I used to believe that I could sense God talking to me. I could hear privately from God in my heart. While I no longer subscribe to that belief, I can still enjoy fellowship with friends who do because we agree on the central tenets of Christianity, such as the identity of Christ and the Trinity, and the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Still, I have strong concerns about this whole idea of hearing from God extra-biblically. In today’s practice, many use the term “hearing” God in reference to inaudible impressions and thoughts. Taking a challenge and answer approach, this series (beginning here) has so far dealt with the sufficiency of Scripture. Now we’ll shift the view a bit. Hearing extra-biblically also bears on the issue of authority.
How is authority an aspect? What a person hears privately from God is inherently and necessarily authoritative to all people, not just that individual. How can that be? If what the person hears is divine in origin, then we are all obligated to it in at least one respect–belief.
A popular protest goes something like, “I believe God spoke to [insert name] but I don’t consider his/her message or words to be as authoritative as Scripture.” In other words, God’s words given privately to this person have some authority, but not as much as what God’s words given elsewhere. The difference is in degree of authority, not in source of authority.
That cake won’t bake. Isn’t the message from God Himself? Is God less of an authority than God?
Consider, is there any verse in the Bible that is less authoritative than any others? Divine words carry divine authority, period. In the Bible, God’s words spoken through human speech were just as authoritative as His words in written form. The red letters aren’t more authoritative than the black. So also, words from God given privately to individuals today, being from God, cannot be less authoritative than His words in written form given in the Bible. The source is the same, and that source is divine.
People inherently know this. That is one reason they make the claim, “God told me…” Who dare argue? It is why people do what others tell them when they say, “God told me that you should…”
Recall the freeze-frame I used in “But isn’t Scripture a filter?” Someone says to you, “The Lord told me I need to confess something to you.” Assuming that you agree that what she is about to say came from God, the speaker continues talking. But do you accept the claim? It affects how you receive the rest of what she says because, in essence, she has brought to bear on you authorization direct from God. Dare you challenge it? Are you not obligated to cooperate with “God’s” agenda for the conversation?
As R.C. Sproul says,
“One of the most powerful devices of manipulation we’ve ever designed is to claim that we have experienced the Spirit’s approval of our actions. How can anyone dare contradict us if we claim divine authority for what we want to do? The result is that we end up silencing any questions about our behavior.” (“The Role of Experience,” TableTalk, August 2017, p. 5)
Inherent awareness of the power of a claim to divine authority is at work in women who say things like these actual quotes: “God prompted me to…” “I was impressed [by God] to…” “God woke me last night to pray for my husband’s workmate.” “This morning after reading [this devotional] I was nudged to share it with you.” I think that many women who use these feeling-based catch phrases are unaware of how manipulative it is and are sincerely seeking to be sensitive to God, which is commendable. But, do you think it would sit well with any of them if someone answered, “How do you know that impression came from God rather than just something on your mind?” Or, “How do you know this isn’t just a feeling you had that prompted a thought”? Or, “I don’t believe that you can know it was God who woke you to pray.” No, those women expect their hearers to believe, to accept, and even to affirm their claims and accept that they, therefore, have God’s backing to whatever action was required.
And, if God really spoke, they are right. We must believe. Why? Because we must believe whatever God says no matter to whom He says it. If God told Samuel a message for Eli then we must believe Samuel’s message and that God gave it even if no action is required by us (1 Samuel 3). If your friend heard from God, you must believe her.
So, do you? Do you believe that your friend’s feelings are a reliable source of divine revelation?
This series continues in But experiences persuade when Scripture doesn’t.