I believe that we can know God’s will. I believe that God speaks. I believe that we can hear from God.
That has not changed. What has changed is how I picture that and thus participate in it.
I used to teach a weekend class called “a Map and a Compass” that focused on reading the Bible and hearing the voice of God’s spirit. It got great feedback, bore lots of fruit, and gave our congregation(s) a common language with which to engage in dialogue and mutual learning.
I don’t know how much of it I would change if I taught it these days but I definitely would add something major to it. It is more that a word picture or a metaphor – it is an actual understanding that I was lacking and has come to mean more to me than the entire excersise combined.
confession: I love Venn diagrams. When we talk about how we hear from God it is really important to recognize that we, as humans, are environments – like little ecosystems. We are a group overlapping ingredients that are not simple containers of multiple components.
We have emotions, a mind, a body, a community, a history, a personality, and so many other overlapping components. None of them are totally ‘us’ and all of them contribute to ‘us’. Humans are complex and evolving ecosystems.
Most people will not contest this word picture, but here is the the part that gets contentious: “where is God is this picture?” or asked another way, “where does God speak from?”
There are two predominating answers to this in our culture today. The first is that a transcendent God is up there or out there and only once in a while “breaks though” and speaks or that this God only speaks through certain people. Some people locate this in Scripture and say that God has said all of what God wanted to say in the Bible (God’s Word).
The second view is that there is nothing but the physical and that all this God talk is a personification or anthropomorphic projection of our desires or fears. These folks would say that the Bible is only a record of what folks mistakenly thought ‘God’ was saying to them but was really just them.
I think that these two ideas form not just a bad dualism but a harmful picture of how God works.
My suggestion: if we look at all those overlapping circles (ego, emotions, mind, body, community, etc.) from our earlier Venn diagram, I don’t think that God is a big circle up there or out there. Nor do I think that God is circle within our circles. I am suggesting that God is an overlapping reality that is neither totally independent of us nor is God a circle completely encompassed by us.
God is interacting with our emotions and thoughts and this means that God speaks both to and through our emotions. God speaks to and through our thoughts. God speaks to and through our community.
God is not totally independent of those things nor is God completely contained within them.
When we feel something – that is not God. But neither is it independent of God.
Here is where this becomes serious: When we make decisions, they are not independent of reason. There are reasons. Saying “God told me” is fine – but tell me WHY God told you. There are reasons there – emotions, thoughts, relational stuff, body stuff, etc.
God is not speaking in a vacuum, independent of your situations and circumstances. God is speaking both to and through your situation and circumstances. Your circumstances are not God – but neither are they independent of God.
God is here and at work among us. There are reasons that God leads us to do what we do. “God told me” is only half a reason. The rest of the reasons are why you felt like God told you.
We have to get rid of this idea that god is just up in heaven watching and once in a while says something. God is speaking all the time and that is happening to and with our emotions, thoughts, body, community, history, scripture, etc.
God is not just an anthropomorphic personification of humans, nor is God up there and out there like a clock maker or puppet master. Those ideas are failing us big time.