Typically, when someone walks up to me at a gas station it’s either to sell me something or to ask for money. This time it went a little differently. I was waiting in my car behind this man as he finished pumping his gas. When he finished, rather than get in his car and drive away, he walked up to my car window and began asking me about Jesus. He said that he felt God was calling him to come and talk to me, thinking maybe I’d been ignoring the people trying to get me to go to church and become a Christian. I told him I already am a Christian who regularly attends church. He took it well, said how he must have misheard that one, we laughed it off and had a polite and friendly encounter. After the shock of the encounter wore off, I began thinking about the church and the way it handles “Hearing The Voice of God.” While this encounter was harmless, I think we may need to rethink our approach.
“That’s Not How the Force Works!”
There’s a pretty common mentality among modern Christians that God is constantly sending us mysterious signs and signals that we must interpret. We’ll look for signs of whether God wants us to marry this person by looking at swirls in our coffee. Strangely enough, there’s a scene in Netflix’s Daredevil series that tries to address this issue. As a child, the main character laments that he prays, but God doesn’t talk to him. The Priest, in what’s meant to be insightful wisdom says, “The burning bush business doesn’t happen very often, even in the Bible. He’s usually more subtle than that. You want to hear God, you have to listen more carefully. Because he speaks in whispers.” It’s actually a very good scene, and I think it was a serious attempt to show nuance in their portrayal. To their credit, it’s an accurate view of how many think God operates.
But there is very little precedent for this sort of approach in the Bible. Regardless of whether it does good or harm, this just doesn’t seem to match God’s MO. Typically when God spoke, there was no ambiguity. He didn’t send vague hints and messages that could be misinterpreted. If God wants to send us a message, he’s not going to be purposely vague.
Listen to Scripture, Not Your Heart
For a lot of people, trying to listen to God is nearly the same as a sappy movie telling you to follow your heart. You have a gut feeling that you’re supposed to do something, and that must be God, right? Probably not. My own feelings are one of the last things I want to put too much trust in. the Prophet Jeremiah made it clear whether following your heart is a good plan or not.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”Jeremiah 17:9
Our instincts change. The Bible does not. We need to rely on the one unchanging authority we have. While the Bible may not tell you exactly what action to take in every situation, it gives a pretty thorough account of this world and our lives. If we truly take the time to learn it, I think we will find significantly fewer situations that leave us unsure what the right choice is. Making that right choice will still be tough, but we won’t be looking to songs playing on the radio for insight.
So God Doesn’t Speak to Me?
This issue can get a bit personal for some people, and I don’t want to be misunderstood. I am not saying that the only communication we have from God is through the Bible. I think that would be taking this idea a bit too far. But I think in the times when God does communicate with us, whether you call that speaking, convicting, moving, or whatever else, he’s not unclear. We need to be careful to test these “voices” by what scripture tells us. So often people argue in favor of this view with anecdotes, rather than scripture. This is a subject that Greg Koukl has spent a great deal of time talking about, and he summarized this issue better than I ever could.
“For me to say the Bible doesn’t teach this and then someone to say, ‘Well, here’s what happened to me.’ All they are telling me is what happened to them. They are not proving to me that God was involved with it just because it happened to them. That’s precisely what’s in question. I’m not questioning the experience, I’m questioning the source and the validity of the experience. Experience is not authoritative to me.”https://www.str.org/articles/hearing-god-s-voice
Maybe this man did hear the voice of God at the gas station. Perhaps there is some grand plan that this is all a part of. As much as I like to joke that he heard God but went to the wrong car window and goofed up his chance, I don’t want to be too cynical. I think we do need to approach with some caution and a healthy dose of skepticism. Not every person who claims to hear the voice of God does so in such a harmless way.
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