Hey back, Isaac,
Last time, your closing paragraph, about claiming God “gave us a word” and thus risking taking His name in vain, is one of those salient points that should make any reader go … “ooooohh.”
Greg Koukl pointed out that Christians often get offended when people exclaim “Oh God!”. We say “How dare you take his name in vain!” And then we get a “Word from the Lord” and tell someone whom they should or should not marry. Who’s committing the most serious sin in taking the Lord’s name in vain? Ours does much more damage.
Further on that truth: from what I understand, the Fourth Commandment wasn’t just a ban on saying God’s Name aloud when one isn’t actually addressing Him. That is included, but I’m very sure the wider meaning was that the Hebrews, by their actions, should not profane the Name of God to others by what they do.
Two recent (at the time of this writing, Jan. 14) news stories add even more to this point.
The first is the life-shattering earthquake in Haiti. Christians need to clarify that God is not weak; the earthquake didn’t stun Him. But should we say “the earthquake was God’s will” as some might? It is like we should, in one sense, only among ourselves as Christians. But even then we must be careful, because many Christians (likely because they haven’t been taught) are not careful to distinguish God’s on-the-surface will from His deeper will.
Revealed will: God hates sin and suffering. Deeper will: He allows it anyway, for reasons only He knows but that even now we can begin to see, for greater good and His glory.
The second related issue is Pat Robertson’s statement that God’s will is judging Haiti for some sin in the past (such as a “pact with the Devil”). As you said, this seems to take the Lord’s Name in vain as much as anyone who utters His Name aloud as part of a vile cussphrase.
Disclaimer: I think an equal problem to Pat Robertson’s self-righteous announcements is making equally self-righteous pronouncements against him — playing the “I’m the good cop” Christian game, trying to elevate ourselves in the world’s eyes. But instead of falling into the same sin of spiritual arrogance, we ought to plead: Mr. Robertson, you ought to first, get off the TV and come back and renounce false “prophecies”; second, understand that in the deepest sense, anything that happens is according to God’s will! Make it clear God does hate sin and suffering, but that He allows it — like the tower disaster in Luke 13: 1-4 — to remind people to repent!
What I find most often, is people do not use the principles in the Bible to make sound decisions themselves. Often, we wish to get a clear answer about God instead of making a decision for ourselves, taking the responsibility.
Like many Christians do when they claim “God told me” something, I can illustrate this truth with a Personal Anecdote. Recently I visited extended relatives over the holiday break. Someone, in a personal story of her own, told me “God told her” to give a Bible to someone.
Did she take God’s Name in vain? I’m not sure what to say about that. Isn’t it always good to share the Word with someone? Wouldn’t that obviously be in God’s revealed will? So why not just say you followed those clear written words from Him, rather than claiming some special Spirit whisper inside? In this instance, I just smiled and nodded. That action was likely more honoring to God, and to her, than picking a fight with her wording would have been.
But what if she said God wanted her to donate her entire life savings to Joyce Meyer Ministries or something? — and I, knowing her better years later, had already let her “get away” with claiming God’s direct word about her more-minor actions, and not said anything?
Really I think it comes back to being careful about our language. Someone may say God told me directly to do this and mean it very sincerely. As you said, that can still happen! But in so many cases it’s hard not to say that, or use that, as a way of setting ourselves up as so very Spiritual: God speaks to me directly. Thus the implication: Hmm, does He speak to you directly?
This seems much too close to a Gnosticism-type Christianity, in which the Holy Spirit constantly speaks mainly and “loudest” to people on a very deep Spiritual level that only very Spiritual people can hear.1 But rather than forcing us to cringe and listen closely to whatever God might be saying in between the lines of life, the Bible gives us all the same Word. And yes, it takes physical work with actual language, to understand it. I don’t mean to imply it is easy. But it’s less difficult than how some say it is!
Here’s another point I heard somewhere If God only gave us nudges and whispers, rather than primarily speaking with His direct Word (as He has!), He would be cruel and unloving.
Last time, you mentioned looking for precedents in Scripture about finding God’s will. I think many people actually do look there for precedents, but only selectively. For example, some homeschooling-oriented Christians look to Middle-eastern culture of Old Testament days and their courtship practices2 as precedent for matching up in modern times. But they never have their daughters sneak into the handsome field worker’s property when he’s in high spirits from too much drinking, and lay at the foot of his bed until he wakes up and then you say he’s your choice of a mate — a la the book of Ruth!
You also mentioned the many examples of people in Scripture asking for God’s wisdom, but making choices on extra-Biblical matters without waiting for a supposed “direct word from the Lord.” Do you think Christians blithely see past those? For example, the many times Paul in his missionary travels just went to Antioch or Crete or Attalia in Asia Minor and did not wait for a direct leading from the Lord. Instead, readers subconsciously pay more attention to the Spirit not allowing Paul and his fellow missionaries to enter one place and sending them elsewhere, or the way Moses heard from God in the burning bush, and perceive those as the way God normally works. Again, it’s selective. I wonder how much of that ties into the “life verse” fallacy, where someone bases his lifestyle or ministry on favorite parts of the Bible, ignoring the rest.
That probably means that if we were to question someone’s “word from the Lord” about even where to buy a new car, he/she would be upset and assume we believe God never speaks or acts miraculously. Of course we believe He does! Yet like you said, that’s not the Biblical rule for living. We should not expect Him to give us extra revelation when He’s already closed the canon of written Scripture, and gives us wisdom and the abilities to grow in it, with His Spirit’s help.
So here are my closing questions for next time: how do we react when someone says “God told me” such-and-such? Do we nitpick? Lovingly ask deep questions? Ignore it? And especially if someone is using that as a reason/excuse not to make a decision and take the consequences if it turns out to be “wrong” — that is, if God uses it to help us the hard way — what can we do?
Again, Godspeed! And in Him,
- You know what’s strange? We can’t just dismiss this as the beliefs of some “fringe” Christians who believe in “name it, claim it” or the prosperity “gospel” or sinless perfection in this life. My relative was a firmly Baptist woman. I can’t help but wonder if this teaching gets about such circles because they are kind of craving Holy Spirit-type beliefs somewhere. Baptists tend to frown upon exuberant worship in church, etc. ↩
- They are barely described in Scripture anyway! ↩