "in the Bible" but instead said "in Jesus". There is often misunderstanding when one uses the broad paint brush of all of Scripture instead of the narrow paint brush of Jesus; specifically, without Jesus as the key to all hermeneutics (Biblical interpretation), one can end up with a pretty scary god coming out of the Old Testament. All you need is love and all you need is Jesus; he is sufficient.
- God's messages will generally align with the Christian tradition. Again, we have to go back to Jesus ultimately (or first?) because Christianity has not always (or often?) looked like Jesus. But because the Church is the body and bride of Christ, we should find continuity between what we think God is saying to us and what he has said in the past to our sister's and brother's in Christ.
Of course I could say more on this topic, but I'll leave the rest to you. Also, read this guy and this guy's blogs as they may have things to say on the matter as well.
Think well, love well and listen well to the Spirit of God which is in you.