Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Does God still speak? (Part 3)

This post is rather long, but I don't want to stretch this out to four parts. So, bear with me, please. In light of what I've already written on this subject, the question arises: If the Scriptures are the inspired word of God, and if there is no new revelation being added to the Scriptures, then why would God need to speak directly to anyone?

In my opinion, based on what I have learned of God from Scripture, God doesn’t “need” to speak directly to anyone. The only thing God owes us is condemnation and punishment under His fiery wrath in hell. God doesn’t “need” to communicate with us. God didn’t “need” to give us the Scriptures. God could have justly left sinful humanity with no revelation, no direction, no Savior and no hope. Because of human fallenness and sinfulness, we don’t deserve anything good from God; therefore, asking why God would need to speak directly to people is the wrong question to ask. The Scriptures are clear: God has spoken in the past, which means the logical question to ask is, “Why did God ever condescend to speak to sinful humanity in the first place?” Why would He be so kind to miserable sinners like us? That’s the question to ask!

As I said in the earlier post, I do not find Scriptural grounds for declaring that God no longer speaks directly since the canon of Scripture is closed. I am not aware of any passage of Scripture that makes such a claim. On the other hand, neither do I find grounds for the practice of running here and there (usually to some self-styled “Apostle” or “Prophet”) to seek a “word from the Lord”.

God is sovereign—He can do what He wants. Therefore, God can speak directly to human beings if He so chooses. There’s nothing stopping God from doing that. Nevertheless, if we want a “word from the Lord”, we can receive one at any time, day or night, when we open our Bibles and read what “thus saith the Lord”. I believe there are too many people desperate to “hear” from God who won’t even open up their Bibles or, if they do occasionally open their Bibles, won’t even obey the word the Lord has already given. This is inexcusable.

However, this sad reality doesn’t negate the fact that, if God so chooses, He can speak directly to us. He doesn’t have to but, because of His infinite compassion towards those who fear Him, He may speak to us directly.
“As a father show compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13-14)
I think it was only out of compassion for His people—knowing our “frame”, knowing our human frailty—that God gave any kind of revelation in the past, and it is out of this same compassion that He sometimes, when and to whom He chooses, speaks directly to His people. I hope you can see that I am not saying that this is absolutely necessary or is a normal, daily occurrence. On the contrary, I am of the opinion that God’s direct communication to individuals is rare. This is not God’s usual way. Even in the Scriptures, considering the number of individuals that we are told God spoke to, considering the amount of time covered between the Old and New Testaments, this was never a usual occurrence. Yet, in His mercy and compassion toward sinful humanity, God has condescended to speak to individuals, as He wills.

So, how does God speak to individuals? Judging from the examples we have in Scripture, one way God can speak directly to individuals through is through dreams:
“Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’” (Genesis 31:11)
But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” (Genesis 31:24)

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” (1 Kings 3:5)

But as [Joseph] considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20)

Now when [the wise men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13)
And, then, God can speak through visions:
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (Genesis 15:1)

And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here am I.” (Genesis 46:2)

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” (Acts 9:10)

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:9-10)

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” (Acts 18:9-10)
Scripture also indicates that God is able to communicate with people in understandable words. In a previous post, I listed several Scriptural examples of God’s speaking. Here, I’d like to focus on one example in particular—the call of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-11):
Now the young man Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.

Then the LORD called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.

And the LORD called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.

And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the young man. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” Then the LORD said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel…”
Have you ever wondered what God sounded like? We know that Saul, and those traveling with him, heard the audible voice of the Lord Jesus when he was confronted by the risen Lord on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:7; 22:9). At Jesus’ baptism, the voice of God was heard (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). When Jesus was transfigured before His disciples, Peter, James and John, they, too heard the audible voice of God (Matthew 17:5-6; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35; 2 Peter 1:17-18). And, then, on the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the voice of God was audibly heard by the crowd that had gathered (John 12:28-30).

Did young Samuel also hear a voice? It is possible, but the text does not say. However, I wonder if perhaps Samuel did hear a voice, but not audibly. Is there anything hindering the Spirit of God from impressing distinct words on the human mind, words unheard by physical ears but, nonetheless, clearly discernable to the hearer? This is pure speculation, I know, but I do wonder. I confess that I have personal reasons for wondering along these lines. Almost 18 years ago, I honestly believe I heard God’s voice—not audibly, mind you, but clearly discernable, nonetheless. That wasn’t the first time I had that experience. A few years earlier, right after making a specific request of God in prayer, I immediately received a clear answer in words that I could literally write down. Again, I did not hear anything audible; nevertheless, I “heard” distinct words. So, I wonder, is this also what young Samuel experienced?

I’ve not had that experience since those days, but I’d be lying to deny that this really happened to me. I hear what my rational, non-emotive, controlled, subdued, logical brothers and sisters in Christ say, but I also read what the Bible says. Scripture speaks of what God has done in the past—it says He spoke—and I’ve found nowhere any indication that God ceased talking when the apostle John laid down his pen. If you find it, please let me know. In the meantime, “I cannot but speak of what [I] have…heard” (Acts 4:20).

Thankfully, however, I don’t have to wait for extraordinary experiences to come along. I can receive a word from the Lord anytime I open up my Bible and read. This is the primary way in which God has always spoken, and Scripture remains the objective rule against which we should measure all things.
Just know, however, that God can speak, and if God so chooses—out of His great compassion for those who fear Him—He could speak. Be open to His voice.

1 comment:

Andrew Chapman said...

Great post. One reason I am passionate about this is that I became a Christian partly through God speaking to me in words - not quite audible but very clear and sharp. The words were - I was a guest in a monastery, alone in a cell, still an unbeliever, seeking God and trying to understand how this Jesus who walked in Galilee could be God at the same time - the words were "Jesus Christ is the supreme Lord of the entire universe". Hallelujah. And that is how I first believed in Jesus as Lord of all. Andrew