Friday, May 25, 2012

Why is God Ignoring Me?

I was recently asked this question, in a slightly different form, by a gentleman named Charles.  The title of this post is from Gary Habermas' book of the same name.  Gary was one of the people I asked for suggestions on how to answer Charles. 

Here, we begin with the original series of questions from Charles.  I then post an answer someone else offered on another site.  Finally, I'll add a few thoughts of my own. 

A couple of things. You mentioned you might not be the best person to answer my question - can you get me in touch with someone who can? I've tried to post, call, etc to get in touch with William Lane Craig (who uses personal experience as an evidence of God), but to no avail. I'm currently hoping to get in touch with Jim Dennison, but we'll see how that goes. Do you have someone better suited to answer?

(Note: Dr. Habermas responded by e-mailing me two chapters from his book. I'll be happy to pass them along, if you (or, presumably, other readers) give me an address.)

As for your answer - I can't help, but feel as though it is unsatisfactory. You first mention that you do feel God's presence. I would argue that is exactly the problem -YOU (meaning other people who ask for it and search for it don't) and Feel (is it really god you feel? Can you be sure? etc....) So you feel (or give God credit) for something you feel. I have always had trouble talking to God as though he were in the room. Would anyone take me seriously if I talked to my dead biological father, an imaginary friend, or even someone I knew was living, but wasn't "there"? I can't imagine they would (or at best one wouldn't believe they could hear me and respond).

Why would you suggest this tension is good for us? In what way? I don't think it is good for me. It has stopped me from going to church. (Although there are other reasons for that other than this one.)

You say that a few times you seen "objective" reasons to believe God hears you and cares about you. I'd be interested to know what they things were (and the possibility that it wasn't God at all), and would also ask is this a special privilege he gives to some and not all?

You mentioned that you think God does speak to us all the ways that I mention, but I think my whole argument was that he doesn't. As for your friend, did he really hear God and have to leave his homeland? Was it God that he heard? Did he have to leave? And if that is true, then why is it that God would only choose to talk to us and then make that the punishment? Is he punishing us for having to make himself heard? Seems a bit sadistic or unreasonable to me (assuming that is the case).

Finally, you mentioned that we do "walk by faith." What does that mean? At this point, I'm willing to say that most modern American Christianity is wrong and that it doesn't mean a "personal" relationship with God. So then, what does it mean? Does it mean simply trying to learn more about God by reading the bible, and also trying to follow the best you can while always just kinda waiting for heaven?

One last thought - I hope you don't read me as hostile or antagonistic. This is a serious problem for me. i recognize it isn't for everyone (or even most people), but at this point I am trying to find answers and trying to make sense of it all.

Lauren Kimball: Heavy question . . .  I'm touched by his plight and sincerity.

I notice that your friend tries to discredit reading the Bible as having anything to do with hearing God's voice. His knowing an author vrs. knowing their work is an interesting analogy, but woefully off the mark.

Christ said that His sheep would know His voice. How do the sheep come to know His voice? How do the sheep filter all the static noise in their heads and determine what is from God and what is from self or worse? That, I believe, is where the Bible comes in.

Rather than using the analogy of, "knowing a book is not the same thing as knowing the author," I would look at the Bible as a manual that helps bridge the gap between man and God, not a book that simply describes God.

For example, you can't see radiation, but with the right text book you can learn how to recognize and detect when radiation is present. God is similar in that respect. We've lost touch with how to talk to God, so God's given us a tool so that we can bridge that gap. Don't know if what you're hearing is God? Filter it.

I can empathize with his frustration, I really can. Yet just because God does not speak to us in a way that we would like Him to does not discredit his existence. Not only do I think he has a problem in listening, I think he has a problem understanding the enormity of God.

A long while back I had prayed to God to hear His voice. I wanted to talk to God and was similarly frustrated at his perceived silence. Later that same night, I was awoken by one of the biggest thunderstorms I'd ever experienced. The storm was so tremendous and so violent, that it literally shook the ground and my house when the lightning sounded. In my half-sleep daze I was utterly terrified. I actually found myself on the brink of tears, feeling like a frightened child. I was so certain for a few moments that I might actually ACTUALLY hear God's voice, and all I wanted was for it to stop. Did I hear God's voice? Not necessarily. Was I reminded who it was I was talking to? Quite.

I don't think your friend would want to hear God's actual voice. He does us a favor by speaking softly. I don't know that there's really any other way.

DM: I think Lauren makes some good points, here, and I hope you'll read Gary's chapters, and see if they're helpful.  Let me add a few points, and answer the questions you directed at me. 

No, I don't think my post-Muslim friend took it as a "punishment" that he heard God's voice, and then was forced to leave his home.  His experience reminds me of Jesus' story of the Pearl of Great Price.  Having found one great treasure, the hero of Jesus' tale sells all he has, to purchase that treasure.  What hearing from God directly did for this imam, was confirm to him that what he chose to purchase, at such a high price, was indeed most valuable.  

How did he know it was God?  All I can say is, he was in a better position than us to figure that out.  He was there.  It was his neck he was risking.  As a legal scholar, now getting his PhD at one of the top universities in the world, he's no dummy. 

But no one promises that the life of faith is without risk.  Read Hebrews 11.  Walking by faith doesn't mean believing without reason, but believing for good reason, and then acting on your belief, "stepping out" (often literally, as Abraham did, as my friend did) in faith. 

CS Lewis points out that miracles and martyrdoms tend to cluster around the same periods of history.  This may be because God doesn't want to overwhelm us with evidence (as Lauren put it, he usually speaks in a still, small voice), but sometimes we might need more encouragement. 

If you need reason for faith, and you look for it, I think you'll find a good deal of it.  If you look for certainty, I don't think you'll ever find that, at least not in this world, if you're constituted at all like I am.  I don't think life is supposed to be easy, and I'm not sure it would be a good thing if it were.


Charles said...

A few thoughts First to clear up what seems to be a mis-understanding. I am NOT doubting God's existence. Nor am I doubting God's "involvement" in the world. I've not fallen so far down that I had become a Deist. The problem is that God doesn't talk to us. It would appear that we are made to relate or "know" others a particular way. We don't lay hands on another and automatically get their thoughts. We don't get to know reach other through our spirits talking to each other. Instead we get to know each other by talking - by the exchange of thoughts, ideas, etc...through the medium of the spoken word. It is this that I have a problem with. When you mention God's "still, small voice" it is metaphorical. The thunderstorm or the voice of a pastor or the "conviction of sin", etc.. Why doesn't God use his "still, small voice" in the literal sense. Lauren mentioned that perhaps I would be glad that God didn't talk to me. Yet there are plenty of examples int the OT and NT where God did come down and talk to people. God is God and he can manifest himself in ways to participate in human conversation. Yet he doesn't. He allowed Abraham to argue with him, but won't come talk to me about the challenges of loving my wife well. I just don't know what to make of this.

As a final note - my overarching problem is that I think modern American Christianity has it wrong. Everywhere you go today you find people talking about a personal relationship with God. I think no such thing is possible.

David B Marshall said...

Charles: I gave you an example of when God did seem to speak audibly to someone I know, and you rejected it because you couldn't be sure it was God. So I'm not quite sure what you're looking for, or why.

In many cultures, one of the defining characteristics of the High God is that he is felt as distant, unapproachable, wholly good, but often almost forgotten. GK Chesterton suggests that this was to keep people from confusing him with the vile gods of popular religion. With Moses, it wasn't a casual conversation, either: God was calling millions of people, he spoke to only one (not ordinary citizens), and anyone who approached Sinai without authorization -- anyone but Moses -- died. Anyone who touched the Ark of the Covenant, died. Anyone who broke the Sabbath, died.

What Christianity does, is reveal the character of God in Jesus. God in human flesh touches lepers, feeds the hungry, gives sight to the blind, dies for our sins, and comes to life again. In Jesus, the fullness of God's character is revealed. This seems to me a much better deal than what they got in the OT. If it weren't for Jesus, I don't know what I would think about God.

As for the Book of Acts, what is given them, that has not also been given missionaries in modern times? In many ways, I think we can see more than they did. Of course, not everyone is there when God heals some man with throat cancer in Zhejiang Province. But none of us was there when Paul cured the man in Lystra, either.

So we have three possibilities. One, God does speak to someone audibly, and we doubt that it was really God. Two, God doesn't speak at all, and we doubt that God is real. Three, God speaks indirectly, and in the life of Christ, and we ask why he doesn't speak more directly.

Maybe you have some idea of what God SHOULD do, but why suppose that is the right idea? Remember the Pharisees who demanded a sign from Jesus, ignoring the signs he had already given? Perhaps the real issue, in that case, was who would be in charge, whether people could make demands on God, or whether we trust God to be God.

Charles said...


Check and Mate on some of your statements. I should have been a little more careful. I should have said that God doesn't speak to ME instead of saying God doesn't talk to anyone. I didn't intend to imply that I outright rejected your example of God speaking to your friend. I suppose I was wondering why he doesn't speak to me. As to your three possibilities - I would say that I fall into the third category. And you are correct in saying that I do have ideas of what God SHOULD do. I also recognize (to a degree) how foolish that can be. My issue at the bottom is much more personal (and selfish). Why doesn't God talk to ME? Lewis said that God never seemed so distant and (unreal??) as when he finished intellectually defending and dissecting a particular issue (at least I think that is what he meant). But I have spent years yearning for this thing called a "personal relationship", but have not seen it. I don't WANT to miss out if he is out there having relationship with others.

I guess I am (to some degree) wanting some sort of validation that what the Christian life really looks like is that we acknowledge the truth and attempt to live by it. Even if God never touches us personally. I don't know.....And yet, as a friend recently pointed out, the bible defines our relationship with God in terms of....well, relationship. Union - father, mother, brother, etc...... I can't seem to make sense of it.

To be fair, my "Christian" walk hasn't been what anyone could call consistent by any means. Part of me agrees with the atheist quoted in the beginning of the book True Reason. Wasn't it Chesterton who also said - It isn't that the Christian life has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried.

But maybe you are correct. I need to clarify what I want. Or perhaps I need to recognize that I don't always get what I want. Is it really so wrong though to want to converse with God?

David B Marshall said...

Charles: Thanks for being so honest. Like I said earlier, I may not be the best counselor for this sort of thing. "Now we see through a glass, darkly." I hope Gary's chapters were of some help.

Robert Lowrance said...

Charles: I have some experience with what troubles you. I am not an expert, but here are some of my thoughts on the matter. And yes, the Christianity is about relationship. We become part of the family of God. (Not becoming gods ourselves, by any means. But we are adopted into His family and become co-heirs with Christ.)

First, you need to learn to distinguish God’s voice. This is accomplished by reading God’s word. Don’t just do a surface read, either. Really mull it over. A good commentary can be of help here, as it can help you understand the context, which aides in understanding. In fact, it would be good to pick a book of the Bible to study, and then learn as much about it as you can. One of the shorter books in the New Testament might be a good place to start. Remember, the Bible is our guide. God will not contradict His word. (If you hear something that does contradict His word, then it wasn’t God speaking.)

Second, you need to spend time in prayer. I’m not talking about just filling time, either. Pray about things that concern you. (Like not hearing God’s voice.) This is a good time for praise as well. Thank God for His provision in your life. This is good in combination with reading the Bible. Start by praying that God would speak to you through His word. This also goes along well with the mulling process.

Third, make sure you are going to church regularly. As long as the church is preaching God’s word, it will be beneficial to you. Your spirit needs fed just as your body does. (i.e. You probably won’t hear God’s voice if you are starving to death spiritually.) Your personal Bible reading and prayer times help with this, but these are usually not enough.

Fourth, find a (spiritually) mature Christian to be your mentor. It would be best if this person has gone through these same struggles and found answers. Preferably, this should be someone you already trust. And, if you can’t meet every week, at least see if this person can answer your questions from time to time. (I could share some of my experiences, but since you don’t know me, and don’t trust me, this would be of limited use.)

Fifth, determine to do what you know is right, whether you ever hear God’s voice or not. As with Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, determine to do what you know to be God’s will, even if He doesn’t rescue you from circumstances. In many cases, we already know how God would answer. The teenage boy who asks God, “If you don’t want me to steal this money, speak audibly to me right now!” would just be deluding himself. God has already answered that. The boy is trying to get around this knowledge he already has. If you find yourself in that circumstance, God may not answer.

Robert Lowrance said...

(Sorry, this was too long to post as one comment.)

Here are some kinds of ways that God can speak. (I apologize for not being able to think of good examples for each, even though God has used all but the sixth one in my life.)
1. Through the Bible. I’m not just being trite here. This is God’s primary method of speaking to us. This is also the standard against which all “words from the Lord” must be checked. God does not contradict Himself.
2. Through circumstances. i.e. Provision for your needs in both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances.
3. Through nature. Have you ever been awestruck by nature? Upon seeing a particularly beautiful sunrise/sunset, have you ever said, “Daddy, that is so beautiful!”?
4. Through others. I’m not necessarily talking about someone coming up to you and saying, “Thus saith the Looooord …” in a bad rendition of King James English. (Although, He could talk to you that way if He chose.) I’m talking more about the kind of thing that a friend of yours says that speaks to you, that your friend may not even remember saying. This isn’t one that I’ve really experience, so much as been a part of. I can’t remember what I said, but it really spoke to my friend.
5. A still small voice. I have generally experienced this as a voice in my head, other than my “thinking” voice. (And no, I am not talking about the same kind of voice associated with Schizophrenia.) One of the first things I can remember God saying to me is that He loves me.
6. An audible voice. As I mentioned before, this one I have not experienced, but I have heard of people who have.

Remember, though, God will not say something that contradicts His word. The Bible is our key, our standard. If you are wondering if something is from God, check out the Bible.