We have been looking at “Entering a personal relationship with God” and proceeding on the basis that no real relationship can exist without open and honest two-way communication taking place. We have talked about how God often speaks to us using that “still small voice” that comes from within as well or by causing something we are reading, hearing, seeing or participating in being “highlighted” so that it stands out, taking on a greater significance for us than normal or by God placing a burden on us to do something good that perhaps we would not normally even consider doing. But, of course, there was the caution that just because we might initially believe God is speaking to us about something, does not necessarily make it so. God has given us tools whereby we can judge or “discern” God’s voice. To date we have considered the community of faith, or “church.” Following Christ is not a lone wolf enterprise. We are church. We have also considered the Scriptures, Old and New Testaments or Hebrew and Christian writings and how they were collected according to a set of rules or a “canon” which in turn causes them to be a “canon” or set of rules of faith and life. Last week we took a look at the fact that we belong to a faith tradition with a history that involved a lot of controversy and as a result we can learn from past mistakes and accomplishments. Today we will give some thought to “reason”, the ability to come to an understanding of our faith and how it works in the real world. But once again, we have a problem because some things about our faith are not reasonable, at least, by regular human understanding. Take, for example the reading from Acts 16:16-34.
But before we go there, let’s pray: God whose ways are far above our own and whose ways are so different than ours, teach us your thoughts and your ways. Amen.
It is perfectly reasonable that an earthquake would shake loose the prison doors but how could an earthquake cause the chains holding the prisoners fall off? Not only that, consider the jailer. He was responsible, upon penalty of death, for the security of the prisoners and when he discovered the doors open he assumed they had all escaped and was going to do the so-called honourable thing and commit suicide. But Paul stopped him. So far, so good. But what happened next? The Jailer takes Paul and company home. Why? Allowing an escape is one thing but helping one happen is far more serious. What did he think would happen when his commanding officer found out? A slap on the wrist? This story is not reasonable?
When I was young there came that day when I asked my parents for a BB gun. Guess what my mother’s answer was? “No, you’ll put an eye out!” She didn’t even have to think about it. This seems to be the tag line for adolescents of the late 1950’s.
At first look, her reasoning was not logical at all. If I had a BB gun and shot it, assuming I pointed the BB gun away from me, how would I have ever damaged my eye? And even if I was too close to my target and the BB bounced back, given the relative size of my eyes to my entire body, what are the chances? Slim to almost none, right. But, putting her fear aside, almost none does not equal zero. As small as the odds were, this very thing must have happened and probably more than once. Her words were one of the catch phrases on my generation.
Another, seemingly unreasonable conclusion my mother carried with her to her grave was that if I was not feeling well, it could only be due to one of two things, lack of sleep or irregularity. Absurd right?
But, just a second. Medical research tells us that adolescents and teenagers require more sleep than adults and that sleep is vitally important to brain development, physical development and emotional well-being. Medical research also tells us that because we are much taller than our ancestors; our intestines are longer meaning that the food we digest sits inside of us for longer periods. Since what is left in our colon is, by its very nature septic, there is a greater chance of various types of infections and cancer.
So, even though my mother’s logic was perhaps based in fear upon either some old wives’ tale or urban legend and even though her logic does not express a universal truth, in the end, her reasoning was not as unreasonable as first thought.
Now back to the passage in Acts. This passage only starts to become reasonable if we conclude that Paul and Silas were not in prison because of a dispute with a merchant of divination. They were there for God’s purposes. God’s purposes included setting free the young woman who Paul exorcised. God’s purposes also included the jailer and his household; that they might come to faith. God’s purposes included Paul and God’s promise that he would stand before kings. God’s purpose included what may have seemed like an earthquake but was in reality a direct intervention of God, setting the captives free. God’s purposes even included the magistrates who gave word at first light to set Paul and Silas free, thus freeing the jailer from certain death.
Isaiah 55:7-9 in the New Living Translation is rendered
7 Let the wicked change their way
and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.
8 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts”.
And in Romans, we find this instruction: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NLT)
It doesn’t make sense to our natural minds that in order to gain life we must lay our lives down, to be important, we must be the lowliest of servants, or that God is the supplier of all our needs and so the more we share what God has given us the more we will receive to share, or that even we are the hands, feet and mouth of God. In our time and place if we admit to hearing God’s voice we could be subject to some questions regarding our sanity.
The fourth tool that God has given us to learn to discern or judge what voice is God’s voice, is reason. But this “reason” is more than just simple human logic. Simple human logic deals only with what can be seen, but God’s logic incorporates things that cannot be seen and connections that we cannot even begin to imagine – “butterfly effect”.
When we look at the Acts passage with normal human eyes, what we see is nonsensical. When we look at Acts 16 having adopted God’s reasoning, we see the hand of God at work, not only in the lives of Paul and Silas but possibly in our own. How many times has God saved us from harm that we do not know about? How many times has God asked us to do something and promised us God’s participation and empowerment but have not acted upon that voice because what is being asked in unreasonable in our limited human reasoning? How many times have we been save embarrassment or harm because we decided that the voice we are hearing is asking of us something that violates the higher thoughts and higher ways of God – the sanctity of life, the dignity of the human spirit and pre-existing human relationships, of seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God?
God birthed us into a family, the church, where we learn to understand and live out God’s ways. God gave us the Scriptures as to use as guide for faith and life. God gave us a history so that we might learn from the wisdom of our family over the centuries and avoid making the same mistakes over and over. God gave us human intellect so that we can figure out why we do what we do or should do or should not do. But God also shares with us God’s reasoning that, even though we may never fully comprehend, can be incorporated into our pondering of our life in Christ and our life in this world.
Next week, the last tool we will talk about in connection with discerning if the voice we are hearing is God’s voice – experience.