Friday, September 14, 2012

Knowing God Personally

In one of my recent conversations someone expressed his belief that the God of the Bible is a myth - the attempt of non-scientific people of ancient times to explain natural phenomena. In his view, in modern times science has supplied answers that make religious belief obsolete. In his view, continuing to believe and teach the Bible (or other religious scriptures) is to perpetuate lies and superstition.

He made a comment to the effect that Christians only have an ancient (and to him nonsensical) book, but no direct ability to receive communication from the God we claim to believe in.

I disagreed. I said that I know God and that I have daily communication with God.

I don't believe that we are still receiving direct revelation from God through prophecy or special gifts of knowledge. I believe that those forms of revelation ceased after the death of the apostles. So how can I have communication with God?

First of all, I have the Bible. The Bible claims to be the very word of God. I believe that to be true and have studied it continuously for over 50 years. Having studied it, I am more convinced than ever that it is truly and objectively the word of God. (My friend has many objections that I will not go into here, but suffice to say that the objections are only convincing to people who do not know the Bible very well.) We know what God has said.

Secondly, I have prayer. The Bible teaches that we who have accepted God's gift of life through the death and resurrection of Christ have access to God in prayer (Hebrews 10:19-22). This is not magic (as my friend claims) but a reconciled relationship in which I as a creature can communicate with my Creator. We know that God hears us.

Thirdly, I have the Holy Spirit of God. The Bible teaches that God's Spirit lives in believers and opens their eyes, hearts and minds to God's truth (1 Corinthians 2:12). The Holy Spirit does not give me new objective truth, but He applies the objective statements of the Bible to the circumstances of my life so that my conscience is informed about how I ought to live. We "hear" God's directions in God's Word, applied by God's Spirit to our current circumstances.

My sense that this is "God's will" is subjective and may be reinforced or corrected by further study, prayer or consultation with godly people. The Bible warns that we should "...not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).  It is all too easy for me to hear other voices - pride, personal interests, misunderstanding of scripture or even misunderstanding of the circumstances I am facing.

But the direction of God is available if I care to humble myself and listen carefully and prayerfully. So we can say, "We know God and we have daily communication with Him."

Are there modern scientific explanations of these experiences? The communication theorist would point to the fact that there are many channels for communication - some overt and others very subtle. She would say that people can sometimes communicate without words - essentially "reading each other's minds." A psychologist would say that the subjective mind works on questions invisibly in the background. He might say that the conscience is revealing what the subconscious mind has put together about possible courses of action.

Does their scientific explanation mean that God is not really communicating with me?

Not at all. The scientific explanations about how communication and the conscience function are perfectly compatible with what we believe about communication with God. That they function with other data and experience too - even in unbelievers - is no surprise.

  • The Bible is the objective word from God, but there is communication on other channels as well.
  • Prayer is our expressive communication to God, in which we are actively thinking about our circumstances and what we know about God's will and God's power.
  • The Conscience is the interface used by God's Spirit through subconscious channels, in which we perceive how God's word is to be applied to our life situations.

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