Learning to hear the voice of God in our hearts and minds is a practice that we get better at as we mature. We can not always be sure if we are merely talking to our higher selves or some other part of ourselves, or God. It is certain that often, it is not God.
But the question remains, does God ever enter into a conversational relationship with us? The common Christian answer is yes.
As part of my reading in Wilken’s Christian Ethics, I have come across John Hare’s list of principles for hearing the direct commands of God (as part of Divine Command Ethics). I found them very helpful, and added my own additional point. Enjoy.
God’s voice involves:
- Clarity: God’s communication is clear, specific, and persistent. Attempts to ignore it are not easily shaken.
- External Origin: God’s communication is experienced as extraordinary, and seen as not from ourselves. A common experience is “I would not have said that.”
- Familiarity: God’s voice is external, but yet familiar – like the self-authenticating witness of our sonship (Romans 8:16). This voice is learned over time as instruction, and is not merely an infantilizing command (Hebrews 6:1). It is participation with God in our growth and decision-making abilities. It brings maturity.
- Authority: God’s voice comes with moral authority and specific conviction (2 Corinthians 7:10).
- Providential Care: God’s counsel is given with patience and compassion, with love for our being and others as its motive.
- Corroborating Desire: Sometimes an over-active conscience can meet all of the criteria above, yet not be from God because, as Paul wrote, such a “weak” conscience is immature and not reflective of how God interacts with us (1 Cor. 13:1-13. Also, see my series on this religious pathology known as Scrupulosity). Rather, since we believe God is at work within us to will and to do his will (Philippians 2:13), we should expect any legitimate “voice” we hear has been preceded by a corresponding work of God in our hearts, giving us a positive desire for the work. If absent, we should table the communication as “probably not the voice of God.” While the case of Jonah and Nineveh may seem to contradict this principle, or at least show that in some cases God’s command initiates the change of heart and desire, as a victim of hyper-spiritualizing the perception of God’s voice, I find this principle a needed safeguard from abusing one’s self with unrealistic and non-God-initiated commands that are not in our hearts to do, yet defended as “cross-bearing.”
Any other meaningful principles of hearing the voice of God that you would like to add?