Does God Speak to Us?
"God told me so."
In many church circles today, there is a growing trend of Christians whose lives and perspectives are dictated by what God tells them via channels beyond the Bible.
A woman at church regularly encourages me to sit in silence in case God wants to impress upon me a realization or a divine message. Bible-belt evangelists boast about having two-sided conversations with God, gaining prophetic import from an audible inner voice. The bestselling Jesus Calling devotionals are products of author Sarah Young penning words God allegedly spoke to her in meditative writing sessions. She writes in the introduction:
“I wanted to hear what God might want to communicate to me on a given day. I decided to ‘listen’ with pen in hand, writing down whatever I ‘heard’ in my mind…My journaling thus changed from monologue to dialogue. This new way of communicating with God became the high point of my day.”
The concept of God speaking to you about your personal life is so prevalent in the church today that some of the most popular Christian self-help books instruct readers on how to hear God’s voice. The problem is, this is heretical. The only certain words we have from God are found in the Bible. Jonathan Edwards warned Christians about this:
“I…know by experience that impressions being made with great power, and upon the minds of true saints…in the midst of, extraordinary exercises of grace and sweet communion with God, and attended with texts of Scripture strongly impressed on the mind, are no sure signs of their being revelations from heaven: for I have known such impressions [to] fail, and prove vain.”
When a fellow Christian informs us of their plans to switch schools because God told them to, we should be alerted to the problem in making such a claim. Some may even call it blasphemy as you are essentially putting words in God’s mouth. In saying "God told me", you assume tenets that are not biblical.
As Though the Bible is Not Finished
Any words from God communicated outside the Bible would have to become part of the Bible. Summer White, co-host of the podcast, Sheologians, says in the episode "Jesus Isn’t Calling, God Has Already Spoken", “If God is speaking, how could it be any less authoritative or binding than Scripture?”
There is no in-between level where words are God-breathed enough to be truth while also personal enough to not be Scripture. Either thoughts are of our own fabrication, or they are of God and must therefore be added to the Bible.
We know that adding to the Bible is not feasible because the canon is closed. We must believe in the totality of Scripture, or Tota Scriptura, which R.C. Sproul describes in Tabletalk as “[having] to do with embracing the whole counsel of God as it is revealed in the entirety of sacred Scripture.”
Looking for God’s words in places other than the Bible is a rejection of Scripture’s sufficiency.
As Though New Age Practices Can Be Christian
One of the many ways I have personally been encouraged to seek God’s voice beyond Scripture is through automatic writing. During a structured time of fellowship, my friend (the leader) instructed the group to clear our heads, put pen to paper, and wait for God to tell us what to write. He urged us not to deliberate, saying, “Don’t edit the Holy Spirit.”
Although I love my brother in Christ, I felt deeply disturbed by this exercise. Frankly, because it mirrored the occult practice of automatic writing. Automatic writing, or psychography, is when writing is created not by your conscious intention, but by a spiritual or occult agency. The only apparent difference for the Christian version is that the inner, possibly divine, voice telling you what to write is rebranded as the Holy Spirit.
No where in Scripture is this methodology endorsed. God clearly warns us against witchcraft and those who follow witchcraft.
"Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 19:31
Automatic writing, or any other meditative practice meant for accessing the voice of the Holy Spirit, is a blending of Christianity with the occult. When the Israelites worshiped the golden calf in Exodus 32, they incorporated paganism with how they had been taught to worship God, i.e. offerings at the altar. Any extra-biblical means of seeking to hear God’s voice cannot be approached without taking into account its occult origins.
As Though God Hasn’t Already Spoken
Often the phrase "God told me" is used when a person faces a decision and is uncertain on how to move forward. Then God communicated a solution to them...except God has already made His will for our lives known. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” This is supported in Scripture:
"For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body…So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." 1 Corinthians 6:20, 10:31
In making choices, we are to choose what will bring glory to God. Discerning those kinds of choices requires an understanding of what the Bible says is pleasing and not pleasing to God. Only in that context is it fair to say "God told me".
For instance, I once told a friend how in my backslidden college days I would get drunk every week. But I increasingly felt in my heart I was doing something sinful.
“That was the Holy Spirit speaking to you,” she said.
She wasn’t completely off-target. In a way, God had spoken to me. As a churched person, I was aware of what God’s Word said about how drunkenness is sinful (Ephesians 5:18). It might not have been at the forefront of my mind, but the foreknowledge was enough to convict my heart.
If you’re faced with choosing one job over another, consider which one will glorify God. Perhaps one involves more hours and would lead you to neglect your family. Perhaps the other utilizes your strengths, making you thrive as a worker. Regardless, choose glorifying God, and you will be submitting to His will. No meditation necessary.
Proponents of hearing God’s voice or special revelation point to the mass of examples in the Bible where God speaks to people in miraculous ways, from burning bushes to booming audible voices. But these are not experiences that are characteristic of the ordinary Christian life. In his book Gospel and Wisdom, Graeme Goldsworthy writes:
“Every case of special guidance given to individuals in the Bible has to do with that person’s place in the outworking of God’s saving purposes…There are no instances in the Bible in which God gives special and specific guidance to the ordinary believing Israelite or Christian in the details of their personal existence."
In response to this line of thinking, my brothers and sisters in Christ who support the God-told-me trend say, “No, but God loves you!”
We need a biblically-sound understanding of our relationship with God. Contending that God speaks to us only through His living Word is not the same thing as believing that God is impersonal, unloving, and distant.
In fact, encouraging Christians to open their minds to God’s Jiminy Cricket voice can be damaging. What happens if you don’t receive any divine words? What does that say about your faith? If God loves you, why isn’t He speaking to you?
This supposes that feeling or hearing God’s voice is the sole barometer of His love. I have seen this idea cause misery in my friends’ hearts. We need to be responsible in understanding the implications of what we say.
Conversely, "frozen, chosen Presbyterians" such as myself must be sensitive toward those who use "God told me" in conversation. Understand what one means first when they say this, and then seek to challenge and ask questions. Of course, always with unity in mind, not division.
About the Author
Rachel Noelle Sammons majored in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. She currently works as a publicist at a Christian publishing house in Orlando, Florida.