After writing my series on hearing God’s voice, I got some pushback from readers who thought that I was undermining the importance of Scripture. In the series, I describe God’s voice as something that comes to us in a variety of ways, as modeled for us in Scripture. I was a bit puzzled by the reactions stating that the Holy Spirit speaking to our hearts is purely subjective and something to be treated with suspicion. I wrote a couple paragraphs in response a few times, but never felt right about publishing it.
For one thing, I keenly feel my lack of scholarship when faced with an argument relating to Scripture or to theology in general. (I’m waiting and praying for a scholarly person to write about the entirety of the Word of God.) Also, I know my words here can be twisted to mean something totally different than what I intended.
This past week, I read a Facebook post that reminded me of the misunderstandings surrounding those who believe that God speaks, and that studying God’s Word is part of a greater goal–getting to know Christ. A Christian brother wrote against Asher Witmer’s post No, You Don’t Have to Read the Bible. Although I agree with Witmer’s premise that being restored to God is more important than merely reading the Bible, I am not attempting to defend Witmer. I will let him do that himself. But since I have dealt with some of the same accusations, I will write a few of my thoughts here.
These verses are often used to proclaim the authority of Scripture:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV
I do not see how these verses can support Bible deism in the context of the whole of Scripture. Of course Scripture is inspired by God! But God has also done other things by the awesome power of the Holy Spirit–He raised Jesus from the dead, and now gives us power to live a transformed life in relationship with Him (Romans 8:11).
Some use these verses in 2 Timothy to imply that if we believe in hearing God’s voice today, we do not value Scripture. That may be true for some, but I believe it is a false assumption for many. If you read the comments on my previous post, you will see examples of people who have experienced a deep love for Scripture growing out of a life of hearing and obeying God. Even though the people who commented are only a tiny sample of my blog readers, and an even tinier sample of Christians worldwide, I think this is how God intended the Christian life to be: His voice in our hearts and His word to us in the Bible are inseparable. Loving God’s voice does not equal disrespect for the Bible.
At the same time, reading the Bible does not make me a Christian. Believing in Jesus makes me a Christian.
There is so much that I have yet to learn about the Bible. Every year I study more (although not as much as I wish) and I realize anew how little I know. I love to learn about God’s story and ours through Scripture. Without the guiding wisdom and security found there, my soul would be consumed by sadness and confusion. I need the Bible to show me the big picture, to point me to Someone who is bigger and wiser than I am–Someone who pursues me with irrational love and grace. I need the Bible to reassure me that God’s mercies are new every morning. And as I read, I need the Holy Spirit to talk to me, to give me guidance for the details of my daily life. I need Him to create change in my heart.
God’s Word pitted against His voice is a divorce He never meant to happen. I have read through the Bible too many times to count, and I have noticed that stories of God’s voice are spread liberally throughout the pages of Scripture. For the most part, in the Bible the term “the word of the Lord” did not come as Bible verses to the prophets and apostles, but as instructions for daily living or a message to God’s people.
The apostles would have been horrified at the suggestion that God would stop talking when they died. Indeed, the book of Acts is a continuing story we are part of today, not a distant piece of history to be admired from afar. We are encroaching on dangerous territory when we say that God could do something in the Bible, but He no longer does it today. How do we decide what God does and does not do?
People forget that the Bible can be misinterpreted just as easily as God’s voice can be misinterpreted. I do not think we ought to elevate what we hear in our hearts above what is recorded in Scripture. But to me it seems that denying the Holy Spirit’s present work is in itself unfaithful to Scripture.
If the Bible has every single answer for the small details of our lives (including who we should pray for this week, what we should share with a seeker, where we should give money) we do not need the guidance of the Holy Spirit. What would the Holy Spirit be for?
Why did the Father send us the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended to Heaven? We need the Holy Spirit to help us understand the Bible and apply it to our daily lives (John 14:26). We need the Holy Spirit to comfort, teach, to convict (John 16:8), to help us pray (Romans 8:26). We need the Holy Spirit to help us know God’s love (Romans 5:5).
The reliability of the Bible rests securely on its inspiration by the Holy Spirit. If we reject the Spirit as a real and active presence, our basis for the Bible’s validity crumbles.
This is what I believe: God’s word to us in the Bible is inspired, perfect, and valuable for every aspect of our lives. Studying the Bible helps me begin to plumb the depths of the goodness and wisdom of God. The Bible reveals God’s character to be unflawed, unfailingly good, and unchanging. God pours out His longing for a relationship with us in the Bible, and instills that longing for Him within our own hearts by the Holy Spirit. His desire to communicate with us is an essential part of His character. God’s Spirit speaks to me in the pages of Scripture. I also hear Him throughout my days, and recognize His voice because I belong to Him (John 10:3-4).
Some things about God, the Bible, and God’s church will always be a mystery. How do we find our way forward when we feel confused about the conflicting arguments swirling around us?
I often remind myself that faith in God and obedience to what we know opens the door to deeper understanding. My friend Caleb Yoder wrote these words in a comment on the Facebook discussion. “…The religious establishment of their day were masters at building doctrines and telling the people what the text meant. Our spiritual fathers insisted that following Christ was more important than anything else and that this was the key to understanding the scriptures. They learned to think by living in obedience.”
I’d add to that by saying that often clarity comes when we walk in obedience along with God’s family. Radical obedience helps God’s church understand the Bible better and hear His voice more clearly.
Obeying in faith is hard for us, because the western world idolizes knowledge and the mind. But some things are only learned through experience. If we have not experienced God, heard His voice, and obeyed his call alongside other believers, we are lacking something precious. God is not someone to be merely studied; He is someone to be heard and known.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
Which do you find easier–studying the Bible or listening to God in your heart? Why? How does obedience help you to hear God and understand the Bible more clearly?