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.