I thought I was done writing this series on hearing from God in the heart. Then an experience crashed into my worldview. I was standing at a table in the classroom on a Tuesday morning organizing my materials for Bible class and thinking about what I needed to do next. Suddenly, as clear as can be, to my mind came the voice-like sentence, “Lunch will be at Bandana’s today.”
Weird! I thought, It was like someone just spoke to me, and How could I know where lunch will be? Well I guess I’ll find out if the voice is right. It was as vivid as when I used to believe I could hear God. I said nothing to anyone.
Two hours of Bible study passed. As we prepared to leave someone began the usual group decision process. “Are we going to lunch today?” (We almost always do.) “Where do you want to go?” I said nothing and left the room. When I returned I asked what the ladies had decided. The answer? “We’re going to Bandana’s.”
I have written energetically and repeatedly against the idea that anyone today hears from God subjectively like what so many women claim, like what happened to me. Did my experience contradict my theology?
Lest I be misunderstood…
I don’t want to be misunderstood. I totally believe that God is intimately, lovingly involved in every detail of our lives. If a sparrow does not fall without God’s say-so, then He actively cares for us in specific, personal ways (Matt. 10:29-30). I even believe He uses subjective experiences like gut feelings and intuition to influence our choices. This use is called providence. So if I have a sudden impression to pray for someone, by all means I pray and give thanks to God for the opportunity. If a gut feeling “coincidentally” protects me, I thank God for His providence.
What I do not see biblical evidence for is God speaking through gut feelings, intuition, impressions, unexplained thoughts, hunches, forebodings, amazing coincidences, even promptings to pray. Nor has anyone ever provided authoritative evidence to me that God does. Nor can anyone infallibly, authoritatively discern that the source of her impression or prompting is God.
Did my experience contradict my theology?
Interpretations are different from experiences.
First, it helps to separate the experience from the interpretation of the experience. As to the experience, it is true that:
- It really happened. (However, without objective evidence and on the testimony of just one, you have strong grounds to challenge my claim.)
- God can directly cause thoughts if He so chooses.
- Ability does not necessitate practice. Just because God can does not mean He is now.
- Experience is not self-authenticating.
As to the interpretation, I could interpret through the same assumptions so common today and call them evidence that God was talking to me.
- Since the voice came involuntarily it must have happened to me, not be generated by me. (It’s too humiliating to think it is just in my head!)
- Since I can think of no rational explanation, the intuition must be of spiritual origin.
- I heard a voice. I am a Christian. Therefore, the voice must be from God.
- I received a message. It came true. Therefore, the prediction must be from God.
- This is how my favorite authors and speakers describe it, so it must be from God.
The rationale in each of these interpretive arguments is faulty. I can claim all I want, but I can’t prove my claim, especially when there are other possibilities.
What could it be?
People credit reincarnation, infringement of an alternate universe, demons or their favorite deity. Christians default to God. In additional to some rational options here, I’d like to offer another.
Dare we consider that it might be something as mundane as a false sensory perception? At one time or another, most people see, hear, smell or feel something that isn’t there. For example, cell phone hallucinations have become so common they are being researched and discussed in “Psychology Today.” “Phantom vibration syndrome” is the perception that you hear the phone ring or feel it vibrate when it doesn’t. 
Out of body sensations are called “proprioceptive” hallucinations. Think near-death stories, floating above yourself, visits to heaven (heaven-tourism books). A well-known hallucination is feeling pain from an amputated limb. Another is the sense of the ground rolling when you step onto land after hours or days on a boat. Your brain feels something that is not there to feel. Déjà vu with premonition fits here. 
A common auditory hallucination is a grieving person hearing the voice of the deceased loved one. According to one report, as many as 13 percent of normal people hear unspoken voices at one time or another. I suspect the number is higher. I mean, who wants to admit to hearing voices? Sometimes, physical sensations accompany the voices, like agitation, tingling in the hands and feet, pressure in the head, feeling warm or hot, and the sense of feeling detached from the body.  The voices may be thought-like or have an auditory quality as if in the same or nearby room, like this:
Early one morning, University of Queensland psychiatrist John McGrath had just turned off the water and was stepping out of the shower when the new dad heard one of his children calling for him. He poked his head out of the bathroom door and called the kid’s name, but got no response. He started to panic — but then stopped short. That’s right, he remembered. His children weren’t actually home. 
How can a normal brain see, feel, or hear something that isn’t there?
Visually, normal brains fill in missing visual gaps, using previous visual information.  Various hallucinations may be due to drugs, migraines, lack of sleep, starvation, emotional upset, and religious fervor. The changing brain chemistry of someone whose body is shutting down to die could produce hallucinations of visits to heaven. Habit and anxiety contribute. For example, by repetition brains grow neurons and connections highly sensitized to phone vibrations and sometimes those neurons fire independent of the phone. Scientists think that memory function with interpretive disagreement by parts of the brain plays a role in déjà vu. 
So how do I explain my prescient thought?
Personally, I wonder if a long-unused neural circuit, habituated by my Charismatic ways of old, fired.
How could the voice-thought have predicted correctly? It could be that I am so familiar with the habits of this group that I unconsciously sensed that the weekly lunch pattern was ripe for Bandana’s. Just like any palm reader, if you make enough educated guesses you’re bound to be right sometime.
In the end, I don’t really know, nor does faith in God require that I assign it an explanation. Nor does it furnish the slightest benefit to others to spiritualize an experience into a supernatural message from God (Jer. 23:32). Actually, assigning mysterious experiences to God gets in the way of humility and decision-making. Instead, I can rejoice in living by faith, trusting the providence of God, who brilliantly incorporates such coincidences into providence. In fact, I thank God for ordaining that by providence I had this experience so that I could write about it in this post.
What other reasons would dictate against my experience being given directly by God?
- Revelation to an obscure person about her lunch does not at all fit revelations seen in the Bible. Revelations in Scripture are those which advance God’s kingdom plan–the gospel and God’s glorious rule.
- It does not follow that because the prediction was correct it was necessarily from God. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 allows that false prophets can prophesy accurately and still not have a divine source for their prophecies.
- Jeremiah 17:9 says that my “heart is deceitful.” If it happens to predict correctly every once in awhile I should be all the more skeptical lest I be tempted to trust in my senses. “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Prov. 28:26).
- Scripture tells us to not “go too far,” don’t “exceed what is written” (2 John 9; 1 Cor. 4:6).
- The canon is closed (Heb. 3:1-2). There is nothing to add. The word of God is sufficient counsel.
Important: Falsely crediting God with something He did not do is a serious offense (Deut. 13:1-5; Ezek. 13:8).
And by the way, nothing super-spiritual happened during lunch at Bandana’s.
“Intuition and Superstition: An Admonition”:
http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2007/03/intuition-and-superstition-admonition.html (an excellent concise summary with four lessons and a practical example in the question-and-answer)
“Providence is Remarkable”: https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/TM13-15 (excellent lecture, of which the last half especially pertains to the topic of intuition and hearing from God)
By Gary Gilley: https://sharperiron.org/article/cessationism-revelation-prophecy (Don’t miss the comments, especially the rebuttals on 11/24 and 11/25.)
“The Still, Small Voice”: http://www.thegracelifepulpit.com/Sermons.aspx?code=2013-11-10pm-PJ
Déjà vu is the sense of strong sense of familiarity with something that should not be familiar to you, like the sense of having previously been in a location which you know you haven’t. It can be accompanied by a sense of premonition. Depending upon the person’s belief system, it is attributed to a past life, infringement of an alternate reality, magic, and the supernatural (evil beings or one’s god).
“Talking to ourselves and voices in our heads”: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171208143043.htm The pdf of this report contains more links.