Monday, October 31, 2011

Discerning God's Word (Voice) Today

In my final year of Seminary, I pastored a small rural church in a little Indiana farm community. This was a seminary pastorate; the church didn’t expect me to stay after graduation and I didn’t expect to stay. As graduation drew close, I was ready to go on to bigger and better things. The problem was that no one else seemed ready for me to go on to bigger and better things. I had sent out resumes. No response. Not even a nibble. Churches were not exactly knocking on my door wanting me to come. In fact, they were not even sending me any rejection letters. This went on for several months. I began to question my calling. At one point I was so filled with anxiety that I found it difficult to sit in class. I felt miserable and felt guilty for feeling so miserable. And the feelings of guilt for doubting my calling and questioning my faith compounded my anxiety. 

I happened to be taking a pastoral counseling class at the time and the professor said something very simple that struck me as quite profound at the time. I heard it as a word from God. He said, “It’s okay to feel bad.” Pretty simple isn’t it? But that is what I needed to hear. And what a weight lifted when I appropriated that word. Some of the anxiety I was experiencing came from the sense that my stay in Hoover, Indiana could be for a longer time than I had wanted or anticipated. But the debilitating, oppressive anxiety I was experiencing sprang from the guilt over feeling bad and from questioning my calling. When I realized that it was okay to feel bad, to question, and to experience some anxiety, then the deep dread, guilt, and worry that hovered over me started to lift. 

I share this story as an illustration of how the Divine Voice speaks to us. The Divine Voice speaks to humans through human words, images, ideas, and feelings. This is true in any gathering of disciples for study, fellowship, and worship, and it is true of the Bible itself that is used by these faith communities. 

Paul tells the church in Corinth to “weigh carefully” what is said by the Christian prophets in their worship gatherings (1 Cor. 14:29). He tells the church at Thessalonica to “test everything” that is said by the prophets and teachers in their community, holding on to what is good and avoiding all that is evil (1 Thess. 5:19–22). 

The Divine Voice often speaks healing and transforming words as Scripture is read, interpreted, discussed, taught, and proclaimed in Christian communities. But biblical words read and interpreted must be “weighed carefully.” The Bible can just as easily be used to justify our sexism, racism, classism, nationalism, and egotism as it can be used for redemption and transformation. There is no infallible word. 

Here are questions I ask: Do the words reflect the compassion, love, forgiveness, and prophetic challenge of Christ? (In other words: Is the Spirit of Christ present in the words read or spoken?) Do the words inspire hearers to be more caring, empathetic, gracious, hospitable, and inclusive? Do the words call forth the best of the human spirit? Do they inspire us to pursue peace, reconciliation, and justice for all people, especially the disadvantaged and marginalized? Do the words bring healing in a holistic sense, calling forth humility, generosity, gratitude, and grace? 

Paul writes to the church in Rome that “the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:16). When our lives are immersed and filled with the Spirit of Christ, it is not that difficult to discern the Divine Voice bearing witness to our human spirit. When our lives are not filled with the Spirit of Christ, we will often mishear the Voice, as I can testify through my own experience. Some Christians who mishear that Voice seek to justify their prejudices and sin by appealing to an infallible Bible. 

Every voice in the Bible or in the church should be filtered through and weighed against the Divine Voice that has become incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth (John 1:1–18).

1 comment:

  1. I am so pleased that I stumbled across your blog! Once again your teaching and explanation have touched and enlightened me! Best wishes to you and your family.
    Marilou Couch

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