Tuesday, October 23, 2012

God Told You That? Really?

This article was first published yesterday at blogs.christianpost.com here


If one stays around long enough in religious circles, one will be familiar with "God speak." In churches or Christian organizations, there will be words like, "Hallelujah! Praise God!" when one is happy. Then there will be words like "God's will is this, or God's will is that." Some people will boldly proclaim,

"Few days ago, God spoke to me about ......."

Who is right? Or is God wrong?
Really? Did God appear to you in a vision or some kind of a dream? Did God just email you or send you a letter from heaven? Is there a visible voice that is whispered from above? God told you that, really?

Don't misunderstand me. I believe God speaks to us. I believe that there are legitimate ways in which God can use the media of the world to speak to us. Having said that, the devil uses the media too. In fact, the devil tempts Jesus by quoting the Word of God to Jesus almost verbatim! God-talk can be deceiving. For some, it can be downright dangerous. Recently, Mark Galli writes about the dangers of God-talk.
"The Incarnation and Jesus' talk about God suggest that there is more than one way to blaspheme—that is, to be irreverent and impious. That would be to so exalt the transcendence of God that there is no room left in the imagination for the scandalous Emmanuel, God with us." (Mark Galli, "God Talk is Dangerous," Christianity Today, July 2012)
He argues for the merits of apophatic theology. In contrast to a Western world that prides in an affirmative "God is like this," or "God is like that," apophatic theology prefers to speak on what it does not know and affirms in in a negative manner, such as, "God is NOT like this," or "God is NOT that."

Personally, I have three reservations whenever people use the Name of God as a prefix to their words.

1) Danger of Pontification

Whenever people invokes the Name of God in their phrases, if our first instinct is complete belief in what they say, we will be asking ourselves, what kind of position are we to speak against the Messenger of God? If God is speaking through that person, boy we better listen fast, listen hard, and be ready to do something about it. Cult leaders are masters of this art. By invoking God's Authority and Power in their words, followers will be bound to obey them, for to disobey them is tantamount to disobeying God.

Sometimes, this happens to congregational members who follow passionately their leaders. Whether it is the bishop or the priest, the senior pastor or the chief prophet, the highly regarded spiritual leader, rightly or wrongly, will be deemed to be closer to heaven than anyone else in the congregation. I have heard a fair number of people calling their pastors or respected preachers, "He is anointed," or "He is Holy-Spirit driven."

In this case, spiritual leaders especially must be on constant guard, not to misuse the Name of God in their ministry to the flock, lest they pontificate without knowing it.

2) Blaspheming God in the Name of Self

According to Elmer Towns in "When God is Silent," there are four possible scenarios whenever people claim to speak for God. Firstly, they are "self-deceived." They have lost touch of reality, either due to physical or medical conditions. Secondly, they can be "self-induced" mystics. The mystery of their words from God raises more questions than giving answers about God's speaking. Thirdly, there is the plain liar, who just wants to use God's Name for self gain. Some of the biggest culprits tend to be those miracle healers or word of faith preachers. Fourthly, there is the demonic source.What Towns is arguing for is the need to listen to God as a community rather than a sensational revelation to only one individual. In other words, if God is speaking, in the New Covenant era, He does not limit it to only one person. He speaks to more.

Spiritual discernment as a community is a common practice among many Christian groups. One such group is the Quakers, where community discernment remains the key way to practice their understanding of God's guidance and calling. Spiritual discernment is community discernment. This is the modus operandi of the Church after Pentecost.

The Mosaic commandment remains very instructive for us.

"You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name." (Deuteronomy 5:11)

If we need God's Name just to beef up our own sense of ego, or our own worth, then we have failed to appreciate what it means to be made in the image of God. We do not need a label to be deemed worthy. We are already worthwhile that Jesus died for us on the cross.

3) Plain Ignorance / Bad Use of Language

My third concern is about the ignorance of people simply because they do not know the Word of God. Jesus' reprimand needs to be remembered. When He heard about the arguments of marriage and how the Sadducees and Pharisees argued about the resurrection and the marriage in the afterlife, he corrected them by saying, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? "

Poor leadership is bad. Poor followship is equally bad. If members of the congregation fail to adopt the Berean mindset of checking out the Scriptures, and compare them with what they have seen or heard, it is bad for the entire community. Let me also remind leaders that when members check out what you say with Scriptures, it is not a slight on what you say. It is basically preferring to check back with what God has said in the Bible. There is no need to take things personal.

Along with this potential plain ignorance of the common folk, there is also the bad use of language, not knowing the implications of what one is saying. Some time ago, I hear my kids blurting out, "Hallelujah!" to the tune of Handel's Messiah when they feel momentarily happy. When the printer finally works, they sing, "Hallelujah!" by reflex. When the bus arrives, they chimes, "Praise God!"

Yes, happiness deserves some verbal release. But not in the name of God. Use other words please.

God Can Still Speak, Silent or Otherwise

So where does this leave us? Let me say that I am not against people who have actually received a word from the Lord. I am simply practicing discernment, suspending of judgment for or against, retaining a careful balance of checking with the Scriptures, and discerning what kind of a voice is speaking. I am not dismissing anybody's claim. I just do not want to take in things I am not sure about so quickly.

Finally, there is the discomfort of silence. Here, I like to take a leaf from Ruth Tucker's book, that when God is silent, it does not mean He is slighting us or ignoring us. He is actually giving us space to celebrate.
"God's silence is not something that we ought to merely accept or endure. The silence is our refuge. We can find solace in the silence of God. Should we not therefore celebrate the silence of God - or if not celebrate it, at least cultivate it as part of our spiritual sojourn? Barbara Brown Taylor offers insights as she captures the essence of Max Picard's poetic eulogy, The World of Silence: 'Pickard says that silence is the central place of faith, where we give the Word back to the God from whom we first received it. . . In silence, we travel back in time to the day before the first day of creation, when all being was still part of God's body. It had not yet been said, and silence was the womb in which it slept." (Ruth A. Tucker, God Talk, IVP, 2005, p165)
We do not need to affix God's Name before or after our words, in order to authenticate our talk. As long as we speak the truth, and not use the Name of God in vain, we are already honouring God in spirit and in truth. We can still talk as believers without having to insert God's Name in all of our conversations. Honouring God is in speaking the truth in love. God's Name is not diminished just because we do not use His Name literally. His Name is proclaimed each time we uphold truth and love one another as Jesus has loved us.


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