Monday, June 27, 2005

Listening to God in prayer

If you've ever talked with me, or have read enough of my past writings about theology, then you know that this issue is of high interest to me. Ever since I read Garry Friesen's Decision Making and the Will of God last year, I have been exploring the issue. Mostly, I am convinced, due in no small part to Friesen's book, that it is an unbiblical concept, probably invented by modern pop-Christianity. However, I struggle where I can to find scriptural support as given by proponents of this doctrine. Scriptural support is rare, but I try to analyze it when I can find it. This post will examine several verses I was given as support for it during camp.

First, a quick definition. What does it mean to "hear God" during prayer? Basically, God "talks" to you, but not in an audible voice. He is heard through the spirit, the voice of the Holy Spirit living within the believer.

The first verse comes from John 10:27.

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.

This verse comes from a section in which Jesus, several times, uses a metaphor of sheep and shepherd to refer to himself and his believers. Read the entire chapter for context. Jesus is saying during the chapter that he is not only the Messiah and the Son of God, but God himself. In context with what he says during the chapter, it would seem that Jesus is saying that the faithful will recognize Jesus for who he is. The Jews came to him and asked him to say, yes or no, if he was the Messiah. It seems right to say that Jesus' answer is rightly, "Look, if you really had faith, you'd know who I was. If you followed God, you'd know to follow me. I am God."

This would rule out a direct interpretation as saying, "You can hear the 'voice' of the Holy Spirit." Indirectly, could that be what Jesus is saying? Only if it was supporting verses that more strongly taught the idea.

The next verse comes from Luke 7:37-47.
There was a woman who was a notorious sinner in that city. When she learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's home, she took an alabaster jar of perfume (38) and knelt at his feet behind him. She was crying and began to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Then she kissed his feet over and over again, anointing them constantly with the perfume. (39) Now the Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw this and said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who is touching him and what kind of woman she is. She's a sinner!" (40) Jesus said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "say it." (41) "Two men were in debt to a moneylender. One owed him 500 denarii, and the other fifty. (42) When they couldn't pay it back, he generously canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him the most?" (43) Simon answered, "I suppose the one who had the larger debt canceled." Jesus said to him, "You have answered correctly." (44) Then, turning to the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You didn't give me any water for my feet, but
this woman has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. (45)
You didn't give me a kiss, but this woman, from the moment I came in, has not stopped kissing my feet. (46) You didn't anoint my head with oil, but this woman has anointed my feet with perfume. (47) So I'm telling you that her sins, as many as they are, have been forgiven, and that's why she has shown such great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven loves little."

Well, to be honest . . . I have no idea how these verses apply to the idea of "hearing God." They were cited to me in a list during a seminar, and I really have no idea how it applies. The story seems to have nothing to do with hearing from God, prayer, or anything. Moving on . . .

The next verses are from later in Luke, 10:38-42.

Now as they were traveling along, Jesus went into a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. (39) She had a sister named Mary, who sat down at the Lord's feet and kept listening to what he was saying. (40) But Martha was worrying about all the things she had to do, so she came to him and asked, "Lord, you do care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself, don't you? Then tell her to help me." (41) The Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. (42) But there's only one thing you need. Mary has chosen what is better, and it is not to be taken away from her."

The way these verses were cited, it was taken as a "sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to him is so very important" kind of thing. The problem is that this woman literally sat at the feet of Jesus. Something comparable now would be anything related to Christian life . . . reading of scripture, church, etc. But it really doesn't say anything about the hearing portion of this. Value of this book for the doctrine? Not really useful at all.

The final verses are Acts 16:6-10.

Then they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia because they had been prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the word in Asia. (7) They went as far as Mysia and tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not let them. (8) So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. (9) During the night Paul had a vision. A man from Macedonia was standing there and pleading with him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" (10) As soon as he had seen the vision, we immediately looked for a way to go to Macedonia, for we were convinced that God had called us to tell them the good news.

The idea usually presented here is that the Holy Spirit, speaking through prayer, told Paul and Silas that they weren't to enter these regions, but then called them to go to Macedonia. The problem, however, is that the verses never say how the Holy Spirit prevented Paul and company from entering these areas. Is it the author's way of attributing God's purpose to the circumstances they encountered? Maybe. The meaning of the verses isn't clear. And the "Macedonian Call" is an entirely different situation. This wasn't Paul "hearing" an inaudible voice in his mind and soul from God. Paul saw a vision. This was a very direct thing. Paul's had many visions, and from how he describes them, they are nothing like what people talk about when they say they "hear" from God. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about being caught up to the "third heaven." This is a very different thing.

So, what have I concluded from all of this? Nothing new. These verses are completely unconvincing as evidence for this doctrine. None of the verses are specific enough to really define the doctrine scripturally. Defining a doctrine, basing it in scripture, requires much more specific information from the verses than I have seen so far. But I'll analyze any set of verses in pursuit of the truths of God. Scripture must speak for itself, and not suffer from man reading his preconceived doctrines into the verses.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Also, any understanding of the Holy Spirit should be informed by the words of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John chapters 13 through 17, and by the experience of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 2.

-Ryan Herr.