The reader in our Church has a warm, rich voice with the trace of a Scottish brogue. When he reads, his voice proclaims the Gospel with the best of them. I never gave it much thought, except that one day when his booming voice filled the sanctuary, my daughter (still young, and too short to see past the parishioners) tugged on my arm urgently. “Dad! Dad.. is that GOD talking?” You could be forgiven if you chuckled over that.
It made me think back to the Biblical classics that used to come on TV when I was a kid. The Robe, The Ten Commandments, Ben Hurr, Barabbas, King of Kings, The Greatest Story Ever Told… God had a deep booming voice with a British accent. Listening to him was like listening to a BBC news announcer. It’s a quaint take on what it must be like to hear God talk, and very Anglo-centric. If you are a Christian you cannot have read the Bible without thinking about all those people who said God talked to them. Was it audible words? Was it a voice in their heads? How did they know?
Life as a Christian, is to be a stranger in a strange land. Sometimes we would like to hear the voice of God. It would make things a bit easier to have some direct input rather than having to rely on the revelations of other people. Revelation is a hot topic. It sure would be good to have God up close and personal. Forget what would Jesus do. How about a few direct commandments? The prophet Samuel got his call that way. He kept waking up the priest Eli to ask who was it was he heard calling him in the night.
Though feelings are a bit of an elusive marker, it seems that sometimes the Gospel does ring out loud and clear in our hearts. I am thinking of the travellers on the road to Emmaus for whom Jesus opened the Scriptures which predicted his death and resurrection. “Did not our hearts burn within us when he talked to us on the road?” There is also the many instances given in Scripture where God spoke to prophets like Daniel and Joseph through dreams. Joseph was assured in a dream that he should marry Mary. He was also warned later on that they should flee to Egypt until the evil Herod died and they were out of danger.
If you are already a believer, no doubt at some point you “heard” the voice of God through a preacher. Like it says in the tenth chapter of Romans, “…how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” How indeed? It might be as much revelation as you get. Jesus himself noted in the Parable of the Rich Man (who wanted to come back from the grave to warn his brothers): they had the law and the prophets. What makes you think that any further witness would do the trick?
Some out there claim to have heard the voice of God. It makes you wonder if they are better Christians, somehow more holy than you are. There is a veritable cottage industry of cult figures out there in Bible Land who want you to think that God is talking only to them, and you had better buy their books so you can find out what He is saying. I have even had spam which featured headliners like “This is God” or “Click here to see a picture of Heaven”. That such things exist means they must catch at least a few fish. No doubt the link tells you to also wire cash to Nigeria. There are people out there who want to believe so badly that they bypass what sensible people should be able to figure out.
False prophets are spoken of in the book of Numbers, chapter 22. It’s the story of the prophet Balaam and the evil king Balak who wants to use a divinely appointed soothsayer to predetermine his victories in battle. Balaam cautions the King that he can only say what God tells him to say, no more and no less. The warning gets a little more dire when Balaam is riding his donkey and the donkey stops dead in its tracks because of an angel up ahead. When Balaam beats the obstinate beast, it speaks aloud to him with a human voice. Just in case you ever accused anybody of talking out of their...
Thinking back on my own life, there have been a few twists where I am sure that on some level, I “heard” the voice of God, maybe because I was desperate enough to listen a little closer. Sometimes that meant doing the difficult thing that promised no immediate guarantee. I am glad for those times when I did listen, and also thinking about some of the wrong turns I made, where my “hearing” seemed to be affected by wishful thinking that justified my own choices. Prayer helps. It means the communication lines are already open. It makes me think of that famous exchange between Larry King and Mother Theresa. He wanted to know what she asked God for when she prayed. She replied “I don’t ask for anything, I just listen.” (Larry King) “Really? What does God say to YOU then?” (Mother Theresa) “Nothing, He listens too….”
Jesus said “my sheep hear my voice, and they know me”. I think eventually everything comes out in the wash. No one has untrammelled good luck their entire lifetime. Sometimes even righteous people go through some fairly miserable things, sometimes earned and sometimes not. Still, the trajectory of their choices seems to fall on one side of the line or the other. You can pretty much tell when someone has lived a good life. It’s also evident at a funeral when that question is wanting. Everyone squirms a bit while the preacher talks in comfortable platitudes and generalities. Still, “By their fruit shall ye know them” sound like good advice. In an age where everyone seems to be looking for proof, it might be as good as it gets.