How does God “speak” to us today? Just like in “Bible times” through prophets, dreams, visions, messages from angels, and God’s direct audible voice to us? I’ve read two books with different views on this subject. One is “Surprised by the Voice of God” by Jack Deere and the other “God Talk: Caution for those who hear God’s voice” by Ruth Tucker. I wrote a paper for a class refuting the book by Deere, so that gives you an idea of my perspective. Everyone is biased and coming from a particular background…so I openly admit that I do not think God speaks to us today in the same way he did in “Bible times.” Does that mean I think God is mute in our modern day? And that we can’t get guidance from God today? Of course not! And in a series of 3 posts I will share some of my thoughts on this issue. I learn as I blog, so thanks for taking the journey with me!
There are those, such as Jack Deere, who feel that we should be able to receive direct divine communication from God just like in Bible times – whether through God’s audible voice, or through a prophet, dream, angelic messenger, etc. This was the normal and frequent way that God worked in the Bible, and since it was the norm then it should be the norm now. Jack Deere also believes that God will directly communicate with us about our personal, everyday lives.
However…premises need to be considered. First…was this really commonplace and typical in Bible times? Was God always speaking? Was it a regular thing?
No, there were times when God was silent. The 400 years between the Old and New Testaments are often referred to as the “years of silence.” This was between the last Old Testament prophetic voice of Malachi, and the arrival of John the Baptist who prepared the way for the Lord. While spiritual or religious material was written during this time, it was not considered prophetic or from God. Some also think there were 400 years of silence between the book of Genesis and Exodus…between the arrival of the patriarchal family in Egypt, and Moses leading them out of Egypt. The biblical record is silent during this time.
God directly communicating with people (and working in other miraculous ways) tended to occur in clusters when a significant event in redemptive history was taking place. For example, a lot of amazing things occurred around the time of Moses when God’s people were being called out of Egypt and to the Promised Land. Or during the early New Testament era, the arrival of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the church was another key period in redemptive history. After more time passes in the New Testament era, we can see the incidence of amazing things start to decrease in frequency.
There are exceptions (God can’t be put in a box!) but the point is that: There are times when God is near or more overtly at work, and there are times when God’s presence is veiled and His work in this world is less obvious.
Verses also come to my mind where a prophet or psalmist cries out that God seems distant, silent, etc.
Another premise needs to be considered… As Jack Deere says, should we expect to receive direct communication from God about our routine, personal, everyday life? I have a hard time seeing any precedence for this in the Scriptures! As already noted, the biblical record of “God speaking” tended to involve key individuals or related to consequential matters in redemptive history – not mundane, routine ones. Furthermore, when God spoke it also tended to be a singular prophetic announcement, and not a daily or on-going occurrence.
A final thought…Some people today give instructions on “how to hear God’s voice” but those in the Bible who heard God’s voice needed no instruction. When God or an angel directly spoke with them, they were not expecting it or looking for it. Generally, the individuals were shocked, afraid, or incredulous! Think of Zacharias or Mary. Really think about this…if these people were regularly and routinely receiving direct divine or angelic communication then they would not have been surprised or afraid by it. Clearly, it was not the typical thing but an unusual event.
Does this mean I think God will never directly communicate with people today? I have a “high” view of God, and I am certainly not going to tie God’s hands. The main point of this post was simply to emphasize that I think some people have unrealistic expectations built on false premises. They want to directly hear from God “just like in Bible times” – yet, they are expecting something that was not normative even back then. More to come…
Part 2 here.
* An additional note: Jack Deere states that God spoke frequently through dreams in Bible times. But were dreams really that frequent? In the Old Testament, a period of about 4,000 years, only about 20 specific dreams to 14 people are recorded: Abimelech, Jacob, Laban, Joseph, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, Pharaoh, Moses, a soldier in judges, Saul, Solomon, Job, Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar. In the New Testament there are only 6 recorded dreams, all of which are found in the book of Matthew surrounding Christ’s birth and death.