"Why won't God answer me?" can be one of the most agonising questions a believer in God can face. In fact I've met a number of people who cite divine "silence" as a reason for their walking away from Christianity. In the Bible there is a collection of poems and prayers called the psalms and many of them express anguish over the distance or non-responsiveness of God. However, I am convinced that when the psalmist yearns for God to answer, he is hoping for something quite different to what modern believers typically have in mind.
Anyone who's spent some time in Bible-believing circles will know that it is often taught that God speaks to us regularly outside of the Bible and it is taught that the Bible tells us as such. We are told to "listen to the Spirit", or wait for that "still small voice". We are told that "prayer is like a telephone" and so we should not only talk to God, but wait for him to talk back. All of these methods usually amount to waiting for a strong inner "impression" of something. The stakes are raised as we often told that we need to do this to "find out God's will" so we can step in accord with his purpose for our lives.
Is there another way?
I guarantee you that in any reasonably sized Christian bookshop you fill find books instructing you on how to better listen to God. Many of these books presume that their audience are having quite a bit of difficulty. I can remember a couple years back desperately wanting to know how to listen to God at all for I seemed to be having no success at it. In fact I found my own prayer times deeply frustrating. Sometimes I would even end up shouting and raging at God because of the ambiguity of his communication. Knowing that my experience just didn't match up with what I was taught, I starting re-examing the Bible to see what method it taught for discerning God's voice. I was initially further frustrated that I couldn't see any relevant instruction! Eventually through further reading of the Bible, aided by J.P.Holding's work on contextualising it, I came to find that the Bible does NOT promise this sort of intimate special communication as a regular/normative experience. I want to spend some time defending this view and showing how the "regular special communication" view does not handle the Bible correctly.
I expect some people might be eager to learn about the view I now hold, having had a similar experience of frustration to myself. I expect others might be more cautious and unsettled. Let me say right now that I do not think anyone has taught the view I now consider false out of any malicious intent. Rather I think they have either been taught incorrectly themselves or have interpreted the Bible incorrectly because they've (unknowingly) read modern Western ideas into the text. Nor do I think any positive results or experiences that seem to have emerged from practising that view are necessarily fraudulent or delusory in any way. Rather, like all of our experiences, they need to be understood within the proper framework. Ultimately if we want to know what proper Christian beliefs about God and the Christian experience is like we need to look at the Bible, and I hope you'll be willing to do that as I hope I am.
Somewhat linked to this topic is the argument from "divine hiddenness" which argues that if God really existed he'd be a lot more obvious than he is. That is not the issue I'm going to be addressing in the next few posts. I'm only going to be addressing what the Bible teaches about God's means of communication. As well as J.P.Holding's work I'm also going to be utilising Garry Friesen and J. Robin Maxson's book "Decision Making and the Will of God" the contents of which, for me, were the final confirmation that I had arrived at basically the correct view in this area. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this topic.
Next entry the task begins!