I consider myself a Christian, but for me, there has been no “outside voice” and no audible foreign personality directly guiding me from one path to another. It has merely been me, myself and I either following my religious instruction or choosing to do something different altogether.
I would tend to agree with a hypothesis posited by anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann, who told NPR last year that she believes religious people have trained their minds to put themselves in the place of God. They then attribute the guiding voice they hear to God.
Luhrmann accurately goes to great lengths to separate people who feel that God “nudges” them in a particular direction from people who experience recurring schizophrenic episodes or similar disorders.
She is correct in making this distinction. Schizophrenia is a recognized medical disorder and is far different from the uplifting little nudges with which many religious people identify.
She doesn’t, however, discuss several things. For instance, Luhrmann does not attempt to separate God’s directness in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible from our conception of God’s “nudging” in the 21st century, and this is an interesting point to analyze.
There are no more burning bushes in our modern society; there are no more Arks of the Covenant. Clouds do not open up, and people don’t just hear the booming voice of God anymore.
What happened? Did God change, or did our conception of God change?
Hardly. Instead, these experiences are simply different. They are not the same method of communication. Most religious people would probably tell you that this directness is outdated or unnecessary; instead, like the 21st century thought-process of “God-nudging” represents, God instead communicates subtly and less boldly.
Luhrmann also shows us a story about Martin Luther King Jr., and how he heard the voice of Jesus counseling him in his time of need.
Call me a skeptical Christian, but I am wary of what occurred here. Perhaps King simply reassured himself in this instance and then attributed the success to God. Perhaps, as Luhrmann writes, King had merely trained himself to interpret his own thoughts as the voice of God.
Or perhaps I am prematurely judging this issue because no god has ever spoken to me directly.
In Dallas Willard’s book “Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God,” he writes that people don’t hear God simply because they do not want to hear God.
This is, again, concurrent with Luhrmann’s thoughts, but it doesn’t explain God’s call towards people who do not want to hear it. Perhaps they had wanted to hear it all along.
Maybe the time will come in my life when I hear the voice of God directly, but I doubt it. Until then, any perception of God’s acute directness is merely a subjective experience.
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