Hearing from God: (How do we hear from God?)
Assuming God exists, is it possible to know him? How does one ‘hear’ from God? There are plenty of lunatics and religious fanatics who claim they have heard from God and gather a following…
Before we answer the questions, consider this:
3 Basic Models of communication/absence of it with God (Michael Horton)
- Overcoming estrangement (pantheism). The world is God and we’re all divine (semi-divine). Our problem is not an ethical, but knowledge. What need is to go deeper into ourselves and realize our potential.
- The stranger we never met (atheism/agnosticism): There is no God who speaks to us, only the material silent universe. or Agnosticism: If God exists we can’t really know or know him.
- Meeting a Stranger (Christianity): God exists as the Creator and sustainer of the universe. He is utterly different from the universe and us, but He is personal and knowable; He has reached down to us, even as we have broken His law and estranged ourselves Him. He has come to us in grace and love.
He is There and He is Not Silent:
The Christian believes that God truly exists–He is there–and that He has spoken to us–He is not silent. (He is there and He is not silent is the title of a great book explaining this concept by Francis Schaeffer). We worship a talking God who spoken to His Creation and made Himself known in a true and real way. Although God is infinite, and in one sense ‘incomprehensible’, we can still possess true knowledge about Him even though it is not comprehensive. As finite creatures we will for eternity grow in our knowledge of our infinite God.
God has revealed Himself in two ways:
- Creation: The Christian believes that creation itself reveals particulate truths about God. Creation shows God’s power–He created everything out of nothing! Creation shows His divine nature–He is all knowing and glorious and supremely intelligent and creative. (Rom 1:20). The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky proclaims God’s handiwork (Ps 19). This general revelation is enough to leave everyone accountable before God, we are without excuse (Rom 1), but it does not tell us what we need to be saved. For this we need to special revelation.
- Special Revelation: God has spoken to us through human words and through human agents. This is supremely so through Jesus, who has made God known (John 1:18).
(the following categories and references are from Grudem)
PERSONAL ADDRESS: God has spoken directly at times through words of personal address to His people (Gen 2:16-17, Ex 20, Matt 3:17)
THROUGH HUMAN AGENTS: God has spoken through human agents, whom He has given His words; to reject the person is to reject God (Deut 18:18-19, Jer 1:7, 9; Ex 4:12; 2 Chron 20:20; Is 30:12-14). [Those who claimed to do this but were lying were punished severely (Ezek 13:1-7; Deut 18:20-22)
IN WRITTEN FORM (the Bible): God’s words put into written form (Ex 31:18, 32:16, 34:1; Deut 31:9-13; Joshua 24:26; Jer 30:2, 36:2-4, 27-31, 51:60). Jesus promises his disciples that the Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance words he spoke (John 14:26; 16:12-13) and Paul said his words were “a command from the Lord” (1 Cor 14:37). Peter refers to Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16).
How do Christians hear God speak today? We live thousands of years after Jesus.
- God has spoken through Jesus the Son. John 1:18 “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Hebrews 1:1-2 “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” If we want to hear from God, first we must remember that this comes through Jesus.
- God still speaks today through His inspired Word. Hebrew 4:12 “the word of God is living and active.” And in many places in Hebrews “he says” in referring to the Scriptures (1:6,7,8). Nancy Guthrie says it well: “When we read the Scriptures we are not just reading a record of what God has said in the past. God actively speaks to us in the here and now through the words of this amazing book. The writer of Hebrews makes this point clear when he quotes Old Testament passages and presents them not as something God said to his people sometime in the past, but as something God is currently saying to his people (Hebrews 1:6,7,8, 2:12, 3:7, 4:7). He writes that “the word of God is living and active” (4:12). It is exposing our shallow beliefs and hidden motives. This word is personal. You and I hear the voice of God speaking to us—unmistakably, authoritatively, and personally—when we read, hear, study, and meditate on the Scriptures.” God speaks through the Bible.
- The Bible, both the OT and the NT, is God’s Word. God’s Word is living and active (4:12). Tim Challies states: “apart from this, speaking by his Son, through his Spirit in the Bible, God does not promise that he will speak in any other way.” Thus if we want to hear from God, we open the Bible which is His Word.
[When thinking about why we believe the Bible, its good to remember that we believe the Scriptures are self-authenticating–we did not choose them, but we received them from God. Michael Kruger wisely states that we look for these three traits: 1. divine qualities (power, beauty, coherence w/other Scriptures); 2. apostolic era origin; 3 received by the historically church.]
Here’s 4 Characteristics about Scripture:
Sufficient: “Scriptures contains all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and.. it contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly.” (Grudem ‘Systematic Theo’) 2 Tim 3:15-16 ‘able to make wise for salvation’. James 1:17, 1 Peter 1:23 also speak of Scripture being what we need to bring us to salvation. Scripture is enough because Christ is enough. We don’t need mystical irrational visions and dreams, we have what we need in the Bible.
Clarity: “The Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it.” (Grudem ‘Systematic Theo’) Deut 6:6-7, Ps 19:7, Matt 12:3, 5. Not every passage is as clear as others, but it is clear enough to provide what we we need to know to be saved.
Authority: “All words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Grudem ‘Systematic Theo’). “thus says the LORD” (Deut 18:18-20, Jer 1:9). To disobey prophet was to disobey God (Deut 18:19). All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16). Jesus’ own view of OT.
Necessary: “The Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral laws.” (Grudem ‘Systematic Theo’) Rom 10:13-17
So how do we hear from God? By reading, listening, and believing His word as revealed in Scripture.
“We speak to God in prayer, and he speaks to us through his Word. We commune with him in his presence, we sing his praise, and we are aware that he personally dwells among us and within us to bless us (John 14:23). Indeed, this personal relationship with God the Father, with God the Son, and with God the Holy Spirit may be said to be the greatest of all the blessings of the Christian life” (Grudem ‘Systematic Theo’ p152). ‘
Problems with the Atheist and New Age position:
Atheism: Ironically, the atheist rejects the idea of communication with a higher power while at the same using Reason and Rationality to do so. But he/she cannot explain where Reason/logic come from or how we know we can trust them. These are not able to be explained by atheistic naturalism. But Logic and Reason are basic elements used in human communication and knowledge and rational relationships, without them we can’t have rational communication or human relationships with anyone! They cannot be explained by evolution, but they are trusted nonetheless. Thus, the atheist must consider, is communication with or objective knowledge of another person even possible apart from these God-given factors (reason, logic, awareness of ourselves) and why are they trusting in these things as they communicate with others if they are just the products of chemical reactions.
New Age-ism rejects the authoritative teachings of the Bible and claims for special mystical revelation. How can we hear God? Near-death experiences, mystical revelations, looking at the stars? But how do we adjudicate between what is true or false? Won’t experience deceive us at times? Ironically some in this camp claim to hold unto some type of historical critical basis for rejecting the Bible but then are inconsistent in applying this approach to their own spirituality–embracing the irrational (experiential-driven mysticism divorced from questions of truth). But they don’t do this in other areas of life, they want an authority they can trust—they wouldn’t use this approach with medicine or car mechanics. This approach reminds us of Col 2:18-19 “18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments , grows with a growth that is from God.”
Atheism rejects the supernatural. New Age-ism embraces irrational mysticism. Christianity embraces the supernatural and rejects irrational mysticism (Col 2:18-20).