God as our leader and guide, Part 3
For 27 straight years, I started classes in September, from Kindergarten through several grad school programs. Much of this study was focused in topics such as math, engineering, theology, biblical languages, and philosophy, so I am pretty reflexive about responding to life from the rational side. It is certainly not accidental that I have chosen to spend the rest of my adult life in a university town.
Having said that, I am intrigued by how often good choices in life are not irrational, but are more than, or beyond, only the rational. Often this involves what we call “intuition” which I will think out loud about in a later post. But, it isn’t only intuition, it is also the realm of voices, dreams, and visions that are a part of the Judeo-Christian heritage. For the most part this area of life has been discredited in the modern West. You can actually be admitted to psychiatric care if you claim such guidance and get crossed up with the doctors.
Now without question, people have used these areas of experience to attempt to validate horrible actions and great destruction. But, it is not very rational to discredit an area just because it can be misused. Most of us have not discredited reason just because Nazi Germany was the most scientific, most educated, and most “rational” society on earth at the time. The holocaust was carried out with amazing rationality of both purpose and technique. Scary isn’t it?!
And, most of us have not joined the most radical of the post-modern theorizing that attempts to “rationally” discredit all rational value systems and worldviews as nothing but power grabs. Of course, they tend to exclude their own systematic conclusions from this attempt to destroy the claims of all of the others. Meanwhile, most of us who like to think about these things, learn from the post-modern insights, and there are many, without deciding to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Reasonable systems with all of their flaws are still usually better than total chaos and anarchy.
So, just because “voices, dreams, and visions” have been misused and misappropriated, let’s not discard the capacity as one God can use to guide human beings. The NT is clear that all such claims should be “tested” by the community using valid God-given values and principals. Nevertheless, the capacities are real. This is certainly reflected in God’s great Biblical story that God has saved for us. Perhaps even more in the Hebrew Bible, but often enough in the New Testament, people are guided by such things as “a voice,” “the spirit,” “a vision,” or a “dream.”
Vision or Dream
At least 25 times in the New Testament, people receive Guidance from God through a dream or a vision. Apparently, a vision is something like a dream while awake. People are told where to go and where not to go. People’s lives are saved by warnings. People are told it is OK to get married, and what to name the baby. One person even first met the resurrected and exalted Jesus through a vision (Saul/Paul). One entire letter in the NT (Revelation) flows from the writer’s vision. The first major step across the line toward incorporating Gentiles into the Jewish community of faith in God’s work through Jesus came first as Peter’s vision. I know people who have received very important guidance through dreams (not so sure if I know about visions from personal experience) in the 20th and 21st century. I wonder how much guidance God might give us if we were more open to such guidance?
Voice from Heaven
Paul, who many dislike because of his lawyer like reasoning and insistence on rationality, claims to have not only had visions and dreams, but to have heard the voice of Jesus calling him an enemy prosecutor. Jesus is presented by the Gospel writers as having heard “the voice of heaven” upon several occasions as a response to his faithful obedience. The writer of 2 Peter says that he was there and heard the voice from heaven that spoke to Jesus. The “bath qal” or “daughter of the voice” was a method of God’s guidance that the Rabbis too acknowledged as a gift from God.
On a personal level, much of God’s guidance does come to me through reason. Quite a bit of the most importance guidance comes through intuition. Some has come through intuition that is almost a voice other than my own – not quite a voice, but an idea that comes clearly and wholly intact, and does not at all seem to have been flowing from my line of thinking. (Not just musicians and artists, but also quite a few scientists, claim that their great breakthroughs included moments like that.)
And, a couple of times in life, I have heard a voice that seemed to me to be very clear direction that needed to be obeyed. One of my friends who tends to be almost as much a rationalist as I do, and who built his career on being rational, once heard a voice say “stop,” instantly hit the brakes, and watched a vehicle fly by inches away and right where he would have been if he had not hit the brakes.
I have experienced people claiming voices, visions, and dreams as guidance that has clearly not been guidance from God, but has instead been destructive, foolish and even evil. So, I certainly have no desire to give a carte blanche to such claims. But, I have spent my life with rationalists and reasoned research in science, philosophy, and theology, and that has certainly taught me not to give carte blanche to what seems to be reasoned and rational either. And, don’t most horrendous wars start from highly reasoned premises that include “proofs” that it will all be over soon and all will be well?
I find myself wondering, what new blessings might flow if I, if we followers of Jesus in the 21st century West, were more open to experiencing and testing these areas of guidance that are rational in their own way, but certainly occur in the area that is beyond being reduced to the rational only?
As always, if you have any questions or thoughts about this post, or if there is another topic you’d like me to explore in a future post, please leave a comment. I always enjoy your questions and thoughts.