Great photo on the front page of today’s Guardian, illustrating a slightly alarming story: “George Bush: ‘God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq'”.
I’m hoping that Bush has been misquoted or misunderstood here. This is, after all, a hearsay report from a former Palestinian foreign minister, and whatever the truth or otherwise of this report (and the White House is unequivocally denying it), this does highlight the general point of how people from outside the evangelical subculture can misinterpret what Christians with “charismatic” tendencies mean when they talk about how God “told them” to do such-and-such a thing.
Usually (speaking from my own experience of having spent some time in charismatic circles), such Christians don’t actually mean they heard a voice in their heads telling them to do this. Rather, they mean they felt a “deep sense of peace” about a proposed course of action, or that some unlikely event occurred (such as being elected President on a minority of the popular vote? [j/k]) that they interpreted as a “sign” of God’s favour for what they had in mind, perhaps after they “laid out a fleece” to give God an opportunity to provide the said sign.
Talking of the “deep sense of peace” approach to guidance, there’s an amusing story in Alistair Brown’s book “Near Christianity” about a theological college at which at least half a dozen men all felt a “deep sense of peace” about the idea that God might want them to marry the same startlingly attractive female student. (None of them did.)
Personally, I’m in the same benighted condition as the Boar’s Head Tavern’s Bill Mackinnon, who once confessed in an essay on the Internet Monk site that he had “No voices in my head”.
In this essay, Mackinnon describes the various forms in which God is alleged to speak to us – “ham radio”, “walkie talkie”, “Easter bunny”, “bull ring” (“I just felt led”), “Paxil” and “back to school” (“you just need to learn how to hear God’s voice”) – before concluding:
A lousy Christian I may be, for many reasons. But my inability to hear God’s voice isn’t one of them. I have a Bible, and God speaks to me whenever I open it.
Another aspect of this approach of “listening for God’s voice” is that the only voice that people seem to expect (or even want?) to hear is that of God’s Law: “Do this, don’t do that”.
The Bible – and, in particular, the proclamation of the Bible’s message in the church’s ministry of Word and Sacrament, which is truly the living voice of God for us today – gives us something so much better: the promises of the Gospel, promises which are for each and every one of us, regardless of how well we tune the ham radio of our hearts, and without any of us needing to wait for a voice in our heads.