My mother often quoted an old Dutch saying to us whenever we as children got a little carried away. She would say, “Just act normal, that’s already weird enough!”
That saying came to mind this past week when I was again confronted with the story of someone who seemed to think he had a direct line to God. This man claims that God talks to him all the time. My problem is that sometimes the things God tells him are really weird and even contrary to what is taught in the Bible. There is also stuff happening in his life that is quite contrary to what we would expect from a godly man who is in direct touch with God.
I must confess that over the years I’ve become a little cynical about claims to hear the voice of God. And that’s a pity. It’s a pity because I don’t ever want to say that God doesn’t talk directly to people. He can and He does.
I’ve become cynical because people have passed on so-called “revelations” to me and I have not the slightest idea of what they are talking about. A lady came to me after morning worship one Sunday and said, “John, I don’t know whether you can do anything with this, but this morning God told me to tell you…!” and then a rather cryptic message followed. She was at least right about one thing: I didn’t know what do with it. It made absolutely no sense to me at all. I also couldn’t help wondering: if the Lord wanted me to know that, why didn’t He tell me directly instead of telling her to tell me? And for a split second I wondered whether perhaps I was “not spiritual enough” to be trusted with such a “revelation”.
I’ve become cynical about people hearing the voice of God because I’ve experienced too many situations where someone made a decision based on a claim to be following direct orders from God – only for a sudden change to be made soon after. There was the young man who went to study at a Bible College – because God told him to prepare himself to serve as a missionary. But six months later he quit and took up a job that he claimed God had told him to apply for. God, it seems, sometimes changes His mind very quickly. Or, in this case, did it have something to do with the fact that this young man really didn’t do very well in his first lot of exams at the college?
Let me say again that I believe that the Lord can and does talk to people directly. But I want to add that it is extremely rare and we shouldn’t expect that to be the norm. Even in Scripture direct communication from God is not something that was normal. It is very much linked to the prophets and apostles and repeatedly is linked to the great moments of salvation history. Nowhere – that I am aware of – does the Bible encourage us to entertain the expectation that we might hear direct revelations from God. Instead God has given us a Bible to guide us.
I hate to say it but it’s true that some who claim to hear the voice of God are delusional. I’ve spoken to people like that in psychiatric wards. There was a young woman who once welcomed me into the ward with a direct message from God. She was in the same ward as the young man with the beard who went around telling everyone that he was Jesus Christ. These people need to heed my mother’s saying, “Just act normal, that’s already weird enough!”
Others confuse their perception of God’s guiding hand in their life with the voice of God. They sincerely believe that God would have them follow a certain course of action and they are so convinced of this that it is as if God actually said it to them. These people need to learn to be more cautious. It is one thing to believe that God guides us through His Word, through the circumstances of life and through the advice of other people – it is quite another thing to attribute that guidance to God’s voice. That effectively sidelines any advice from fellow believers – after all, who are we to argue with the voice of God?
A good book to read on this subject is a book by the same title as the heading of this blog. It’s available from Matthias Media for $14.95.