Monday, January 28, 2013

A Familiar Voice

 Every day there are chances to be happy, sad or upset about things that are happening in the world.  All the latest news and views are available to us 24/7 via news websites and Twitter Feeds.  I try to look at both Christian and non-Christian information sources in order to get a broader picture of issues that interest or concern me.  After all my reading and listening I may develop an educated understanding of events, but I still feel a bit bereft, somehow, as if I’ve edged my way up, down and around the truth, but missed some important aspect of it. 

Of course, I try to figure out if the Bible has something the say about issues.  Quite often, it doesn’t say explicitly, “This is the truth about such-and-such” and that can be disconcerting.  It seems that God’s viewpoint about things like science, politics and even church practices is not laid out for us quite as clearly as we’d like it to be.  This can lead to relational tensions, both inside and outside the Church.  Certain subjects in particular seem to polarize Christians, all of whom think that their widely differing opinions most accurately reflect what the Bible teaches. 

Jesus famously said, “My sheep hear my voice.”  If the sheep seem to be hearing considerably different things, then something has gone amiss in the communication process and I dare say the problem lies with us rather than Jesus.

The noise
At times I do remember – almost as an afterthought - to ask the Lord for his point of view.  That is when I discover that, although my self-education about the issues may be helpful in forming an opinion, all the ideas milling around in my mind tend to drown out the still, small voice of God.  It amazes me to recognize how fiercely I cling to my considered opinions once they’ve settled in and made themselves at home in my head.  I tend to construct walls around them in order to protect my hard won intellectual territory. I may even post “sentries” at strategic spots on these walls and let them pepper enemy arguments with vaguely relevant Bible verses or not-so-subtle labelling (e.g. bleeding heart liberal, stick-in-the-mud conservative). Under such circumstances, if God wants to nudge my mind-set in a slightly different direction, I doubt I’ll hear or understand what he’s trying to say to me.

The big picture
And yet – I do want to know what God thinks!  Human wisdom is fine as far as it goes, but there is no replacement for hearing what the Creator of the universe has to say about how things ought to be working. God knows what is right and what needs to happen in each and every circumstance and he wants us to ask for his opinion.

“For my thoughts are nothing like your thoughts”, says the Lord. 
“And my ways are beyond anything you could imagine.” (Isaiah 55:8)
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.  
He will not rebuke you for asking. (James 1:5)

Having said that, I don’t know if God intends to hammer out definitive positions on every possible cultural, political or religious issue.  Sometimes the Bible writers were painting the bigger picture and we need to discern how to apply those general principles to individual situations.  Given that Jesus approached people and their problems in a number of creative ways during his ministry on earth, I doubt he would want his present-day followers to resort to cookie cutter solutions.  He is able to see beneath the surface and gauge the motivations of peoples’ hearts.  His view is wide and takes in every aspect of the matter.  He sees connections that we can’t, remembers exactly what happened in the past and knows what is in store for the future.  I believe that he can give us an understanding that we can’t develop using our own resources.

So, how does an earnest seeker of God’s opinion learn how to discern his voice from amongst all the others clamouring for attention? I’ve been trying to get better at this and have learned a couple of things along the way. 

Which comes first?
This may seem obvious, but it is quite helpful to ask God for his thoughts about an issue before seeking out the opinions of others, even if those others are trusted Christian teachers or theologians.  I’m not saying that we can’t benefit from the wisdom and learning of other Christians, but if we want to hear God’s opinion about something, it’s best to go straight to the source.  Jesus made it clear: if we belong to him, we can hear him speaking. The Holy Spirit is in our hearts and Jesus described the Spirit as a counselor who comforts, advises and shares God’s wisdom with us.  We can check out secondary sources afterward, but nothing beats listening to God first. 

What to expect
One more thing: expect surprises!  When he walked the earth, Jesus did not follow anyone’s party line.  He went straight to the Father for wisdom and sometimes his approach to people and their problems was unusual.  The things he said and did surprised even those closest to him.  As God has made clear, his thoughts and ways are very different from ours.  If we are to hear what he wants to communicate, we must be willing to allow our minds and hearts to stretch and grow in unexpected ways. I’ll close with a little story from my own life that illustrates this. 

Not all that long ago, we had a provincial election in Alberta.  I’ll admit that I haven’t been all that interested in politics since we moved here, as there is one party that wins most of the seats in landslide proportions every election and our city is a safe bet to gain them a seat or two. However, this last time, there was a serious contender for the premiership who swept in under the auspices of a new political party.  This added quite some interest to election debates and, since the present reigning elite was starting to get on my nerves with some of its policies, my interest was piqued.  As is the norm nowadays, the campaign heated up and mud was slung every which way.  Each time I read the paper or listened to outrageously edited sound bytes on television news shows, I felt upset because neither of the top two candidates nor their parties seemed to share my values.  In the back of my mind I remembered to pray, “Lord, give me discernment.” 

One day I happened to see an article in the newspaper about an issue dear to my heart, so I paid attention. The reporter quoted a politician, one I knew very little about.  He had been ousted from his former political party (the reigning incumbents) for criticizing the party’s track record in my area of interest. He had then proceeded to run for and gain the leadership of a different party.  Soon after reading that news item, I was channel surfing and happened to catch sight of this politician on a current events program, so I listened to what he was saying.  His party was so far behind the other front-runners, there was no chance he would be elected as premier, but I sensed that God was drawing my attention to him because of his character, not his chances of winning the election.  There was something about his general demeanor and the way he spoke that drew me to him.

Looking back, I don’t think God was trying to nudge a particular party or leader into power through my vote.  I asked him for discernment and he showed me how one politician shared some of my values.  Although I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time, it was important to me to vote for the person more so than the politics and God knew that. That’s what I mean about surprises.

Dietrich Bonheoffer once said, “All things appear as in a distorted mirror if they are not seen and recognized in God."  Perhaps he was referring to what the Apostle Paul said – that we see things imperfectly and our knowledge is partial and incomplete (1 Corinthians 13:12). God is the one who searches people’s hearts and knows what is necessary and important in every possible situation.  He is willing to share if we are willing to listen. 

Photo credits: sheep -
Roadway -