Ok, I first need to admit to you, this is not my first time at the rodeo. I’ve been around unorganized Christianity for a while. I was involved in some of the early Jesus people movements, several Christian communities and some wildly charismatic churches and “non-denominational denominations.” I was even a student, and later a chauffer, at Jim Bakker’s PTL Club (pre-prison conviction days). Believe me, I have heard some pretty crazy things attributed to God in the past.
For example, once I was sitting in church and a “prophecy” was spoken aloud attributed to God, beginning with the words “My little children, I know you are afraid, that’s okay, sometimes I am afraid too!” (I never could figure out what God was afraid of). I have also had the (once common) experience of a woman telling me that God told her I was supposed to marry her! (Wow! Imagine God hiding that from me). Then, there are the really crazy people like Jim Jones and David Kerisch who cause harm to others by quoting God. But as long as no one gets hurt we just put crazy quotes from God or special knowledge about God in the “nut-job file” and go on. (When is the world going to end again?).
The latest crazy God quote I heard comes from Pat Robertson, who a week or so ago said,
Your country will be torn apart by internal stress. A house divided cannot stand. Your president holds a radical view of the direction of your country which is at odds with the majority. Expect chaos and paralysis. Your president holds a view which is at the odds with the majority — it’s a radical view of the future of this country, and so that‘s why we’re having this division. This is a spiritual battle which can only be won by overwhelming prayer. The future of the world is at stake because if America falls, there’s no longer a strong champion of freedom and a champion of the oppressed of the world. There must be an urgent call to prayer.
Robertson also claimed God told him who the next President would be “but I‘m not supposed to talk about that so I’ll leave you in the dark,” claimed Robertson. I’m not responding to this because I want to disrespect Rev. Robertson. Given my past experiences I think I understand both sides of this crazy talk from Robertson and all the others who speak for God. Some of it is based in a need for power and craftiness in order to gain fame and/or donations. Some of it comes from a worldview so enmeshed in the American myth that it could count as modern day manifest destiny (today we call it American exceptionalism). Some of it is a mixture of both and probably other motives. I don’t want to judge people’s motives but I will call what is crazy, “crazy” regardless of the motives. Robertson’s quote is crazy but for brevity sake I’m not going to detail why. Instead, I want to look at the big picture.
It may surprise you (as it sometimes does me) that in spite of all my crazy days in Christianity, and even with all the abuses I have seen in the past, I still believe God speaks to human beings in a variety of ways. I think God’s first and most continuous discourse with human beings is through creation. Through creation we are left amazed in wonder at how grand and how complex human and non-human creation really is. Although this is lacking in our theology, the natural process of God revealing and speaking between humans and creation is reflected in many Christian hymns such as the snippets below:In the stars His handiwork I see,
On the wind He speaks with majesty;
Though He ruleth over land and sea,
What is that to me?
This is my Father’s world,
The birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white,
Declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world:
He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
He speaks to me everywhere.
When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee:
How great Thou art!
God speaks to us through nature. God speaks to us through others as well. We receive admonishment, encouragement, etc. from God, by others speaking truth to us in love. I can’t tell you how any times I have been set straight or encouraged by others who have cared enough to speak truth in love to me. God speaks to us through others. God speaks to us through the Scriptures, through the stories, parables, mantras of Jesus, etc. all contained within the Holy written words in the Bible. God also speaks to us through popular culture, through our experiences, and in many other ways. In fact, any avenue of perception is one God is probably using to speak to us, indirectly or even directly.
So what’s the problem then? Why can’t Pat Robertson hear from God as well as anyone else? Perhaps he can. The problem is not what we hear, but the filters through which we hear them. All our filters are human filters and as such, are automatically embedded with the humility of understanding that as a human being, I am not God and could never fully speak for God, much less quote God.
What I hear God say in creation, through others, in the Scriptures, through a song, through a movie, through an experience, or directly is by design suspect, not because God doesn’t speak, but because I don’t hear so well. My listening ability is tempered by experiences in which I have been hurt or rejected, or given undue credit, or by a lack of perspective through missing knowledge or experience, or how I interpreted that knowledge or experience, or by a lack of accountability in my life, or by a thousand other possibilities that show me I am not God. I am just a human being. And even though being a human is a good thing, what I know for sure about every human is that we all make mistakes. None of us get it right all the time.
So, if any one of us claims to hear from God, we should first realize, there is a good chance we got it wrong, at least some of it. Then maybe, just maybe we can speak for ourselves and what we think God has said to us, but it is another thing altogether to quote God. But then again, I could be wrong…