Hearing from God

By Joy Connelly

When a politician claims to be directed by God, it’s always good for a media giggle. I think many of us, including me, are skeptical that political decisions – especially those we disagree with — are informed by God.

But I don’t share the media’s skepticism that God does speak. The heroes of the faith tell of life-changing encounters with God. I have friends who regularly describe what God has been saying to them. And I myself have known times when God has spoken to me, in large ways or small. There have been times when the results of these encounters have restored friendships; a new insight; a change in direction and even, I believe, lives saved. But there have also been occasions when I’ve been sure God was speaking to me, but later wondered, “What was that all about?”

The question that has been on my mind is, “Why does God speak to some people and not others?” It seems that there are a few possibilities, and I’m hoping you might suggest others.

Possibility #1: God does not talk to anyone . . .

either because He does not exist, or it is not His practice to speak to us. Those who claim to hear from God are deluded. They may perhaps mistake God’s voice for their own sub-conscious. They may “hear voices” in the way a mentally ill person might. Or they are deliberately attributing their own opinions or desires to the Almighty.

(I recall Freud’s unfortunate argument that hearing God was a delusion because he (Freud) had never heard God. He discounted the testimonies of those who did hear God on the grounds they were deluded.  But I think there may well be arguments for Possibility #1 that don’t rely on this circular logic.)

Possibility #2: God talks to everyone, but some do not hear Him.

They may indeed hear “the still small voice” but mistake it for their own sub-conscious, or attribute it to their own “sense of spirituality” rather than to God himself.

They may simply be so busy, or so caught up in the swirl around them, they cannot take time to listen.

Or perhaps – and here’s an intriguing possibility – their brain structure prevents them from hearing God. Last year I listened to a TED lecture by neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor. Taylor suffered a massive stroke that silenced the chatter of the left side of her brain– the linear, methodical side that says, “I am. I am,” and separates us from the world around us. She was left with the euphoria, peace and joy of a right brain completely open to the “here and now.” Her experience made me wonder whether people who can hear God are simply “right brain” people.

Or perhaps people cannot hear because to do so would violate their own conception of God. It is mighty hard to hear from someone you don’t believe exists. A picture of God as an aloof Sky-God, or an angry judge, might also prevent one from hearing God.

I’m particularly curious about this last possibility. Early this summer I started to read Karen Armstrong’s A History of God. Armstrong looks at the evolution of our understanding of God within the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. She raises a lot of interesting ideas – food for a future blog. But ever since I read the book, I’ve begun to second-guess my own ideas about God. That might be a good thing. But it also means that when I go to Quaker Meeting for Worship, I have been completely unable to hear God. Without a clear image of God, my mind simply drifts to thoughts such as, “I should pick up some baking soda on the way home.”

Possibility #3: God talks to some people and not others.

I don’t think God picks favourites. I’m not even convinced that His voice is a reward to the faithful.

But I can imagine a God that enters into our lives to advance His own purposes, but otherwise leaves us to act according to the dictates of our conscience. The Bible is full of these stories: of prophets who were raised up, often reluctantly, to perform a special task. I think of Mother Theresa, who received one clear call from God that began her mission, but for the rest of her life said that “Jesus was asleep in my boat.”

This possibility rules out the phenomenon I call “God found me a good parking space” – claims that God is speaking about things that, to me, seem self-serving or pointless. On the other hand, I do have friends I respect who have precisely this relationship with God.

Friends, now it’s up to you.

I’ve described some theoretical possibilities. But I’m hoping you will bring your own observations and experiences to the discussion. Does God speak to you? How do you know it is God? Or if God doesn’t speak to you, why do you think that is?



Filed under Joy's entries

2 responses to “Hearing from God

  1. Dan Cooperstock

    I read a very interesting and disturbing book recently, analyzing all of the bad stuff in the Bible (like genocides etc.), and in general being skeptical about God and religion.

    One good point it made, though, was if God can really speak to people, why is it always one person at a time. Why not come out there with a big booming voice (or telepathy, or whatever the phenomenon is supposed to be) and tell something to everyone in the world at once? Wouldn’t that be easier, than trying to get us to believe prophets who claim to have been told stuff by God?

    I am not sure I have ever talked to anyone that really claimed to have been talked to by God in a very literal and indisputable way. (And if I have, I have to admit to being extremely dubious.) I use the language of the still small voice, but that really is open to interpretation (i.e. what was that really – God? my subconscious? etc.).

    I think this is one of the problems with, or paradoxes of, religion – religious experience is unverifyable. Sure, you can do brain scans and see that certain parts of the brain are being activated during certain types of religious experience, or prayer, but what does that prove?

    A charismatic leader who claims (or receives?)messages from God can be a force for good, but can also be a force for great evil, if they are claiming it untruthfully. (Which may not mean they are consciously being untruthful, of course.) Think of cult leaders like Jim Jones.

  2. A litmus test for hearing God’s voice?
    If only.
    Thinking of the creation story as told in Genesis, if ‘it’s good’ then God has spoken.
    Thinking of Jesus, if ‘the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the Good News is being proclaimed among the poor’, then God is speaking.

    It’s hard to hear Gandhi without hearing God speaking. It is equally hard to hear Benny Hinn and hear God speaking. But I have been wrong on both counts.
    As to God speaking to me? He has, not that I know exactly when he has. My own agenda and ambition cloud the matter.
    He does speak to me through others, a curious mix of joy and reproof, an oxygen which is hard to quantify as anything but His.

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