Why Doesn’t God Speak to Us Audibly?

Fred Haring, musician, founder of the nonprofit Hope for Hilltribes, and a subscriber to this blog, wrote to ask if I had any thoughts on the question of why God does not speak to us audibly. As I began to think about a response to this question, I knew I wanted to respond to it on my blog as well, (A) because this is such a good question and (B) because I am flattered to have been asked. Thank you, Fred.

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Why does God not speak to people audibly, at least not to people today? There is actually a concrete answer to that question. For God to speak audibly, he needs an incarnation. That is, he needs some kind of material presence, even if it’s a disembodied voice. This need for an incarnation is not his limitation; it’s ours. You and I are embedded in physical reality, so for anything to reach us through our senses, even God’s voice, it has to take some physical form.

Arguably, this very thing has happened. Two thousand years ago, God did speak with an audible voice. That is, during the time he lived as a human being, he spoke with the audible voice of a human.

But I said “arguably,” because not everyone agrees that this was God speaking. While Christians believe Jesus was a man, atheists believe he was only a man. Plenty on either side are ready to argue the point. Even if the world was changed because of who people met and what they experienced in the first century, we all now live within that changed world. We take it for granted, and we have different explanations for what occurred. That is the problem with incarnations.

If God spoke to you with a baritone voice out of the sky, this would still be an incarnation. There would be physical sound waves. There would be some particular sound to the voice that distinguished it from other voices. If you were the first person ever to hear this voice, you might be floored. You might drop to your knees in awe. But what if others had heard the voice before you? After the second or third person had heard it, the news might start to get around. We would all start to accept that a baritone voice in the sky was part of the world we live in. People would propose different theories to explain the baritone voice. There would be different points of view as to how seriously we should take the claim that the baritone voice is God. And if the voice had been speaking for so long that no one remembered when it began, then we would all know nothing other than the existence of this phenomenon.

In such a world, you and I might even prayerfully cry out, Why will You not reveal yourself to us, O God? We search the very sky for You, yet we find nothing there except the sun, the moon, the stars, and the baritone voice….

(That last paragraph was cheeky, but my point is this: There are already amazing things that reach our senses—including amazing things in the sky right above us—and we take them for granted quite easily.)

In my book, I have a chapter titled “The Audacity of Identity.” The fact that you or I exist as an autonomous self, with a life, is the most shocking and inexplicable phenomenon that any of us encounter each day. As I say in the book, I suspect that the realization of our own existence continues to be a shock to each of us when we awaken to it again in the first conscious millisecond of each new day.

Now, think about that self, and think about the extent to which that self’s inner assumptions have changed. If you are a believer, perhaps you can look back on what proved to be a break in your personal outlook and paradigms comparable on its own terms to the shift in history that commenced 20 centuries ago. Could this inner change be manifest evidence? Could this be God speaking?

The outward signs that we can hear or observe are not as valuable as we might expect. Do not base your belief on miracles, that being one possible message that arises from John 2:23-25, a surprising passage of scripture. As this passage describes, people believed in Jesus on the basis of the miracles he performed, and Jesus kept his distance from these people. Belief that comes from being impressed is no belief at all, because desire, fear, or weariness will sooner or later come back to impress us just as much.

Believe in your own belief instead. Recognize your belief as a gift. When you began to believe, did you really make a conscious decision, or were you instead called out and transformed? Think of the man in Mark 9:24 who cried out to Jesus, “I believe! Now help my unbelief!” He recognized the source of belief, and where our belief really comes from.

God chooses people to enter into an experience of eternal truth. God chooses people to see the reality beyond the veil of this world. Grow this belief by treasuring it. God touching you and transforming you was an action that spoke louder than words.

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(PS. God apparently did speak audibly to people in the Old Testament. That is, he did manifest as sound waves. However, this could be seen as being a part of the incarnation I have already mentioned. God spoke audibly to members of his chosen people, the nation of Israel, the nation he had called out into the multigenerational mission that was to culminate in Jesus Christ. In other words, God’s Old Testament audible voice was an incarnation leading to the Incarnation.)

God Feels

If all of Christian revelation could be reduced to one idea, just one vital insight—indeed, if all of what believers have been given to understand was summarized in the shortest statement possible—then that single concise statement might be this:

God feels.

Unpack that sentence one word at a time:

God—Not many gods, but one. One God, by himself, accounts for all of creation and all of the reason for everything that is.

Feels—This God is no abstraction. He desires, he loves. And like any being with such feelings, he acts in pursuit of his desire and can be moved on behalf of the object of his love. He knows longing.

“If you know me, you know the Father,” said Jesus in John 14:7. By contemplating what we see of Jesus, we learn about God. That means the shortest verse in the Bible is actually a profoundly expansive moment of God revealing his nature to us. John 11:35 says simply, “Jesus wept.”

Here is the Introduction


My new book, How Do We Know God Is Real?, is now available for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks. Here is how the book begins:


INTRODUCTION


That Jesus Christ was raised from the dead is not hard for me to believe. This is not where I run into trouble.

After all, God could do this. An all-powerful God, who created everything and controls everything, could overrule the biological processes of creation (processes he put in place, processes he understands) in order to lift one man out of death to show for all time that the hearts of human beings can be free, that death has been overcome.

To the small extent that my comprehension can take hold of this event, it even makes sense. How else would a Creator redeem a fallen world? By what other means would love and life show their triumph? In my own life, the moment came when the idea of a new creation by means of the Creator’s act of grace made so much sense, the most reasonable thing I could see to do was to give my heart over to the beauty of all that this event makes clear.

That’s not the problem I face. Resurrection is not the point at which I encounter an obstacle.

Instead, the uncertainty I often face relates to a more basic point of belief. It relates to the initial premise: the existence of God.

Is it safe to assume that God is real?

Because, of course, I can’t see him. I can’t touch him the way I can touch my car keys or another person. God’s reality, if he possesses it, is not the same as that of other things I assume to be real. If someone says the sun is shining brightly today while someone else says the sky is dark, then we can all look out a window to see whose position is true. But if someone says God is real while someone else says God is unreal, then both parties might appear to be making an equally plausible claim. Hence the reason for doubt. And certainly there are plenty of people making the claim that God is unreal.

Plus, even many of us who believe in God live most of our moments in indifference to whether he is real or not. I do this. I pray, read scripture, and try to meditatively seek his will for me. I also blog and write books about the relationship with him. Yet all of this activity takes up maybe one-eighth of my day. The rest of the time I might be proceeding through the day’s pleasures and responsibilities without giving him any conscious thought. Therefore, what does my heart really believe about the existence of a being who is bigger than my day, and who gives me my very life?

I remember a moment on an airplane, a small moment in which I was overcome with large feelings. The flight was packed, with no open seats to break up the uncomfortably close spacing. I pulled out my bible to pass the time. And as I did so, I was aware that the two strangers on either side of me took notice of what I was reading. I felt condemned by both of them.

I was probably imagining this. These were probably gentle people who were unconcerned about me and what I read. But I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed because I had given my heart to something. I felt ashamed because I had given myself to a belief that has been declared to be foolish for centuries. I worried that my thinking was faulty because I was faulty. I worried that I was late in waking up to something that these two strangers both regarded as obvious. I feared that I ought to understand by now that the world we see is all we get—nothing but matter and energy and chance—and the search for meaning within it, let alone the search for a Father, is nothing but naive human fantasy.

Thinking people seem to know this, after all.

Reasonable people seem to live all of their moments as though nothing more than this is true, as though nothing beyond the physical world is real and nothing matters beyond our own physical lives.

But it’s a lie.

In fact, it’s a double lie. At least two false premises feed this feeling of doubt I was experiencing. The first falsehood is that thinking people tend to conclude that random chance, rather than God, is the supreme power responsible for the universe and what we find in it. It is nearer the truth to say that, among a certain faction, the price of being accepted as a thinking person is to come to this belief. You and I can choose whether we want to join that faction.

The second falsehood is that those who believe that God is unreal have a logical case based on observable reality. While it is true that God can’t be seen, our faith in him is built on a more substantial foundation than just our fragile hope. God can’t be seen, but creation can. Further, beings within that creation—you, me, and everyone else—regard themselves as aware, and are themselves engaged in creating. As I will argue in this book, random chance is not enough to account for all of this.

But there is still emotion. I get scared. Perhaps you do, too. My theology is premised on the belief that God is real. No, my identity is premised on that belief. I have made changes in the course of my life because of my faith that this life of mine is part of something larger, something with a purpose. If I am wrong, if the world is just an orphan and I am just a fluke, then I have been living as a fool for the seven years now in which I have aspired to walk in Christian faith.

I don’t want to be a fool. In weak moments, in moments of depression, in moments when I am weary, that fear of being a fool can congeal into shame.

It’s OK, though.

There are reasons why I made the choice that I did, those seven years ago, and the most basic reason is the logic of the premise that God is real. Human emotion can cast a long shadow, but that shadow passes, and when it does, the returning light reveals that the truth has never moved. We just have to hold on. In weariness, in sickness, in times of loss, in times of error and defeat, we just have to hold on to what—to whom—we know to be true.

The purpose of this book, then, is not to proselytize. I don’t have it in me to do that. The purpose of this book is to reassure. Though sometimes we might experience God or his attention to us through warm or exultant emotion, even that uplift poses a danger. We are tempted to connect our feelings to our faith, to base our confidence in his existence upon the continuance of our happy mood.

In the pages to follow, I will offer an alternative. I will briefly lay out the argument apart from emotion by which we can know that God is real. In short, God is real no matter how you feel—and here’s why.

As a bonus, this argument will also reveal more about him than just his reality.

You won’t need any particular background knowledge to follow what I have to say here—no philosophy, no cosmology. As the opening lines of the following chapter make clear, you do not even need any reading of the Bible.

All you need is the experience of your own life. God gave you this much so you could know him.

Doubt comes for all of us. The next time darkness finds you, you might not be able to summon to mind the entire argument presented in these pages, just as I did not remember it when I was dark. Though truth will win in the end, despair takes whatever temporary victories it can along the way.

The purpose of this book is to leave a trail of crumbs in the wood. Read it once, but also plan on returning to it to remind yourself of the logical case that supports your commitment of faith.

The purpose of this book, should the feeling of doubt fall heavily upon us, is to mark the trail by which you or I can find our way back to knowing that God exists—and by extension, back to knowing that the life of grace and fullness he gives us is also just as real.

Peter Zelinski


Continue reading in the Kindle editionContinue reading in the Nook edition. Continue reading in the iBooks edition. A print edition is also available.


From Unicorns to Car Keys


When I have misplaced my car keys, I seek them fervently and confidently. I know that they exist. I know that they can be found. I know my car keys are real, and I look forward to taking hold of them again.

At the other extreme, when I am out walking, I do not seek unicorns. I never try to catch a glimpse of one. I do not look for unicorn tracks. Because I am convinced unicorns are not real, I do not give any thought to searching for evidence of them.

We are to seek first the kingdom of God, said Jesus (Matthew 6:33). We are to look for a better understanding of that kingdom, and look for ways that kingdom is manifestly moving in the world, in our lives, in our hearts. How fervent is the search?

Somewhere on the scale from unicorns to lost car keys is the level of my commitment to the expectation that the kingdom of God is certainly there to be found.

Flip Side of Matthew 6:10


If earth has the potential to be like heaven…

If we are to pray for that potential to be realized…

Then it must be possible for that potential not to be realized. It must be possible for earth to be a place not of heaven, but of something else: suffering, oppression, injustice, horror….

Of course, we all know that this is true. Hell on earth is possible and real. It has happened. In nations, neighborhoods, houses, it is happening right now.

The promise of Matthew 6:10 is not just the abstract hope that we can see heaven advance. The promise of Matthew 6:10 is also the grittier and more tangible hope that we can push back and see hell recede—that we can see human beings physically provided for and actually set free.

Implications of Matthew 6:10


We are supposed to pray that God’s will would “be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Think about what that implies:

1. God’s will is not always done.

Earth is the place where what God wants to happen is not always what happens. He lets other wills decide. We don’t know why he allows this, but it explains a lot.

2. Earth is GOOD.

Earth is not irreparably broken. It has the potential to be a place where God’s will prevails. If it did not have this potential, then we would not be called to pray for this.

3. We have our work cut out for us.

To pray is to step up and say, “If I am to be the instrument of this prayer coming to pass, then I am ready.” Otherwise we don’t really mean what we are praying.

Apply that idea to this line out of the Lord’s Prayer. If everyone praying “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” understood this to be a personal mission statement, how would that change things?

Nee’s Circles


The Bible says that each of us has three parts: body, soul, and spirit. What are they?

A book by Watchman Nee, The Release of the Spirit, offers a useful picture of these three parts of human life. Nee sees body, soul, and spirit as concentric circles, one inside another. Think of them as nesting spheres.

The outermost sphere is the body. This is not just your anatomy, but everything physical about you. It is also your riches, home, possessions, job, and status.

The middle sphere is the soul. This is the part of you most fittingly described as “self.” Your will, intellect, consciousness, and feelings are here. So is your pride.

The innermost sphere is the spirit. This is the deep part of you, the mysterious part, the part you are most inclined to neglect. Your spirit is the incompleteness prepared to be completed by God. Your spirit is where you receive God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, so that Spirit and spirit mix—hopefully and ultimately becoming indistinguishable.

Yet Nee’s book gets its title from one dramatic fact: The Spirit-filled spirit will not be contained. It will not stay stuck in a sphere. The spirit that grows by the Spirit will break through, reaching and affecting the outer life and the world we see.

The spirit breaks out to the body, and what gets broken is the soul.

That is, what gets broken is the self. The spirit is released through the breaking of identity and pride. This breaking might play out as forgiving, confessing, losing, being humbled, being rejected, giving up, letting go, or turning away. Or repenting. The way forward involves all of this stuff.

Moreover, it goes on. The breaking is a process rather than an event.

But here is the paradoxical glory: In being broken, the soul is repaired.

In the natural life, the soul clings to the body, finding its pursuits and purpose in the physical world. In the supernatural life, however, the soul’s broken fragments instead adhere to the spirit. Those fragments build upon the spirit to find a freer and more expansive shape. The self is remade.

You Have a Spirit


I didn’t become a person of faith because I discovered God. I had already heard of God. I became a believer because I discovered that I have a spirit.

Our conception of the existential components of the self frequently fits the picture offered by Warner Brothers cartoons. Sylvester the cat gets hit by a mallet large enough that the physical Sylvester falls, while an ethereal likeness of Sylvester ascends up out of his body like a helium balloon. That duality—the physical form and the immaterial consciousness—is all that I once looked for in the experience of selfhood, and all that I expected the experience to be.

The Bible calls these two components of self the body and the soul. But scripture also says there is a third component—the spirit. The spirit is, among other things, the incompleteness deep within each of us that is ready to be completed by God.

The deception to which human beings fall victim is the premise that the soul is sufficient. Under the spell of this deception, I find the limits of possibility at the limits of my own identity. The spirit within me that could stretch much farther—vastly farther—is allowed to wither from neglect, allowed to starve.

The way of Jesus is found in the truth of the spirit’s value, and in the life that arises from that spirit being found and filled by the Spirit of God.

Significantly, more than just the spirit is renewed by this redemption. The rebirth radiates outward, transforming the entire woman or man. Paul wrote: May the God of peace sanctify you completely. May your spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless and sound....

“I AM” is Present Tense


The phrase “eternal life” consists of two words that deserve to be unpacked. “Eternal” means unbounded in time. And “life,” by definition, involves development and growth. Every living thing is changing. To have “eternal life,” therefore, is to have eternal change, or boundless becoming—the state of forever turning into someone new. That state may be impossible for the earthly brain to envision, but if we have been given eternal life, then we have been given this much.

Compare that to the way we tend to live now. We live bounded, as though the ticking clock contains us. We live with mourning that never quite passes, feeling as though the turning of each year’s calendar further diminishes who we might be.

Those who have experienced forgiveness can appreciate that walking with God means leaving the prison of the past. Yet consider that the walk with God just as truly involves leaving the shadow of the future. The Lord’s very name conveys this: I AM. That name is present tense, a point that Jesus emphasized with the most profound violation of grammar ever spoken. John 8:58 has him saying, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” The past tense could not continue through that sentence because the Lord is eternally now.

For us, though, the present tense is also the presence of tension. “Your word is a lamp to my feet,” says Psalm 119:105. This assurance is as much a challenge as a comfort. All we are given to see is where to step next. Is that enough?

It rarely seems so. We want more. We are split apart and struggling, because we are trying to sustain additional households for ourselves in both the past and the future. Our mortgage payments are regret to one and worry to the other. Meanwhile, God is not just eternally now, but also entirely now. And it is God, right now, who invites us into the joy of joining with the fresh and flourishing work that I AM is doing today.

To seek God, we turn away from our fascination with our own personal past and our own imagined future. Life is not found in either place, because the source of life is not found in either place.

To discover God, we open up the present.

Imprints


We are to believe, because belief is the act of heart that renews (Romans 10:10). None of us gets to have hard material proof of the truths that are larger than the realm of hard material proof. Nevertheless, the resurrection of Jesus was not just a spiritual event but also a historical one, and as such, it left its imprint in history. Here are some of the clues that captivate me:

-- The original deniers of the resurrection are interesting for what they did not say. They didn’t argue that Jesus went to his grave and stayed there like any other Roman execution victim. Rather, they advanced alternative explanations for why the tomb was found empty (Matthew 28:13, for example). In other words, the empty tomb was apparently a well-known and established fact that couldn’t be disputed.

-- The Bible cites the various witnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus. It says that a crowd of at least 500 saw him as well. These claims were published and circulated while many of those witnesses, if not the majority of them, were still alive. If the resurrection was a hoax, then it would have been easy to disprove these assertions, and it would have been ludicrous for the hoaxers to include them.

-- The hoaxers also went to a lot of trouble just to give themselves pain. If Jesus’ followers were corrupt enough that they would advance such a hoax, then why weren’t they corrupt enough to prop up their own power? They could have written the hoax to set themselves up with special privileges. Instead, the gospels unflinchingly portray Jesus’ inner circle as being often faithless and foolish. The gospels also make it clear that apostles are humble servants instead of rulers, and that no one needs an apostle or anyone else in order to come before God. Nevertheless, the apostles were so convinced of the truth of what had happened—that Jesus rose from the grave, showing definitively that there is something bigger than the material world going on—that they were willing to suffer poverty, torture, and execution within this world for the sake of what they now knew.

-- The world has changed. The idea that every human being is inherently valuable certainly is not practiced perfectly, but this idea came into the world at large and remained here, disrupting it. New institutions appeared. Jesus’ work during his days on earth, as described in Matthew 4:23, was teaching, preaching, and healing. He said we would continue his work and do even greater works than him (John 14:12), and indeed, colleges, publishing, and hospitals are all institutions that originated with those who follow him. This point is just a small facet of a fact so large as to be nearly invisible—that we live within a transformed world. Good ideas were articulated all through history and philosophies have been abundantly taught, but somehow this one man’s teaching was coupled with an impact of such magnitude that it altered history’s trajectory.

Those Two Impostors


Rudyard Kipling has these lines in his poem, “If”:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same

In place of “Triumph” and “Disaster,” you could also put “Failure” and “Success.” Both of these are impostors as well. We make them impostors when we give our outcomes these names.

My artist friend Cary gave me a set of design concepts for the cover of my next book, coming out soon. Four of the designs were similar, or so it seemed to me, because they all elaborated a theme that I didn’t like at its core. But the remaining design was great, in my view, because it hit upon something close to the feel of what I think the book conveys. This was the idea to develop and refine.

Does that mean the four rejected designs were “failures”? Depends on what you mean by the word. The unsatisfying designs provided opportunities to explore why they were unsatisfying. I could point to specific elements that didn’t fit, seeking to articulate as best I could why these elements didn’t convey the right impression. Thus, these so-called failures are even now contributing toward success. They let me explain the book in better detail to Cary (and to myself).

In other words, the one best design, if that was all I had, would not have provided nearly as much worth or information as having the rejected designs along with it.

Apply this to the way we think about our efforts and aspirations in this life. Being overly rigid about declaring an outcome to be a failure or a success cheapens that outcome by misrepresenting it.

Recall that Joseph never understood the fullness of his calling until he was able to look back on his apparent triumphs and disasters—his seeming successes and failures—as steps within a single, continuous, long walk.

The real danger of the overly harsh declaration of failure in our efforts is that we will see the declaration as a rebuke, and in the rebuke, we will feel scolded into doing nothing. This includes succumbing to the state of unfocused busy-ness we use to conceal from ourselves the fact that we are doing nothing. Do something instead. That is, take the next brave or hopeful step out into the possibility of success or failure—either one of which is merely the sound of the next breath within the calling you are uncovering by walking it out.

Roadside Assistance


We listen on our feet. I’ve been writing about how we listen to God, how we receive the next increment of understanding he would have us obtain. Sometimes—perhaps most of the time—the way to do this is by taking a step. God made us these beings within these lives. He is actively creating the sphere of experience around each of us. So: Take the next step out into that sphere. What comes of this step might be failure or it might be success. Either outcome is information. Either outcome is, if not a message from God, then a clue in his expression—a further nod or disclosure from the one who has promised to always accompany us. In short, to listen, keep walking.

The problem with this is dejection. Actual failure does not overwhelm us as much as its emotional stand-in. During times of fear or weariness arising out of defeat or loss, we are subject to declaring failure too soon. We are subject to seeing total failure even while the seeds of success are taking root. How do we know which way to go during those times when dejection overtakes hope?

In the last chapter of Luke’s gospel is the story of two dejected men who were heading the wrong way. They had just experienced the apparent colossal failure of the hope to which they had given their hearts. That is, they had believed in Jesus as the savior and Messiah, only to see that belief easily trampled. Jesus was convicted and killed. For these men, hope died too.

As Luke’s gospel tells the story, there were already some glimmers these men had seen. They knew other followers of Jesus in Jerusalem had found the tomb empty and had seen a vision that he was alive (Luke 24:22-23). The final verdict of failure had not come. But these men were listening to failure’s emotional stand-in. Deriving no hope from the glimmers, they were leaving Jerusalem for a different town (24:13).

As Luke’s gospel also tells it, a stranger joined them on the road. He asked why they were dispirited. They told him what had happened. And this stranger responded by explaining scripture to them—explaining all of the ways that these events had been foretold and were proceeding as they should. The men’s hearts were “ablaze” as they heard and understood this explanation (24:32), and later, while the stranger was breaking bread, the men at last recognized that this was Jesus himself visiting them in his new and risen form (24:31).

One of the beautiful aspects of this story is the way it ratifies a variety of means by which people might personally encounter God. As these men did, we experience him in our feelings and we come to know him through scripture. We also meet him in the moments when he blesses us by providing for us, just as these men recognized Jesus when the stranger handed them bread.

As the hyperlinks in the previous paragraph suggest, I have been writing about these various aspects of how we might listen to God. I am going to stop that now, at least on this blog. Blog posts are not the best vehicle for exploring the subject of how we listen, because the different ideas within this topic are interwoven by too many different threads that don’t deserve to be cut for the sake of a truncated blog post. I am going to take up this topic again in a different vehicle and in a different way.

But I want to leave this topic on the subject of walking, because I am convinced of the truth of the first sentence of this post: We listen on our feet. That is, we commune with God by proceeding, by walking out into the life he has given us, by continuing to employ the freedom he gives us by freely choosing positive steps. Jesus promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20), and I think part of the reason is that he wants to see what we will do and where we will go.

But what if we go the wrong way? That is the obvious danger. We take the route that our darkened feelings tell us is the best way to go from here, only to advance in a fruitless direction. What happens then?

The story of these travelers from Luke’s gospel gives the answer. We almost certainly will head in the wrong direction from time to time, even in a dark direction. But we can turn around. These men who were headed to the wrong town turned around, returning to Jerusalem to rejoin the other believers there (Luke 24:32), meaning that these men were in the right place after all to continue to see the events of the Resurrection unfold.

We who seek to walk out a life of faith have the assurance of this same kind of roadside assistance. If you go the wrong way, Christ will come guide you.

No, scratch that—this story has no reference to Jesus “coming” to these men, no mention of his arriving at their location. There simply comes a point in the story when it says that he “drew near” (24:15).

Where you walk, the Lord is with you. And particularly on the darker paths, the moment might come when you recognize him.

Genesis 5


Did it hurt to be Adam? The last we hear of him is when he fathered Seth. After that, says Genesis 5:4, he lived for 800 more years.

Eight hundred years.

What was he doing during this time?

I think he was thinking. I think he was reflecting on the reasons for his sojourn, his centuries-long exile within a fallen world. I think he was talking about what he had seen—about the garden, about God, about the animals, about the day when Eve appeared. And, with pain that had turned to wisdom the way lava turns to rock, he talked about the choice. The fall. He talked about the way that did not have to be taken, and the extent to which the world was not what it ought to be.

But who would listen? Everyone in his line had been born into this world. They knew no other. They were busy—overwhelmed, in fact—with trying to live in this world and make at least some part of this world their own.

Adam lived 800 years after Seth was born. He lived 930 years total. We know this from Genesis chapter 5, which catalogs the timing of births and deaths in exacting and seemingly pointless detail. Seth had Enosh at age 105 and died at 912 (verses 6-8). Enosh had Kenan at age 90 and died at 905 (verses 9-11). And on and on. Why?

These numbers tell us something. They hint at a story. Specifically, they hint at the story of Enoch.

The early members of the line of Adam had such long lifespans that they lived to see their great great great great great grandchildren. Enoch was the exception. At 365 years, he had an unusually short time on earth relative to his kin. What’s more, he is the one member of this line singled out to avoid bodily death. Genesis 5 takes care to tell us how different he was, saying, “Enoch walked with God, and he was not there, because God took him” (verse 24).

You will need a scratch pad or calculator to confirm what I’ll tell you next. Because Enoch’s lifespan was shorter than the others—365 years instead of eight or nine hundred—his life ended out of sequence. Use the Genesis 5 numbers to add up Adam’s age at the birth of each of his descendants and you discover this fact: Adam lived to know Enoch. You will also discover that after Adam died, Enoch—his four-times great grandson—was the next to leave the world.

I think someone listened.

I think Adam was loved by God and had a divine purpose in the world, even after the world had fallen. I think Adam was kept in the world, kept on his sojourn, until he could fulfill his purpose. That purpose was to get someone to listen to him, to get someone to believe in what he knew, so that what he knew would remain in the world after he was gone.

That person was Enoch.

As I say, I “think” these things. Scripture’s details are sparse. But those sparse details contain a chronological connection between Adam and Enoch that provides context for a fuller connection between these men. The timeline of when these people lived relative to one another hints at the possible origin of Enoch’s special understanding, his walk with God.

Enoch turned to Adam. He sat down before him and he listened. More than that, he sought the sense and import in what Adam was saying.

What did Adam have to share? What did he know that Enoch accepted?

Primarily this:

Adam knew how good things could really be.

Enoch “walked with God,” says Genesis 5:24. His walk through the world was a walk in the presence of God. How could this be? The world was still the world. But Enoch was a different Enoch, because of the knowledge he now possessed. Enoch lived his life fully illuminated by a courageous trust in the fullness of how good things can be, how good the blessings are that God is willing to give us.

That is faith.

Adam is gone. He took his memory of the garden with him. We can’t do what Enoch did, turning to Adam and sitting before Adam to try to slowly comprehend how rich and full and magnificent the experience of life was made to be. We can’t do for Adam what Enoch did. Enoch turned Adam’s pain to gold by choosing the God who made the garden, taking this God into his heart and living with this God, no matter what the broken man-made outer world brought him. Enoch did not experience death after he made this choice, because he no longer could. Death no longer had any hold on him.

We can’t do what Enoch did. We have no Adam to turn to, no Adam to speak with who can transform us with this knowledge.

Except we do. We do have this person.

Unknown millennia later, the Apostle Paul came to understand something about the world's Redeemer that he wove into his letters. Adam was the pattern of someone who was to come, he said in Romans 5:14. Jesus Christ, he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:45, is the new Adam.

Walking


Various references in the Bible give form to the idea that the life we are called to live is one of walking, of journeying with God by continually choosing to take the next step.

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” —2 Corinthians 5:7

“For we are his creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” —Ephesians 2:10

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.” —Psalm 119:105

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding; think about him in all your ways and he will guide you on the right paths.” —Proverbs 3:5-6

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” —Genesis 3:8 (I.e., in the moment just after sin entered in, the only one walking was God.)

Enoch


Enoch beat the system.

I have always found this man to be a particularly intriguing figure from the Bible, not just because of what the Bible tells us about him, but also because of how little it tells us.

In Genesis chapter 5, there is a list of people descended from Seth, Adam and Eve’s son after Cain and Abel. The text is an archive of names of descendants and their ages at death. But in the midst of it, at the sixth generation or so, we find this line that has no death in it: “Enoch walked with God, and he was not there, because God took him”—Genesis 5:24.

Poof. Enoch walked with God. And so God did something else with him other than allow him to experience bodily death.

We aren’t given further information about him beyond this little bit. Enoch was the first of four people in the Bible described as apparently doing something more than “listening to God” or even “obeying God.” They were in motion. Enoch “walked with God”—and this fact about him was significant enough that God highlighted his life by elevating him in full view of everyone reading this passage of scripture.

Consider the choice of words. The verse doesn’t suggest he was bounding ahead with God. it doesn’t say he was following God or marching before God, either of which would suggest a different picture. It certainly doesn’t say he was flying, gliding, or sailing with God. Enoch walked with God, and walking is a particular type of movement.

What is walking? It is the most universal form of locomotion. It is the means of movement most basic to our experience. If this fundamental physical act provides a picture of a life lived well and fully with God, then what does that picture show us?

At least two things:

1. Walking is inherently off-balance. Study your act of walking, and you will discover that it is arrested falling. You lean your body past the tipping point, and your leg steps forward to catch you. Presumably, then, the way of advancing with God entails being off-balance as well. It entails repeatedly and regularly leaning just past your boundaries of control and certainty as a precondition of making progress.

2. Walking is one step at a time. Every episode of the arrested falling described above, every trusting step, needs to be caught completely before the next step can begin. This is how we walk: lean and catch, lean and catch. This is not how we roll. Walking is characterized by steps, suggesting the way of life that Enoch found must be characterized by steps as well. Refuse to take the next step and progress halts. Refuse to patiently take the steps in their proper sequence, and progress halts in an awkward fall.

Why Test?


Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “test all things.” That wording sounds broad, but given that the line immediately prior is a reference to prophecy (5:20), it seems that testing what we think we are hearing from God is the context Paul had in mind. In our listening for whether God might speak, why should we take care to test what we believe we are hearing?

What are the risks of being too credulous about believing that God has spoken?

Here are three possibilities:

1. Evil

Evil still lives. At the very least, it lives in me. People have become shy about the word “evil,” out of a sense that the term is simplistic, but in fact we have allowed a simplistic picture to define the term. A sneering villain provides only a cartoonish portrayal of evil. The more accurate way to understand evil is our fearful obedience to death (think of greed arising from fear of scarcity; think of slander arising from fear of someone else’s success) in place of freely and bravely loving life.

About the Bible’s evil one, the being named Satan, the text offers less detail than you might expect. However, one clear statement the Bible makes about this being is that he is a liar—John 8:44. His tool is the lie. As far as we know, this might be the only tool he has for affecting us. The implication is that I am prone to hearing lies. In the fragile part of my inner life in which I harbor my hopes, some of what comes to my mind, including some thoughts that initially seem comfortable or expedient, are not informed by truth. Instead, some of the thoughts competing for my attention are the whispers of a voice that wants me to reject life and lose my way.

2. Idolatry

Idolatry is the practice of revering a created thing as if that thing is somehow a special avenue to the divine. Moses’ people had their golden calf. They believed the false claim of Moses’ brother Aaron that bowing down to this object provided access to God (Exodus 32:4). When we lift up merely human notions and pronouncements as divinely inspired messages, we are doing the same thing.

Paul’s longest teaching about mystical experiences of God covers chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians. He begins his argument across these chapters with a warning about idolatry. In 1 Corinthians 12:2, he reminds readers that they were idolaters in the past. In their newfound search for God’s presence and voice, they could be waylaid by this same old tendency.

3. Futility

God created you and me each for a purpose, for some way of living this life, for some expression or experience of love or fruitfulness that is going to have value even beyond this world. Every moment in which we pursue something or are fascinated by something unrelated to this purpose is a moment that ultimately will amount to nothing.

That’s OK. The purposes of our lives are unveiled subtly and slowly, and God gives us far more time than we need. He even redeems some of the time that has been blighted—Joel 2:25. However, enough neglect of the seed of joy within us, enough listening to the wrong voice (often the voice of fear), ultimately leads to a season of life or even an entire lifetime being spent on nothing that lasts.

So how do we test? How do we put weight on what we think is God’s will, to see if it will hold?

Other blog posts offer some ways. Look for affirmation in what God is doing. Lean on scripture. Look for what you are hearing to show attributes that are God’s. There is another way that I hope to explore in posts to come. That way is movement—walking. Take a step in the direction he seems to be leading. Test with your own weight.

Why should we take care to test? Look to 2 Corinthians 11:14 for how the devil presents himself (hint: he dresses like an angel of light). Look to Jeremiah 17:9 for what your emotions do to you (hint: they deceive). We test because our own inner feelings are an unreliable guide. We cannot fully trust what we “feel” to be good. An evil choice might initially feel right. An idol can come from someone we feel we ought to trust. And futility is often the result of the way that feels the safest.

Language


What is the Bible? It’s an encounter. It’s food. Yet it’s possible to read the Bible with a hard outer shell, missing its power and missing its sustenance.

I had once read the gospels as literature, as something to criticize. I read them selectively, glossing over challenging passages and deciding according to my own reaction which of the details of the text were probably wrong.

More recently, I let my heart be changed. The decision was a little more nuanced than that, but not much. My heart changed and my mind followed, its reach expanding to take account of the influence of the world that is larger than the one I see. Recognizing Jesus as that world meeting this one, I wanted to understand afresh what he had said and done. I started to read the gospels again.

This time, instead of glossing over what I didn't understand, I faced the passages that made me uncomfortable or sad. There was plenty of sadness. There were passages that made little sense, whether at the first, second, or tenth reading. There were passages that I wanted to be richer in possibility than they seemed to be. I prayed about what I didn’t understand, confessing my ignorance in those cases where the ignorance was all I had. Not long after I read Jesus say, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62), I came to realize that there were things I was holding onto that I ought to discard and be rid of forever. When I read Jesus tell the rich young ruler to “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor” (Matthew 19:21), I was sad for days. I wanted to love this text and be lifted by it, but I knew that I would never sell and give away all I owned.

The reading went slowly like this. I got up early and read for about an hour every morning, jotting ideas in a notebook. Getting through four gospels this way took about six months.

During that time, I was being fed. I was being healed from being malnourished. The sadness was just lowlands in the journeys between peaks. The process involved discovery. I might find an insight in the text so new to my thinking that the joy of possessing it could change the quality of the entire day. The process also involved relief, because here at last was a pursuit that could hold the weight of all the reverence I had always wanted to give to something. From the nourishment of this text, I was growing in a kind of strength. When I speak of the periodic sadness of studying scripture or otherwise pursuing what transcends us, understand the sadness this way: To grow is to face the pain of transition. To grow is to be remade.

Eventually, something new began to happen. Ideas out of scripture came to mind just as they were needed to address a challenge or question. One moment stands out. Being treated dismissively, I was fully prepared to become angry before I remembered Luke 6:27, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Rather than fuming and seeking a way to lay the person low, I focused my attention on what it might look like to forgive, and spent quiet moments on lifting the person up. Ten words of scripture snatched me out of a pit of resentment that might have held me a long time.

The Bible says this will happen. According to John 14:26, the Spirit counsels us in part by recalling to memory what the Lord has said. The Bible thus has this other nature as well. That is, the Bible is a language—a language the Spirit speaks. Rather than a language of phonics and letters, it is a language of attitudes and concepts. Scripture is text in which the mode of thinking of the divine has been reliably captured in sentences that a human mind can hold.

Of course, a person does not need the Bible to turn to God or recognize him. A baby does not need spoken language to recognize the mood of its mother. But you and I are looking for something more: a more finely graded understanding, an understanding that avoids our getting waylaid by the constructs of our own confusion and vanity.

Here, then, is part of the answer. It took me about six months to take hold of it. To obtain a better understanding of the speaker, pursue greater fluency in the language the speaker has chosen.

In Concert


I argued in this post that voice and action are one in God. To seek his voice entails not only listening in prayerful thought, but also listening through engagement with outward circumstances and events—the stuff that God is doing.

Doug, a reader who subscribes to this blog via email, responded with an analogy that fits this idea. He wrote, “When I go to a concert, I may have a hard time hearing from the back row. I could stay there and try to learn how to distinguish between the music and the ambient noise, or I could pay the price for the more expensive seats and sit up front.”

The question therefore becomes: What is the price of moving forward, of purchasing this ticket to the nearer seats?

(And I would add: Beware of scalpers.)

The Slow Voice


Three generations of Old Testament patriarchs received direct messages from God. In various Genesis passages, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob experienced something like personal conversation with him. We want that conversation, too. I do.

But then came the fourth generation, Joseph. His experience was different and new, in that Joseph never experienced a personal appearance and statement from God. If he did, scripture does not record it.

Scripture does record that God was with him—Genesis 39:2. What’s more, Joseph’s implied importance to us seems plain. Out of the 50 chapters in Genesis (a book that covers Adam, Noah, Abraham, and three generations after him), 13 of those chapters deal with the life of Joseph.

Living that life is the way Joseph communed with God. He suffered betrayal and imprisonment, then rose to incredible privilege as the agent of Pharaoh. He practiced a divine gift—dreaming and interpreting dreams—that seemed of no use to himself or anyone else until he met Pharaoh at 30. He proceeded through the events of a life that was by turns desolate, overwhelming, incomprehensible, and exhilarating—simply trying at every turn to hold fast to character and remain true to the calling God gave him.

Significantly, he never even fully understood what that calling was until he looked back on it later, seeing in retrospect God’s working in the events of his life. Genesis 45:8 gives us a glimpse of Joseph looking back on those events this way, working out their meaning.

Out of these Genesis patriarchs, then, whom should our model be? Should we look for the kinds of directly stated personal messages from God that the first three generations received? The line of Abraham was a weak and tenuous shoot in the beginning, needing careful attention from the gardener if it was to take root and thrive. But with Joseph, we see something different, a life now lived with that root beneath it.

I think Joseph did hear from God. He heard from God expansively, through the medium and the process of a life uniquely created for him. It was a life that moved him to the place and position where God wanted him to be, and it was a life in which his understanding was formed for the benefit of us all.

The reason I think Joseph heard from God is because he spoke the line that makes all of the book of Genesis make sense. Why did God allow the serpent into the garden? Why did he allow humans to choose evil when he knew what the result would be? The answer is: God knew even more. He knew not just the result, but also the result of the result. He knows how even the fruit of evil will serve the glory of God in the end. Joseph spoke of this.

Genesis 50:20 comes at the close of the book of Genesis. In this line, Joseph addresses his siblings about their evil toward him decades in the past, but he might have been speaking to the serpent as well. “You planned evil against me,” he said, “but God planned it for good.”

Joseph gathered this insight from the slow voice of God. He heard it from the voice that spoke up to him out of all the events of his life. God was never audible to Joseph, but he was always there. Within the silence, God was speaking to Joseph even more profoundly than he had spoken to any of the generations who came before him.

The Call


She’s fine today, but two weeks ago, my six-year-old took a spill while playing at school and ended up needing stitches. (No worries—the stitches are already out.)

That evening, there was a meeting my wife had planned to attend. When the school nurse contacted her, my wife’s first thought was something along the lines of I need to take care of my daughter and get her comfortable quickly enough that I can still leave for my meeting on time.

But when she saw the wound, and phoned the pediatrician for advice, it became clear that she would need to take the child to the hospital. Her plans for the evening were done.

In recognizing this, was my wife not called?

I think she certainly was. The author of events said to her: Abandon your plans. I have a different plan for you today.

And if we see this as a call, then by definition it was also a voice. This was the voice of God, communicating through events.

The exigency of these events made for a call that was immediate and plain. But here’s the thing: Can you and I look for that same voice in the events around each of us? And can we expect that voice to speak not just loud and urgent messages, but also slow and subtle ones?

As a mother “heard” the Creator in external happenings, we might turn the same kind of attention—the same kind of ear—toward listening into the array of encounters and circumstances that we are given. Each of us stands at the center of a sphere of experience that is absolutely unique. If God might issue a loud call through the events of this sphere, he might speak by the same means—he might be speaking right now—to offer softer messages, such as affirmation or guidance.

A seemingly innocuous question therefore deserves our solemn consideration as we search for what the Creator might be telling us. That question is: What’s going on?

Audible


I’ve written about quotation marks, and about the way that much of what appears to be God directly and audibly speaking in the Bible is not necessarily anything of the sort. The punctuation marks that create this appearance were not part of the original text. Those marks were invented much later, and added to the text more than 1,500 years after it was written.

Yet there are episodes in scripture in which speaking directly and audibly is precisely what God appears to be doing.

One of those episodes involves Samuel. God apparently called him by name. If this call was not a direct and audible experience, then it was something like that. Samuel got up from lying down. His reaction was to say:

“Here I am”—I Samuel 3:4.

Abraham had an experience like that. By the time of Genesis chapter 22, he had been refashioned, sculpted through the process of alternately following and failing in the way of God leading him. The moment came for him to be tested, for him to be called out into a trial, for him to receive a new and deeply challenging instruction. God said, “Abraham,” and this too must have seemed as abrupt, clear, and direct as an audible voice, because Abraham answered:

“Here I am”—Genesis 22:1.

I’ve had one experience like that. I did not hear an audible voice, but I experienced the feeling of my attention being called. It happened on a seemingly untroubled day in 2006. I was preparing to do an unremarkable chore—mow the lawn. The pull of my attention being summoned was strong enough that I stopped in response to it, and sat down. Listened. The urging of an idea that took hold of me then led me to step into a church, and ultimately to step onto a different path. I don’t remember whether my lawn got mowed that day. I came to recognize later that my old life—my old understanding of life—had come to an end. And now, here I am.

I, Samuel


One of the Bible’s clearest depictions of God speaking to a human being involves a boy named Samuel.

When Samuel first heard a call from the Lord, in I Samuel 3:4, he didn’t understand what he was experiencing. He ran to his master Eli in response. In fact, he went to Eli again and again, because the experience continued. Eli eventually understood that something special was happening, that Samuel was being called by God.

“Go and lie down,” Eli told him. “If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’”—I Samuel 3:9.

The Lord did call again. Samuel responded, “Speak, for your servant is listening”—I Samuel 3:10. The Lord then did speak, describing to Samuel a fate that was coming for the family of Eli.

There are various points to observe in this simple story. One is that the insight Samuel received came unexpectedly, without the boy asking to be given any news. God chooses the moment and manner of information entering our awareness.

Also, Samuel identified himself as God’s servant. A servant is one who accepts what his master has for him and does what his master has for him to do. Am I prepared to do what God would ask of me in the way that a servant would? The answer to that question might account for the silence on occasions when I say “Speak, Lord” myself.

One other lesson might be seen in the way Samuel disobeyed Eli. The disobedience is so subtle, you might have missed it. Eli told him to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” He left out the “Lord.”

I invite you to seek after the full meaning of this omission. I don’t believe I’ve found it. Someone was standing there with Samuel (literally standing there—look again at 3:10). Who was this?

God comes to us in different ways. He is Son and Spirit, in addition to Father. The Bible says Son and Spirit are both active in our lives, both speaking.

Yet there is also the fact that, as the apostle John put it, “No one has ever seen God”—John 1:18. Whatever we envision when we think of “God” or “God’s plan,” even when we are near to these things, is at best just an icon to represent something too vast for our small minds to absorb and contain. And in some cases, it is an icon created by someone else that we have adopted reluctantly. Samuel loved and obeyed his earthly master Eli, but he did not let this man or this man’s presumptions broker the encounter.

In other words, Samuel confessed how little he knew. He resisted the claim to knowing more than he did. By refusing in this instance even to choose a label for God, Samuel seemed to appreciate the extent to which his role was only to listen and receive, not to try to define the experience himself, and not to try to shape it with his own potentially misguided grasping. In responding to God’s first approach to him without naming the one who called, it was as if Eli was saying, “You know what you want to reveal to me, and you know who you are.”

Clues


How can I weigh whether the impression or insight that came to me in prayer is really an instance of God speaking?

Here are four clues that lend substance to the hope that God has spoken:

1. TRUTH

Truth is God’s identity. “I am the truth,” said Jesus, as part of a well-known quote at John 14:6.

In science, one of the signs that a theory is true is that it answers questions that weren’t even asked as part of the search. Newton’s theory of gravity explained not only a falling apple, but also the movements of planets and the pattern of tides—all previously assumed to be separate and unrelated to one another.

Truth has this characteristic. An insight from God is so true that it is surprisingly revealing. It is so true that the insight jumps the banks of the problem I have laid before God, with the overflow also cleansing other matters in my heart that I hadn’t even expected him to address.

2. LOVE

Love is also God’s identity. “God is love,” says I John 4:8.

If God is leading me, then the way I am led should be clearly, powerfully, and even surprisingly the loving way. The fruit of the Spirit of God begins with love, says Galatians 5:22, so any understanding that truly manifests God can only increase my capacity to be loving.

Meanwhile, the fruits of my own ego and my weariness include impatience, expediency, brusqueness, and recklessness. The presence of any of these things suggests the source of the leading I am hearing is not God, but instead just some desire of mine wanting to dress up as God and claim his authority.

3. NEWNESS

Both of the preceding points used the word “surprisingly.” God is surprising. As the creator, he is creative.

His originality provides an important contrast with the darkness that occupies the world and our souls, because the darkness does not create anything new. It merely claims, covets, or corrupts what has already been made. By tarnishing what used to be new, the darkness makes things old.

Meanwhile, a hallmark of the light of God’s will is the way it makes new things appear, including new possibilities, new joys, new friends, and—perhaps more importantly—previously “old” things made new again because God has washed them clean.

Is newness happening for you? Is renewal?

4. SIMPLICITY

Complexity is what humans generate. It’s what we produce by grasping too much at once, and it’s what we accept or hide behind instead of seeking or facing the truth. Meanwhile, the way of God is straightforward, testable, and plain.

Imagine the way of God as water. Jesus offered this analogy multiple times. (See John 4:14 and John 7:38, for example.) One characteristic of water is that it always finds and flows through the simplest path available.

Is the answer you have found in prayer surprisingly simple and easy to describe to other people?

Encounter


“The majority of us have no ear for anything but ourselves, we cannot hear a thing God says.” —Oswald Chambers

Reading of Jeremiah’s weeping over his lost and self-absorbed people, I nearly lost it. I could have wept myself. I was reading aloud in front of a few listeners, and I had to pull it together to continue on.

I’ve recently been part of a simple plan advanced by the Gladstone Community Church and Mariemont Community Church. The plan is this: Read the whole Bible out loud. Pass the reading from person to person, anyone who wants to take a turn. The entire reading will take around 80 hours. I have taken a couple of turns at this reading, and expect to take a couple more.

It is often the basic points that elude us. For me, feeling my own voice speak out the lines of scripture has given me a renewed experience of one basic point in particular. Namely, the Bible is not a reference book and really not even a guide book. The Bible is an encounter.

Our God, strangely, has feelings. He tells us he has a heart. By means of scripture—or by means of the human beings whose insight he illuminated as they wrote the documents that would become scripture—God descended into language and into composition in order to explain the ideas and share the emotion that he hopes we will seek to understand.

On this blog lately, I've been holding up the questions of how God speaks and how we can listen. They’re important questions. In looking at them, however, it is vital to be mindful of the extent to which he has already spoken.

Why the Question of How We Listen to God is an Important Topic


Part 1

God creates by speaking. In the first chapter of Genesis, we see him speaking the world into existence with his voice.

God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters....”

God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.

God made human beings at the culmination of this process. After blessing them, the very first thing he did—the very first action he took within this new relationship—was to speak to those he created (Genesis 1:26-30).


Part 2

There was a time when the only known law was one restriction from God, the restriction quoted in Genesis 2:16-17. Namely:

You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.

The serpent approached the human beings who were innocently living by this law. He asked them, in Genesis 3:1, “Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?”

In other words, when Satan stepped onto the scene, the very first thing he sought to undermine was our belief that we can trustingly listen to God.

Ergo, God Speaks


Does God speak? Yes.

That question is the first and easiest to answer in an important line of inquiry.

The expectation that God speaks—that he informs and guides people such as you and me—is a logical outflow of what I believe about God. It is a logical implication of Christian faith. The very essence of that faith is that God wants a relationship with human beings.

He sent the Son of God, a person of God himself, into flesh and into death in order to restore this relationship.

That relationship, when obtained, is something to be enjoyed.

Relationship involves communication.

Communication is two-way.

Ergo, God speaks.

The harder questions come next. Namely:

How does God speak?

How do I listen?

How do I know he has spoken?

And more to the point: How do I avoid the danger of going into a prayerful place and simply ratifying my own wishful thinking? If I seek to hear God, how do I avoid hearing myself instead?