Dr. Randy White
On my weekly broadcast, “Ask the Theologian,” a listener asked, “Do you think that God still speaks to us today, and if so, how?” He prefaced his question by referring to a post I’d written concerning whether God still speaks through dreams and visions.
Just a few days before that question, I received an email which asked the same question: “What’s your view of how God speaks today?”
Apparently, the question of whether God speaks to people today, and how he does so, still intrigues us today.
The person who emailed me the question provided an example of how they had recently experienced God speaking to them:
One morning, I was talking with the Lord and asked Him if He heard my prayers. The number 28 came to my thoughts. I didn’t know what it meant, but I guessed it probably related to a Psalm or Proverbs. I looked in Psalm 28 in which the Psalmist was giving things that God did hear his prayers! I took that as an answer from the Father, that He does hear my prayers!
Now, I’m going to give you my answers up front and then provide helpful information. So, you’re free to stop reading after you’ve found what you’re looking for, but I encourage you to read further to find what you need.
Does God speak to us today?
How does God speak to us?
THROUGH THE BIBLE.
“But, Pastor, I’ve Received a Word.”
Let’s review the emailer’s illustration. Psalm 28:1 says, “To you, Lord, I call; you are my Rock, do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who go down to the pit.” One interpretation of that verse could be what the emailer said: “I took that as an answer from the Father, that He does hear my prayers!” But such an interpretation glosses over the latter half of even that first verse. Sometimes God remains silent. That interpretation also misses the actual meaning of the entire Psalm, which centers on God’s justice and judgment and not God’s listening ear.
Furthermore, how did the emailer land on Psalm 28? What if they had opened their Bible just a bit farther in and landed in Proverbs 28:28, which states, “When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding; but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive.” “Thrive” could mean “hear more clearly from God,” right?
That’s the kind of scary, deeply un-theological slope a believer starts sliding down when he or she “gets a word” from God. Their interpretation of whatever they read is often clouded by that “word.” In theological terms, this is called “eisegesis,” which means reading into the text. What believers ought to do, and what the best pastors do while preaching, is called “exegesis,” which means allowing the text to speak for itself.
Apart from gaining intimate knowledge of the Bible, a believer will not hear God speak.
“But, Pastor, a Still Small Voice Told Me . . . .”
Believers all over the world have used 1 Kings 19:12–13 to justify themselves for hundreds, and maybe even thousands, of years:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? (Emphasis added).
Here’s the thing with God’s “still small voice:” we have it on record that he spoke that one way one time. We also have on record that he spoke to many others throughout the Bible in a wide variety of ways: the angel Gabriel visited Mary, Jesus stopped Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus, and John was shown incredible sights while on the Isle of Patmos from which he wrote the book of Revelation.
Today, some Christians would believe you if you said that God had “impressed” something upon their heart. Other Christians would be okay if you told them you’d heard a “still small voice.” Still, others would accept you if you said you’d had a dream or a vision from God. Fewer, however, would likely believe you if you said you’d audibly heard from God. Even fewer still would believe you if you said you had literally been brought into heaven.
But, there are just as many Christians across all denominations who would denounce any or all of those assertions. Those who believe in the “still small voice” may denounce someone who claims to have seen a vision from God. Yet the fact is, if a person believes that God can speak through any of those instances, that person must believe that God can speak through all of those instances. In other words, if God can speak beyond the Bible, no one gets to say how he then speaks, whether through a still small voice, dreams and visions, or booming, audible words from an all-powerful God.
The Problem with God “Speaking” Today
There’s a problem with hearing from God in such ways when devoid of the Bible. Hearing from God outside of his Word leads to great bondage because wild interpretations become necessary.
Read 2 Peter 1:19–21:
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
In other words, if God said it, whatever God said has to be given the same theological weight as if it were Scripture. Those words, regardless of the medium of the message, would have to be believed as inerrant, infallible, and totally authoritative. If you choose to believe otherwise, then you don’t truly believe that word came from God.
Now, recall 2 Timothy 3:16–17: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” This is known as the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. If the Word is the only word we need—if the Bible is sufficient, as it claims to be—why do we need another word?
The Apostle Paul leaves no room for doubt, either: “And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another” (1 Corinthians 4:6, emphasis added). He also warns us about what will happen when one person believes he or she has direct access to God, has received “a special word,” or has seen a vision: we are “puffed up for one against another.” Such “puffiness” breeds disunity and pride.
Does God Speak to Us Today?
The bottom line is that when you accord that “still small voice” of God the same kind of authority in your life as the Bible itself, you’ve put yourself and believers around you into bondage to that voice in the same manner in which you would place yourself and other believers around you into bondage to the Word of God. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God had something to say to people who do this: “Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!” (Ezekiel 13:3). In other words, it’s a dangerous thing to say, “I heard God’s voice,” but to actually believe and act upon, “I just follow my own spirit.”
The best advice is this, and it has been for longer than you or I have been alive: The Bible is the Word of God.
Trust it. Stand on it. Rely on it.
It is not still. It is not small.
But, it is the only place where you will truly hear from God.