Hearing from God

The following is an educated opinion, not a theological proof.

There is a lot of frustrating teaching going around in the modern Evangelical church today. One that bothers me a lot is this idea that contains some or all of the following ideas:

  • God has a detailed and perfect plan for our lives, which involves every aspect of our lives, down to the most minute detail
  • We must find out what that plan is and carry it out in order to reach our full potential as Christians
  • The Bible, while inerrant and infallible, is also incomplete. It doesn’t offer everything we need to live our lives. We must learn to hear the voice of God in order to fill in the gaps.
  • We, as fallible and fallen men, cannot understand the Bible as written, and must learn to hear the voice of God so that He can tell us what it says.

From January 2006 until just a few weeks ago, I ran a forum here at έχω ζωη, which was made up solely of personal friends of mine. I finally closed it down due to frequent fighting over theological issues, many of which involved the ideas listed above.

While the Bible does teach that God has a plan, and that He is in complete control and is carrying that plan out, there is nothing in it that says that that plan is so intricate as to involve the minutia of our lives. There are two “Wills” of God that the Bible teaches: His Sovereign Will and His Providential Will. The Great overall plan is His Sovereign Will. His Providential Will is born out in the oft-cited passage in Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to {His} purpose.” No matter what we do, He, in His providence, works things out as He sees fit.

I have a real problem with this idea that I must seek out “God’s will for my life” because it really minimizes the power of God. It implies that if I don’t find out His will, and then properly carry it out, His whole order fails. I respond to it by saying that maybe God does have a plan for my life (beyond saving me and using my testimony to save others), but if He does, He is mighty enough to carry it out without my knowledge. I am not powerful enough to derail Him or His plan. I have a duty to abide by the teaching provided in the Scriptures, but beyond that I have freedom.

This idea that I must learn to discern His voice drives me crazy as well. We had a discussion about it on the forums a few months ago, and the guy most at odds with me offered only John 10:4 as evidence for the view that we do, in fact, need to learn to discern God’s voice. It says: “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”.

Now, this is the point where I like to point out that I learned very quickly when I started having theological discussions with others to examine the context of every verse offered to me as proof that my debate opponent is correct. Too often, the verses are used in ways that do not fit the context. Read, at a minimum, the entire chapter that the verse is contained within (many times the last half of the previous chapter or the first half of the next chapter is necessary when the verse given falls close to the beginning or the end of a chapter.)

John 10:4 is the only verse that has been offered to suggest that we need to learn to discern the voice of God. using this verse in this debate quickly raises problems though. First of all, Jesus states that His sheep know his voice, not that they gradually, over the course of time, learn to discern His voice as opposed to the voice of an angel (conveniently presenting himself as an angel of light). It has been my experience that those who put this doctrine into practice in their own lives frequently get things wrong. Now the Bible is crystal clear that God doesn’t get it wrong. If a spirit tells you something that turns out to be wrong, it most certainly wasn’t the Holy Spirit that was speaking to you. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that at this point you have proven yourself a false prophet, even if unto your own self. If God breaks from the norm and decides to speak to you on an issue, He will make certain there is no question who is doing the speaking, see any of the Old Testament prophets for explanation – most, when confronted with the Glory of God, were crushed by their own unworthiness, as opposed to those in the contemporary church presenting themselves as “prophets” who normally wear it as a badge of honor.

The second problem with reading John 10:4 in that way is that it is clearly figurative speech. This is why I am adamant about reading context. My friend was quite upset with me when I insisted that it is figurative, but he had no serious refutation to my claim that it is figurative in light of verse 6: “This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them.”

This “voice of God”/”God’s plan” theology is usually taught in fear. People who subscribe to it tend to be afraid of not living up to God’s standard. I hate to break it to them, but that’s the core of the Gospel; we can’t live up to God’s standard. It’s exactly why we need a Savior. Aside from that, it denies the sufficiency of Scripture. This is one I really don’t understand how a Christian can believe. All it takes is one Christian who gets by just fine with the Scriptures to show that it is sufficient, and there have been too many to count over the last 2,000 years. It’s also a strong sign of Spiritual laziness. Along with the idea that we can’t really know what scripture says (a core tenet of the “Emergent/Emerging” church, though also held by some traditional Evangelicals), the followers of this teaching use it as an excuse to not take the time to really learn what the Scriptures say. Really, if the Holy spirit is just filling you in on what you need to know (as they believe), why bother studying Scripture, commentaries, Greek and Hebrew dictionaries, systematic theology books, or anything else that takes real effort.

We’re only accountable to the level of revelation that we have. The up-side is that if the scriptures are insufficient in any area (which I don’t believe), then we aren’t accountable to that insufficiency. The down-side is that we have much more revelation than any believers that came along before the completion of the canon of Scripture. They seemed to get by just fine (those who actually submitted to what they had), I think we’ll do just fine if we do the same with what we have.

Over the course of the 21 months that the forum was up and humming, I had a lot of fun engaging in theological discussions. It made me much sharper than I otherwise would have been. Just looking up verses offered to me was quite a rewarding experience because it gave me the opportunity to put often well-known verses into their proper context, which is so often not done these days. Most Christians would be surprised at how many of the verses they are so familiar with are used incorrectly. I couldn’t do it any more though. Even among personal friends, people get pretty angry when they are shown that they are wrong, and when you use the context of their verses to do so, it makes them even angrier. I couldn’t take the fights any longer, and got to the point where it was embarrassing for outsiders to see what we discussed. Though if I were reasonably certain that the people involved could carry on civilized discussions of a theological matter and not devolve into fighting and flame-wars, I would seriously consider starting up a new forum again, as it can be very rewarding. Of course, it would help to not be personal friends with the other forum members because personal friends are very difficult to ban.

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