There are certain experiences that are just common to being a Christian, and pretty much everybody who’s been a Christian longer than a few days has had them.
Here’s one: You’re reading your Bible, minding your own business, when out of the clear blue sky one of the verses smacks you right between the eyes, with an immediate practical effect. It might be that you suddenly know what to do about a certain situation in your life. It might be a particularly targeted word of comfort, or a sudden understanding of someone else’s point of view. You might have read that verse hundreds of times before — you might even have it memorized. But in that verse, at that moment, God suddenly opens your eyes.
Depending on your background, you may call it a rhema, a prophetic revelation, a word of wisdom, or the Holy Spirit making application of the doctrine circulating in your soul. The description does make a practical difference, but that’s beyond the scope of our discussion at the moment. The point at the moment is that if you’ve been a Christian any length of time, you’ve had this experience, and it’s undeniably supernatural.
Cut away all the theological window-dressing that we pile on top of it, and there it is: God spoke to you, and what He gave you was more than the written text of Scripture. I can hear the protesting: “No, it was just an understanding of how to apply the Scriptures!” Yes, it certainly was. Where did it come from? From God. And a moment before, you didn’t have it. God communicated that understanding to you, at a specific time and place. Whether He used particular words or a picture in your head or a sudden gestalt awareness, God spoke to you.
So let’s just dispense with the argument over whether God still speaks today. We all know better. And let’s be honest, it’s not like that argument ever had a biblical leg to stand on anyway. God makes Adam and talks to him. God speaks to Noah, Abraham, Moses, the entire nation of Israel, Joshua, numerous judges, David, Solomon, a whole potful of prophets, Peter, Paul, Agabus, the daughters of Philip. “But He doesn’t still speak that way to His people today,” said no biblical author ever. No, seriously, where does it ever say, anywhere, that He has stopped speaking to His people? Yeah. Nowhere.
I know, I know. Many leading theologians think God has stopped speaking to His people today. They have heaped up arguments and reasons until the pile rivals the size of the Tower of Babel.
But when pressed, they will admit that they, too, have had this experience. God has spoken to them just as He has spoken to the rest of us, and they know it.
In Jesus and by the power of the Spirit, we have been invited into the perichoretic fellowship of the Triune Godhead. God speaks to us, and we know it. What we can’t explain is why we hear Him so rarely, and so poorly. So let us just admit from the outset that all those arguments that God no longer speaks are so much theological thumb-sucking. They are self-comfort, a sop to our wounded consciences. We know we need to hear from God more than we do, but if we can blame it on Him, then we don’t have to take responsibility.
So let us lay aside the thumb-sucking, and commence with the much more interesting and useful discussion of why we hear God so poorly, and how we can hear Him better.