Stranger Things: Does God Still Speak to Us with a “Still Small Voice?”
Anyone who has read my books, articles or blog posts more than “just a little” knows that I am a strong believer in the supernatural. My most recent book Essentials of Christian Thought: Seeing Reality through the Biblical Story (Zondervan) attempts to rehabilitate the word “supernatural.” Like so many good words that are part of the Christian “language of Zion” it has been stretched to the breaking point and misused so much that we sane Christians find it difficult to use without killing it with the death of a thousand qualifications.
The Bible is full of supernatural occurrences. I, personally, do not understand how anyone can claim to be a biblical Christian and not believe in the supernatural. What do I mean by “supernatural?” Well, at the very least, it refers to events that cannot be explained by natural laws. For example, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
My question today is: What should we biblical Christians make of, how should we interpret, events in our lives that seem unexplainable by natural laws? Should we attribute them to God? Some Christians I know talk about certain events being “God things.” That’s a kind of colloquialism for occurrences or events that are so coincidental as not to be believable as mere coincidences.
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Let me state this caveat right now so there is no confusion: I make no claim to having “supernatural powers” or even “supernatural gifts.” But I believe in a supernatural God who interacts with us—sometimes in mysterious ways that could be brushed off as “mere coincidences” by people whose minds are closed to an interactive God who intervenes in human lives. Unfortunately, I think, many Christians also tend to relegate such acts of God to the past—to “Bible times.” Sure, they say, the prophets and apostles were guided by God and heard directly from him, but that doesn’t happen anymore.
During my life I have had several very odd experiences that even some Christians I know would brush off with a smirk if I “testified” about them as “God things.” We “sophisticated” Christians have been jaded by education and/or the influence of naturalism in culture. But I would suggest we have also been influenced by some modern religious claims of “supernatural revelations” and paranormal experiences touted in books and on television. Some of them are so absurd—even from a biblical-Christian perspective—as to turn us away from hearing God at all except through Scripture. (I once worked for a Christian evangelist who publicly claimed that God told him he would kill him if he did not raise eight million dollars within a short period of time.)
One day, recently, as I was just going about my weekly Saturday routines—mostly working in the yard—suddenly and “out of the blue” a face from the distant past came to my mind. I immediately remembered his first name but struggled to think of his last name. His first name was “Dean” and I knew him very well for about three years—at that same church where I served as assistant pastor many, many years ago. Dean and I saw each other two or three times weekly—at church on Sundays, at men’s breakfast prayer meeting midweek, and at Bible study on Wednesday evenings. He was somewhat older than I, but we were in Christian fellowship with each other—together with a group of men. We attended retreats together and he served as counselor at the summer Bible camp I organized and led each summer. All that is to say that for about three years we knew each other well. Then, when I moved far away, we lost touch. I had not thought of him in years.
Soon after his face came to my mind and I remembered his first name I remembered his last name. For the next three days, after his face and name came imposingly and seemingly arbitrarily to my mind, I thought of him along these lines: “I need to look him up and see if I can find his address or phone number and contact him.” I had no idea why. It didn’t even occur to me that God had anything to do with it. If I analyzed it at all I simply assumed it was a “brain hiccup.”
After three days during which I could not stop thinking about Dean I finally got around to looking him up using the world wide web. I entered his name and the city where we both lived in a search engine. (I assumed he still lived there.) What I found was his obituary. He died three days before—on the day his face and name suddenly came to my mind, in that city where we knew each other many years ago.
I have no definite idea what it means, but the “coincidence” seems too coincidental to be a mere coincidence.
Oh, of course, I know some people, even some Christians, would brush that off as “magical thinking.” But the Bible and church history are so full of such “coincidences” that I do not think we can or should brush off such occurrences so cavalierly.
Why did God bring Dean’s face and name to my mind and press him upon my memory and thoughts on the day he died—so far away? I do not know. Perhaps, just perhaps, God wanted me to pray for him and his family. He was eighty-eight and had been in assisted living for some time, so I doubt God wanted me to pray for his life (i.e., healing). Perhaps God wanted me to pray for him to pass away peacefully and painlessly and to be with his family in their time of sorrow and loss. If that was God’s intention, I failed.
I grew up in a form of Christian life that took such “coincidences” for granted as “God things.” How far away have I moved? Too far? Probably. Few of the Christians I “hang out with” now talk about such things. And when I have cautiously brought them up in conversation or in classes I teach I have seen some questioning looks—looks that indicated my sanity might be in some doubt.
So now let me turn philosophical. Sociologist of religion Peter Berger talks about “plausibility structures.” It seems to me that, within a biblical-Christian plausibility structure, experiences such as I describe above should be normal if not routine. And yet…so many Christians consider them mere coincidences and dismiss attributing them to God as “magical thinking.” Why? Have we, American Christians, even many who call ourselves “evangelical,” turned away from a biblical-Christian plausibility structure to a different one? Or mixed our biblical-Christian plausibility structure with others in a syncretistic way? I think many have.
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