The boys bought Dallas Willard’s book Hearing God for their dad today as a belated Father’s Day present. I have begun reading it. I would say that truthfully I have begun skimming it. I’ve hit high spots and thought about questions in it, agreeing or disagreeing, and then skimming on to the next page.
That’s not the best way to approach a book like this and I really would prefer to read it slowly, savoring it, like a true conoisseur would a glass of rare wine. But I know that where I am right now personally that is not going to happen. So I am racing along the top of the ice, hoping to sink a toe here and there into the freezing river, and take a blessing out of it.
First, I have heard God, as an audible voice. I know that is not true for all Christians, but it has been true for me.
Second, I do not hear God on a regular basis. I know that is true for some Christians, but it has not been true for me.
Third, I wonder sometimes if I am the cause of not-hearing. I may be. But then again, I may not be. One time I was talking to a friend of mine, an older godly woman, and I said that God kicks me in the behind to get me going. She said, “Oh, Suzi. God doesn’t do things like that. He reaches out a gentle hand and guides you where he wants you to go.” I told her that God may do that to HER, but I needed a kick in the seat of the pants. Years later she came to me and said that she too, apparently, sometimes needed a good solid push.
One thing I thought interesting in the book: Mother Teresa apparently said at one time that loneliness is the modern leprosy. My teenage boys immediately quarrelled with this idea. But I still think it may say something about loneliness and isolation that could not be said so quickly any other way. I do not mean that people in earlier days were never lonely. That is not true. But perhaps we have made the lonely people the outcasts. Perhaps we shun those who are lonely, as if in fear that it will rub off on us. I don’t know, but I think it is a thought that has a grain of sense to it.
I think that Willard has presented some thoughtful insights. For instance, he talks about mechanical and personal guidance. Mechanical guidance is the sort we have in the car. We push this and pull that and the car does what we want, usually. Personal guidance is when we argue, when we cajole, when we encourage, when we frown, when we smile, when we interact with someone else. And, in personal guidance, he talks about the different levels of friendship. One is a friend of whom you may ask something, knowing it will be given. The other is a friend who, realizing that you need something, will bring it and offer it to you. Very interesting presentation of the idea of friendship.
One question at the end of a chapter, I think, is not phrased well. At the beginning of the book he mentions that his wife’s grandmother, a very godly woman, has never had God speak to her. Then at the end of this chapter he writes, “Can you make any sense at all of an intimate personal relationship in which there are no personal communications?” And I have to say yes I can, even though I don’t think it is the best way, even though I don’t think it is the most fun way, I can imagine- because I have seen- people who have a strong relationship with God who do not hear from him on anything like a regular basis, if at all.
There are a few flaws in the presentation of the question. It presupposes “no” personal communications. Yet what is the Bible but a conversation with God? What is the life of Jesus but personal communication at its height? Yes, all we have now is the recorded history of that life, but it’s still a personal communication from God to us. In addition, prayer, a speaking of the person to God, is personal communication. I can grow closer to someone because of what I reveal about myself just as I can grow closer to someone based on what they reveal about themselves. Finally, there are times when people have spent years separated from those they loved and been reunited to as strong or stronger a bond than they had before. I think that can happen in our relationship with God as well.
He has an excellent/interesting/paradoxical discussion of how we read the Bible stories. He says that we need to see those stories as how we would have acted in those situations. We need to see them as true accounts, not as abstract truth. What difference does it make to me to see Peter as the archetype of the denying follower and to think about how I might have acted, asked in the predawn morning in fear for not only my own life but the life of the Messiah the Israelites have awaited for millenium if I were a follower of the man Jesus? Why might Peter have answered the way he did? When might I also be likely to answer in such a way? (This, I believe, is the meditation on Bible stories, not the studying of them. But I think it does have a part in Bible learning, as long as we do not simply do this and not actually study as well.)
An example of when I might be likely to deny Jesus has a more recent true story with it. In Central/South America, somewhere where there is a lot of unrest, though I can’t remember which country now, I want to say Nicaragua or Ecuador, rebel soldiers broke into a church meeting and waving their guns around asked all who did not believe in Jesus to leave. Many people left. The rebel soldiers locked the church doors and turned to the rest of the congregation, who were expecting death, and worshipped with them.
If I were in a church where extremists came in and seemed to be, or even were, offering me my life in return for a denial of Jesus, would I do it?
I know that there have been times in my life when I could have truthfully said “No.” And there have been other times in my life when I can see that I might cave.
One of the blessings of stories like Peter’s, like Paul’s, is knowing that we don’t have to be perfect to be used and useful Christians.