Tuesday, November 04, 2008

If we read the Bible, do we want God to speak to us?

I came across this thought-provoking quote from John Goldingay about how we read the Bible:

If there are no aspects of scripture that they do not like and do not have to wrestle with, then they are kidding themselves. It means that they have bracketed them out or reinterpreted them. That is what as evangelicals we have to do. We know we have to accept all of scripture, so we make it mean something else so we can accept it. As a Bible teacher one of my basic concerns has become simply to get people to read the Bible with open eyes. Some people learn to, others do not. I want people to read the Bible, to be open to finding there things that they had not realized were there, to be enthralled and dazzled and appalled and infuriated and puzzled and worried and stimulated and kept awake at night by these extraordinary words from God, to let their mind and heart and imagination and will be provoked and astonished by them.
(John Goldingay, To the Usual Suspects: One Word Questions (Paternoster, 1998), 153-4)

The truth is that we don't want the Bible to make us feel uncomfortable. We want God's word to come in sugar-coated little gobbets that make us feel fuzzy, warm and loved.

The trouble is that the Bible is not an easy book and God - as CS Lewis - reminds us is a lion and when asked whether that lion is safe, the faun in narnia exclaimed: 'no, of course, he isn't safe. But he is good.'

Sometimes I wonder whether we really want God to speak to us - especially when what he says so often challenges deeply held beliefs. We're not sure that he has the right to correct what we've decided is true of him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Sometimes I wonder whether we really want God to speak to us - especially when what he says so often challenges deeply held beliefs."

Or looking at it from a different point of view: How can we be sure it is God speaking to us at all?

It's interesting isn't it? The 9/11 hijackers all claimed God was speaking to them. The Yorkshire Ripper claimed he heard the voice of God. Countless things have been carried out in God's name and at his supposed bidding - and not all of them great.

I remember when people would stand up in church with a prophecy or say that they had been "led to say" a particular thing by God. They were validated by various verses of Scripture - which were quoted from the pulpit. It's not my place to judge their sincerity, but an awful lot of it was plain nonsense and a chance for them to "have a say". Indeed, some even used it to critical of other members of the church, saying things like: "God's told me that he thinks you should be more free in your worship - he's asking you to dance, or raise your hands." Frankly, if God had wanted me to do that, he could have told me himself.

I have known several people who claim that they are guided in all that they do by God's voice. But if God really does speak to Christians, I can't help but wonder why he doesn't make things a bit better in the world. For example, George W Bush, the soon-to-be ex-President of the USA, claims he hears the voice of God to guide him in his presidency. And I'm sure the people of Iraq or Syria might question the validity of that voice.

I suppose as Christianity is all about "faith", then to trust the voice of God must also be a matter of faith.

And that's a bit like asking whether what I see as the colour green is the same as your colour green? There's not really any independent verification. You see when you say things like "hearing God speak to us", you could replace God with words like "conscious", "subconscious", "Allah", "Buddha" or even "The Clangers."

A little bit of intellectual rigour and honesty might go a long way to rid the church of this strange language.

If God does speak to people these days, why do they treat it so casually? If God spoke to me, not only would he confirm his existence, but I'd leap into action.

Just a thought.