Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Talking God

I've often times throughout my studies in theology come across times of crisis. What I mean by that is that on occasion, I find myself asking a paradigm building/breaking question. The one I would like to tell you about today is the question that came up while I was writing worship music and trying to discern what God had in store for the future of my family. The question was this:

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.

The Relevance

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. 

Some Clarity

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Who is Your God?

I have found on my short journey through life that, while I believe there is properly only one true God, there are many versions of him (see, I said him...) in people's individual understandings. By typing that sentence, I have already disclosed that I refer to God as a male, though of course there is no gender associated with the supreme one. I'll go further and admit that the idea of God being a Father is also part of my picture of God, but this is not so helpful for other people.

My purpose in raising this issue here is to simply "shake up the dust", if you will. I want to issue a challenging question to all who may read this. The question is this:

Who is Your God?

Now, you may be wondering why I would ask something so basic and ambiguous to Christians (as that is my audience). My purpose is to spur you on to press in a little and find out if the picture of God that you have in mind actually looks like Christ; more poignantly, does the image of God in your mind look like Jesus of Nazareth, being tortured by Romans for no obvious reason? If not, I hope that you will consider the possibility that you may have a less-than-accurate picture of who God is and, thus, what he is like.

Why is this important?

  I feel I should explain why I think that it is important to evaluate and, periodically in life, re-evaluate our picture of God. For those that believe in God (any God really), it is found that the picture that they have of God will always dictate their actions to one degree or another. The most obvious manifestations of this effect is in worship. So, for example, if my picture of God is the "buddy God" which is often resultant of over-emphasizing the Abrahamic claim to be a "friend of God", then one might be less inclined to view our relationship to God with reverence and humility; after all, if God is my pal, then I can drop the formalities.

Another example might be the EMS or Butler God. This is when people only turn to the divine when things go wrong in their lives. A loved one is sick, the bills aren't getting paid, a new boat sounds nice...then and only then do they call upon God. The Bible is full of examples of Israel doing this; they would start to live like every other people group around them but when things went wrong, they would call upon God for help. The big issue here is that it becomes an abusive relationship where we want all of the benefits of the relationship without any of the sacrifice.

The final lacking picture of God that I want to point out is what some who conducted a study on youth between 2003 and 2005 termed "Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism". If we break this term down we see a picture of God that I'm afraid we find all-too familiar. This picture of God is moralistic in the sense that all that we derive from this picture is concerned with our morals; specifically if we're behaving in such a way that it deems appropriate. It is therapeutic in the sense that it makes us feel good and is always concerned that we live comfortable lives and is thus there to get us out of tough spots and comfort us. Finally, it is Deistic in the sense that it assumes that God is more or less uninvolved unless he necessarily must be. I don't have to go on much further to point out that this is not the passionate, paradigm-breaking, challenging and personable God that Jesus shows us by calling us to the cross of Christianity. 

Concluding Thoughts

In all fairness, there is usually some room for each of the ideas we have about God in small amounts; that is, it's ok to seek help from God, he does love us; it is ok to see him as our friend to the extent that we can confide in him and discover companionship in that relationship. Also, it is true that God does care about our righteousness and wants good things for us. Where things go wrong is when we try and take any one facet of God and build our whole image of him on that small revelation which leads us to a picture that looks different than Christ on Calvary.
We must always keep the centrality of Jesus' sacrifice for us in our hearts. To hold another picture leads us to a misconstrued relationship which will have rippling effects in our lives and the lives of those that follow us. So, spend some time reflecting on how you understand God; if it is anything other than Jesus, I encourage you to press yourself to discover why and perhaps search out clarity in this matter. Your picture of God will dictate your relationships, your worship and your life so we must ensure that it is a picture of as much clarity as possible. 


"When Christians realize that we have an intrinsically Jesus-looking God, what follows next is a deep-seated longing for an intrinsically Jesus-looking Church. This alone has the power to yield and intrinsically Jesus-looking world and that can only be a good thing."