Wednesday, 10 November 2010

God now talks to us like he did to Adam?

We're continuing our look at whether the Bible teaches us that God regularly talks to us in ways outside of his written word. This series kicked off over here. Right now we're looking at arguments put forward to support the view that God does talk to us in this way, to see whether they hold up to examination.

One argument I've heard for this view is that God seemed to talk to Adam conversationally in the garden of Eden, and since Christians partake in the renewal of creation according to God's original intended plan, we should be talking and listening to God conversationally now.

But it ain't that easy

First of all it isn't clear what exactly the conversational relationship between Adam and Eve and God looked like. While God does seem to talk to them directly Genesis doesn't give any descriptions of how this happened. We can't just read ideas of "listening to that small inner voice" or "waiting for the Spirit's promptings" into the text when they aren't there. There is no prescription for that sort of thing in Genesis.

Secondly, the Bible teaches that God's renewed creation is not here in its fullness yet. We have some parts of it now, and some parts will come later when Jesus returns. For instance we still have disease and death. We depend on Bible passages describing the nature of the life of believers in this age to tell us what is present and what is to come. The advocate of the "regular special communication" view needs to provide passages that tell us that conversational communication between us and God is a part of renewed creation now and not just later.
Next we'll look at specific passages that are said to support the view of "regular special communication."  

Friday, 5 November 2010

God is always talking to people in the Bible?

We're looking at the moment at whether the Bible teaches the idea that God will regularly communicate to us directly outside of his written word. Christians who believe the Bible does teach this often claim that we should "listen to the Spirit", or wait for that "still small voice". They might teach 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. Sometimes they might say that we need to read our circumstances correctly so as to ascertain God's will. I contend that this is a mistaken belief about the Bible's teachings and I want to have a look at some of the arguments Christians sometimes put forward to support it.

Just read your Bible man; God is always giving direct communication to people!

One of these arguments is that it is just readily apparent that because the Bible includes lots of accounts of God giving direct 'supernatural' communication to people, we should expect to have that too. But this is a rather superficial reading of the Bible as the historical narratives contained within span thousands of years and are not random insights into the every day life of a believer - they are recollections of special events within the history of God's people.

Most of the time period that the Bible covers takes part in the Old Testament and we have good reason to think that in this time God's people didn't expect regular communication to every believer. Unlike their surrounding pagan nations the Iraelites didn't believe that God's will was discerned through "deductive divination" which involved interpreting circumstances and omens to discern God's will. Rather "in Israelite thinking that which is in the category of inspired divination is allowed - God speaks; but that which is in the category of deductive divination is forbidden (John Walton - Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 2007: 249)." As Walton explains, inspired divination came specifically through prophets - and not everyone was a prophet! 

A case for God's regular special communication to all believers cannot be made on the observation that God communicates directly a large number of times in the Bible.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

"Why won't God answer me?"

"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!