Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Measuring God by our limited experience of Him

When it comes to discussions about how God works today in the Church by His Spirit there is a tendency, it seems, for some believers to limit God’s activity within the boundaries of their own experiences. In other words, if they have never experienced it or seen it then, as far as they’re concerned, it’s not real or legitimate. I don’t think this is a wise approach. In fact, I think it could be a cover for our unbelief.

What motivated me to write was a post over at Brian Thornton’s “Voice of the Sheep”. Thornton asks, “Outside of the Bible, exactly how does God speak?”
“I had posted a very short piece several days ago on the subjective vs. objective, and questioning which one we should put our trust in. The subjective side includes things such as feelings, impressions, leadings, inner peace, circumstances, and directions from others. People often try to describe receiving information through these various mediums as God speaking. They will use a phrase such as ‘God spoke to me’, but when questioned on exactly how God communicates this information, I have never seen a response that can definitively answer the manner in which God 'speaks' in these various mediums.

“To be sure, I have never seen anyone who holds to a belief that God speaks through these types of channels provide any biblical precedence for it whatsoever. The examples from Scripture usually cited do in fact display God speaking, but always in an audible voice. And I have yet to find anyone willing to admit they are hearing God speak to them in that manner (unless of course your name is Jesse Duplantis, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson, etc.).”
It is this last sentence that disturbs me. The unstated assumption is that God does not speak apart from the Bible; although He spoke to people audibly in Bible days, He no longer does that today. The very mention of off-beat characters like Duplantis, Hinn and Robertson subtly (or not so subtly) suggests that only charlatans or the mentally unbalanced actually hear God speak. Now, to be perfectly honest, I’ve never heard God speak audibly (I believe I have heard God, however, just not audibly. You can read my post on this subject.). I don’t think I know of anyone who has actually heard God speak audibly (at least I don’t remember anyone telling me they had), but what does finding “anyone willing to admit they are hearing God speak to them” audibly have to do with whether or not God actually speaks audibly today? Do you see what I mean? According to the Bible, God has spoken audibly in the past (again, you can read my post on this). The Bible never states that God has stopped speaking audibly (and if you know where it says that in the Bible, please let me know—I’m serious). Therefore, I think we can safely assume that God could speak audibly today, if He wanted to. Whether or not I know of anyone who admits to hearing God speak audibly is beside the point. The Bible says God can speak audibly, so that should settle it.

Why do we even have these discussions? I think it is because we have the attitude, “If I haven’t experienced it, or seen it, then it can’t possibly be true.” In effect, we limit God to our experiences. If it’s foreign to our experience, then we discount it. I don’t think that’s the safest or wisest thing to do.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Dear reader, you might as well stop trying to “figure out” God. You can’t. God can do what He wants, when He wants, and how He wants, and, unless there is a statement in His word to the contrary, I choose to believe that He can still do what He did. It has nothing to do with whether or not I’ve experienced it or seen it. God is absolutely free.

In my opinion, this attitude of trying to limit the ways in which God works is no different from liberal churches’ approach to Scripture. If it doesn’t fit into their modern, politically-correct worldview, then liberal churches dismiss it. Conservatives do the same thing, but we explain away our unbelief with theological labels such as “dispensationalism” or “cessationism”. In my opinion, it’s still unbelief. If we can relegate whole sections of Scripture to another “dispensation” or to the ages of the Old Testament prophets or New Testament apostles, then we can ignore them; they don’t apply to us. Liberals just relegate whole sections of Scripture to the category of “the outdated” or “mythology”, but the result is still the same: We get rid of Scripture we don’t like or find inconvenient. We remove ourselves from having to deal with extraordinary manifestations of God’s Spirit.

What I plead for is openness and submission to the sovereignty of the Spirit of God. Some of you know you can’t control God (although you try!), so you try to control people instead, telling them what parts of the Bible to believe and what parts they can’t believe, what they can experience and what they can’t experience, what they should feel and what they shouldn’t feel. Don’t be a spiritual “control freak”! Don’t try to measure God by your limited experience of Him. Instead, let God “stretch” you: Ask God to allow you to experience more of Him!

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