Why doesn’t God speak to people today like He did in the Bible?
I think lots of people ask this question. That said, I also think that we should think critically about the assumptions that might be behind it.
When it comes to the practical question of hearing from God, I suggest the main answer we should give is this:
“If you want to hear from God, listen to what Jesus says in His word. As the book of Hebrews tells us: ‘Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.’”
Also note that even in “Bible times”, though God would sometimes speak audibly with His prophets, we also get the impression that there were long periods of time where God was relatively silent, not doing miracles, etc. (think of the 400 years of slavery in Egypt and the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments).
The Christian church has historically recognized – with unanimity – certain Gospels, epistles, etc., as God’s authoritative voice, His infallible word, which applies to today. There is no doubt that confidence in this word has plummeted, sometimes even among Christians who consider themselves theologically conservative. Either the Bible merely contains but is not Gods’ word or it is something like Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the main intention not being to convey real history that speaks to us and forms us now, but rather to simply speak to us and form us now (see what happened there?)
So first of all, let us speak about the voice of God where we should know we have it. God’s Holy Spirit will certainly guide us – through the words of the Scriptures as well as words faithfully conveying those truths – acting on our mind and consciences… We do experience God in this way, full stop. This leads us to Christ, God’s “last word” in these “end times” (see above). Hearing and reading the word of God is experiencing God, for it is His communication to us, which leads to our good, right and salutary communicating with Him (in responsive prayer).
Now, if one were to hear God’s voice outside of these Scriptures it will not – if is truly God’s word – “go beyond what is written”, as Paul says, in addition to not contradicting what is read in the Bible. Not only this, but this voice will certainly not be giving us new information by which to make new doctrines. What would this voice do then – whether we are speaking of a voice heard audibly or sensed internally?
Well, let’s not move too quickly. First, note what Luther said about some people in his day who were saying that God created spiritual life and revealed doctrine to them – not via His “external word” – but via direct impressions in their heart, purportedly given to them by the “Holy Spirit”:
In a word, enthusiasm inheres in Adam and his children from the beginning [from the first fall] to the end of the world, [its poison] having been implanted and infused into them by the old dragon, and is the origin, power [life], and strength of all heresy, especially of that of the Papacy and Mahomet. 10] Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. 11] It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and Sacraments. For God wished to appear even to Moses through the burning bush and spoken Word; and no prophet neither Elijah nor Elisha, received the Spirit without the Ten Commandments [or spoken Word]. 12] Neither was John the Baptist conceived without the preceding word of Gabriel, nor did he leap in his mother’s womb without the voice of Mary. 13] And Peter says, 2 Pet. 1:21: The prophecy came not by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Without the outward Word, however, they were not holy, much less would the Holy Ghost have moved them to speak when they still were unholy [or profane]; for they were holy, says he, since the Holy Ghost spake through them.
I note that in large part because of this quotation from Luther (in the Smalcald Articles, an authoritative document of the Lutheran church), many Lutherans are determined to stick only with the Bible for guidance at all times. On the one hand, I can fully understand this, because if we abide in the Scriptures and hold these words to be the most important words we can be hearing, meditating on, and responding to, we can hardly go wrong. But on the other hand, this view can lead to a lack of nuance when nuance is necessary.
What do I mean by “lack of nuance”? In my next post, I will give a couple of examples…