The God Who Speaks. How foundational is this to your understanding of who God is?
I’ve been thinking about this for the last several weeks, after reading a scathing review of a popular devotional that happens to occupy a slot on my bookshelf. Although my inclination is to come to its defense, as I have read it and found it helpful, I will set that aside. For underlying this review was something I found more concerning—the question of whether or not God still speaks personally to his children.
I know I’ve felt a longing—perhaps you have as well—to hear God’s voice, to sense his presence, to have a clear sense of calling. It’s a longing to know him more deeply, to see him working more clearly. It’s a longing to have him speak to my situation. It’s a longing to be with him. It’s the longing with seeds in the beginning, when we walked with him in the cool of the day in the Garden—man, woman, God himself, in face-to-face communion. But is this only an unrealistic desire?
I hope we all would agree on the importance of Scripture as the recorded Word of God, which He has graciously preserved and entrusted to us. The Bible offers us revelation which is sufficient to show us the way of salvation. It gives us a clear picture of God’s character and the way He works in the world. We do well to grasp towards understanding its words and delve deeper into its depths. Let me be clear: God does speak to us powerfully through the Bible, and He does so frequently. We must look to Scripture as the ultimate authority and our measure for discernment. “Voices” contrary to Scripture must be excluded, for God does not contradict Himself.
But must we go so far as to say that upholding the authority of Scripture excludes the Lord’s ability to speak to us through other means? Should the voice of the Holy Spirit be silenced by the gilded pages of our Bibles?
Can we go so far as to say that the final words of Revelation were the last utterances of God? That with the completion of the canon of Scripture He transitioned from the God-Who-Speaks to the God-Who-Spoke? Have his words been transcribed and codified only to be studied and reread again and again, like well-worn letters from an old lover?
Has He gone silent? Or is He still speaking?
To limit the only arrow of communication from God to man to the Bible is troubling to me. This would suggest that God has changed his ways of interacting with the world from what we read about in Scripture. In the Bible, we read of God speaking in a variety of ways in addition to his written, recorded Word. He speaks audibly, through physical signs, through visions and dreams, through other people, through natural phenomena, through circumstance, through the inaudible direction of the Holy Spirit, and even through a donkey! Looking for God to speak and positioning ourselves to hear his voice is not an attack on the sufficiency of Scripture. It is an affirmation that God cannot be contained in our Bibles.
This attitude crafts God in our own image—that of a white, western, intellectual, rational. We have turned him into a stand-offish grandfather, hesitant to embrace, reluctant to talk, distant and aloof—for the sake of upholding his sovereignty or holiness. And we have turned his words to us into an intellectual and literary experience—for the sake of upholding Scripture. We want to dissect and analyze him, to pin him down with propositions, not stand in awe of him. We want to strip him of mystery…and intimacy. The thought of Him breaking through our paradigms, through our defenses, terrifies us, so we’d rather package and systematize His voice into something we can fully comprehend, into something we can control.
Ah, but to say that God still speaks—this opens us to the glorious possibility of being caught by surprise. It puts us in the adventure of looking for Him and listening for Him as we walk through life. It invites us to a place beyond our rational expectations and into His infinite possibility. It invites us back to glimmers of the Garden, as close as we can experience in this world, when we can hear His voice whispering in the ears of our heart and see His footsteps keeping pace beside ours.
For millennia Christians have engaged in the spiritual life expecting God to speak, quieting and positioning themselves to be able to more clearly hear from him. The majority of Christians throughout the rest of the world participate in charismatic streams which expect God to “show up” in a noticeable way. All of these believers say to us “He is still speaking.” And we would do well to listen.