God Can Do A Lot of Different Things

So, if you’ve been tracking this blog, you already know that I get a little grumpy about folks claiming they hear from God all the time. My biggest concerns with the whole “hearing from God” phenomenon are that (1) there’s no biblical precedent for it, (2) it redefines the voice of God as an inner impulse or coincidental sign that is immeasurably tiny and meager compared to the overwhelming kinds of ways in which God is actually depicted as communicating in the scriptures, and (3) it substitutes the firm foundation of a scriptural grounding for an ongoing quest to figure out what God wants of me in a way that smacks of pagan diviners looking for a sign to determine what the capricious spirits want of them each day. I consider that a step backward from the Christian tradition toward the more primitive cults that preceded it.

One of the most frequent responses to my line of thinking is something like “couldn’t God communicate through these subtle means if he wanted to?” That came up in the comments in the previous post, and I’m glad it did. It can from someone who is pretty clearly thinking about these issues in an open and healthy way, and they reminded me that I need to address that question specifically.

It reminds me of when I was a single preacher-wanna be back in seminary. I was good friends with the administrative assistant for the graduate school of theology, and I would drop by her office to chat between classes sometimes. Occasionally the conversation would turn to the latest person I was dating, or whom I wished I was dating (but striking out with), and Lynell would say “Don’t you think that God is big enough to choose your spouse?” My typical response was “God is big enough to pick up this whole building and shake it until we all fall out.” The question isn’t what God is big enough to do, but what he is likely to do, based on what we know of him from the scriptures.

In other words, saying “but couldn’t God do [this thing that I want him to do] if he wanted to?” is a response that could apply to anything, including thousands of things that the person who says that would never agree that God was doing. God could send me messages through the arrangement of letters in my alphabet soup. God could decide what the next step of my life will be based on this week’s “Dora the Explorer” map. God could consider tomatoes an abomination, such that he will damn to hell anyone who willingly eats one, and doubly damn the fast food workers who put tomato slices on my sandwich even though I told them not to. In my crankiest moments, I briefly hope that is true.

Sure, those are absurd examples, but “couldn’t God do that if he wanted to?” supports them just as well as it supports “couldn’t God decide to speak into my heart in subtle ways?” If we’re going to move away from having a Biblical foundation for our practice, it’s going to be hard to know where to draw the line. I understand that for a lot of people, God sending them signs makes a lot of sense, but, again, the Christian tradition says that we aren’t really supposed to relying on what sounds good according to our own reasoning. That’s the whole point of having the mind of God revealed in scriptures. We don’t need to try to work this out for ourselves.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “God Can Do A Lot of Different Things

  1. joe

    Thank you for your thoughtful & respectful response.

    I think I agree with your main point that once you go down the “god could…” route, there’s no line to draw, and you run the risk of being wrong with god. Thus, it’s best to keep your mischievous mental paws off the idea that god does this or that in your life. Sounds like a somewhat good plan considering how often people can be wrong on these things.

    However, I can certainly see why people cling to this idea given modern circumstances. Who wouldn’t want a personal relationship with god to relate to on a daily basis given how isolated and individualistic this world is anymore? How could someone be fulfilled by the semi-absent view of god that you’re advocating?

    I have a sneaking suspicion that when we had the time for reflection in the past, that was an appropriate way to bring god’s presence to our lives. Now that we’re filling up our days with bits of information from various sources, I think modern people have dumbed down god to be yet another one of these common sources – something to be seen in everyday life whenever one can, for fear that if we don’t observe god, he won’t play any role in our lives.

    These posts have been great Kirk. Surely there’s been some other smart theologians who’ve tackled this huge subject of seeing god in ordinary things, right? Any book or article recommendations would be appreciated.

  2. Absolutely right! The question is NOT “can God” but rather “given what we know about God — how likely is it?” God is not small enough to pick a spouse for you. (and you did a great job for yourself)

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