We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Rethinking "God says"

The idea that God speaks to us is found in the Bible starting in Genesis and going right on through the New Testament.  In his commentary on the book of Hebrews, Hebrews (John Knox Press, 1997), Thomas G. Long makes the point that the idea that God speaks to us is a metaphor, and he then lists quite a number of ways in which God "speaks".  As one works through the list, it seems that God speaks primarily through human experiences—experiences of prayer, worship, an inner presence, hearing stories, in theological debate, in nature, even experiences in committee meetings.

That being the case, it may be helpful to those who wrestle with traditional conceptions of God to reframe the metaphor of a speaking deity into one that focuses on spiritual experiences, that is experiences in which the Holy Spirit touches us in the deeper places of our heart and gut.  This may be particularly helpful in a culture that is inundated with heaping mounds of media generated words that we have learned not to trust.  We simply do not share the biblical understanding of the power of the spoken word, which is that spoken words are themselves actions.  We are more apt to say that a picture is worth a thousand words or to disparage speeches or even books as "just so much verbiage."  "I've heard that before," we utter in boredom and disbelief.  And we would rather a person walk the walk than talk the talk.  We say, "talk is cheap."

In our culture, on the other hand, experiences matter.  They are valued.  So, for some and maybe many it just makes more sense that God the Spirit touches us than it does that God speaks to us.