Christian faith asks questions, seeks understanding, both because God is always greater than our ideas of God, and because the public world that faith inhabits confronts it with challenges and contradictions that cannot be ignored. It is my hope to offer some information and insights in response to questions about God, the Bible and faith, that will add to the conversation without offering set, absolute answers. Please feel free to communicate any additional questions or your own experiences, comments, responses and insights as they relate to the questions taken up here.
“How does God talk to us?”
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son…” (Hebrews 1:1-2a, NRSV)
Throughout Holy Scripture, there are perhaps a handful of direct, one-on-one conversations with the Almighty. Ones that immediately spring to mind are: Adam & Eve in the Garden (Gen. 3), Abram (Gen. 12), Moses (Ex.) and Job. That’s not to say the God didn’t speak to anyone else, though. At least a hundred times in the Old Testament the phrase, “The Word of the Lord came to…” occurs, typically when God is commanding a prophet to deliver a message to God’s wayward people. In the Gospels, we have the accounts of God speaking at the Baptism, Transfiguration and during Jesus’ last public appearance before the Last Supper (John 12). Divine messages were also delivered by angels or in dreams and visions.
I would suggest that there are (3) ways God speaks to us that are more common in the Christian experience. The first would be through prayer. Prayer is intimate communication with God. Although it can often end up being a one-way monologue of us telling God what we think God needs to do, prayer is also taking time to listen to what God is saying to us, hearing what God thinks we need to do.
The second way I believe God speaks to us is in the reading and study of Scripture. Although these stories date back thousands of years, and relate things about people and cultures we may not always understand completely, they reveal to us God’s ongoing activity in all of creation, especially in relationship with God’s created people, as well as giving insight to God’s character. Reflecting back on last month’s question of why people don’t read the Bible, this, then is a prime reason to encourage and pursue daily Bible reading.
The third way I would consider God speaking to us is related to the second. While individual reading and study of Scripture is always a worthwhile practice, the public reading of Scripture and preaching, such as we have in weekly worship, provides an opportunity for God to speak to the gathered community of believers. Most often, Lutherans will hear God speaking in one of two ways: Law or Gospel. The Law points out and condemns us in our sin, while the Gospel is the promise of grace and mercy revealed in Jesus Christ and the cross. The tricky part is it is never always one or the other. God’s Word is a Living Word that breaks into our lives, shatters our old ways and creates new life, new values and new commitment by calling us back to God (repentance).
While it is possible to imagine that God could communicate with us in any way God chooses, we must be careful to not misinterpret words, things, actions, or events as God directly speaking to us. One of the benefits of being part of a faith community is that, together, we can seek to discern the “voice” of God from the voice of not-God. God’s ways and means of talking to us can be surprising. God may speak to us through the image of a person in a magazine, on TV, on a billboard, or even in the flesh, face-to-face. Ultimately, God has already spoken a singular message of God’s love for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. When we can hear God speak grace and forgiveness of sin to us through the event of the Cross, we may then begin to be able to hear God talk to us in many and various other ways. How does God talk to you?