a HUGE issue for me now, among the multitude of issues i have with Christianity/my personal religious practice, is understanding what it means to “hear from God.”
having grown up in the church, i am extremely well acquainted with “christianese.” i can very quickly switch into the language that many Christians use without a second thought. “Amen!” “God is good, all the time!” “I’ll keep you in my prayers.” “well, i’m just thankful to God…He gets all the glory.”
“In my quiet time, God laid this on my spirit.”
“I could hear God saying to me to…”
“I believe God is telling me to….”/ “I feel called to…” / “This must be God speaking through [this or that circumstance]”
again, I used to make these statements, especially the last set of statements above, in all sincerity. I didn’t, generally speaking, say these things to impress people.
it was the only way i knew how to articulate and express my personal relationship with God.
when you relate to someone, at least from a human perspective, there needs to be some means of communicating with each other. in fact, being spoken to by God, depending on the medium, can be a litmus test as to your Christianity, especially from a perspective of fundamentalism. “if you aren’t hearing from God, then you must be ‘in sin,’ which would mean that God would no longer speak to you ” or “God is always speaking, but many times our hearts are ‘too hard’ to listen to His voice.”
so if i was growing in God and in my “spiritual life,” then, of course, i was hearing “the voice of God.” i don’t mean hearing an audible voice. i just mean that i was “hearing,” or really, understanding what God was saying to me at a particular time through a particular scripture i was reading. i believed i was being spoken to by “feeling peace” about something, or by the opportunities available (or not) in certain situations, or by answers to prayers, or in sermons i might hear that i was totally not expecting on a certain sunday morning.
the list is endless.
so, of course, if i said something wrong, believed something wrong, or did something wrong, even though i thought i was hearing from God, then it was my fault for not hearing correctly. honestly, this made sense to me. i misunderstood things every day. why would hearing from God be any different?
but then, life happened. and the questions started.
i had certain feelings that, when i would have them, i would think that i was hearing from God (whether positively or negatively). but after i was prescribed antidepressant medication, many of those feelings stopped.
so did that mean God wasn’t speaking to me that way any longer? was that God speaking at all? how was i supposed to know?
since i could screw up in terms of hearing from God, how could i REALLY know whether or not i was hearing from God through any medium? to me, saying that God has spoken to you was a big deal. pastors, preachers, and other people in authority delivered the “Word of God” every week. were they always correct in what they heard? if they were the spokespeople for God, and they gained their authority from their ability to hear God better than the regular old lay Christian could, why were there so many different messages being preached? how could you tell if what they were preaching was marred by a crummy relationship with God that his congregation didn’t know about, or distorted by some undiagnosed and unmedicated condition, or just plain error? no one is perfect, and i’ve said things to people about God to the best of my ability that may have totally been incorrect. but i wasn’t responsible for a whole congregation of people. how does a pastor know if he is REALLY hearing from God?
how am i supposed to know for myself? it’s been easy for me to just stop saying that i hear from God, because i don’t want to be wrong and mislead anyone. i may think that i hear something from God, but there’s no way i’ll tell someone else what that is, because i have no way in hell of knowing whether it is right, wrong, or some gray area in between.
but i’ve now drawn very strange looks from my friends in the faith when i ask my questions about hearing from God. one friend looked at me incredulously when i asked about how you know you hear from God. she said, “you don’t know if you have heard from God? can’t you remember hearing from God in the past? are you saying that you’ve never known if you’ve heard from God?’
having the conversation was like falling down a flight of stairs. but i didn’t let it go. “i’m just asking ‘how do you know?’ i don’t know that i’ve heard from God. i can think that i have, but i could be wrong also.”
so when i continue to ask how you know, i usually end up with, “well, you just KNOW.”
i gotta admit, that’s not good enough for me, at least from a standpoint of being able to tell someone else that i’ve “heard from God.” i’ve spoken enough Christianese, which is easy to speak blindly because it is so accepted and expected in the church culture. Christianese can be, or at least, can become, empty and meaningless. i don’t want to mislead others with my words. i don’t want my words to be empty.
i want to be able to know what i mean, and mean what i say, when i speak.