Read the post first, then click the image and listen to the song. It will make more sense…
Listening to God is a strange idea. Seven billion people on the planet, all of them living and dying with needs, cries, joys, dances, and wars full of cruelties worthy of front page banner headlines. We say God is there, too, intimately, with each one of the billions, listening, paying attention, leaning toward them all with love alone in His heart, justice and mercy His nature, nothing but the good of each on His mind, according, of course, to His infinitely wise will.
Strange idea, this.
Its strangeness comes from the specificity each tribe of believers brings to the metaphor. (An indwelling, being slain in the Spirit, hearing the still small voice, feeling a fire or a numbness, having a hunch or an intuition, being inspired, a miraculous pressing in, etc…) For it is a metaphor, a describer of something I believe to be real, real in the formal sense of being there irrespective of perception. (For those of you who equate metaphor with untruth or unreality, you may now begin to take me to task.) God is a three-letter word, signifying a personhood, a willful something, a Being beyond comprehension so much so that saying God is a being is, in and of itself, misleading. The three letters of the English name we call this Power, this Being, this non-sensory Reality, cannot begin to adequately name Him, the One that is no He, but that is rather, beyond gender, beyond humanity, beyond what our collective imagination can grasp.
Yet, we say easily, we hear Him. I’ve heard people explain that God has told them who to marry, when to divorce, when to launch a mission, and when to abandon that same mission. I’ve explained my own life in those terms as well.
What does this mean?
“God called me to be a….”
“God called me to do….”
“God led me to….”
“God told me that….”
My point is not to question those who hear from God in this way, but to simply ask, what do these kinds of words mean? What is the human experience that leads us to use these words? What is the quality of the experience they describe? What happens in our hearts, minds, spirits, souls, and bodies that would lead us to make such a claim? And what does the similarity of those experiences in various religious traditions imply about the truth of any particular understanding?
There are invisible realities hovering in the air around us. I’m thinking of radio waves, spectral colors beyond our eyes’ ability to perceive, sounds out of our hearing range, and phenomena in the quantum world. All of which are measurable and known by other means than immediate, sensory perception, true, but somehow, it does not seem unreasonable to me to consider that another invisible thing exists, a something that is the leading edge of what we call the Spirit of God.
All these religious terms seem so familiar to us that grew up with them. “God.” “Spirit of God.” “Holy Spirit.” “Jesus Christ.” (As if Christ were his last name.) So familiar as to become blinders to the infinite mysteries behind them.
I’ve been in a season of reconsidering it all. Not rejecting it, exactly, but letting my relationship with each of these ideas, these metaphors, these personhoods (let the denouncing of me as heretic begin here) lie quiet. Not dormant—I still pray—but quiet. I think I ran out of energy for words, ran out of creative means of conversation with them, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t think I was listening anyway.
So we’ve been sitting, and living alongside each other, these ideas (heretical, I know) and me, quietly, simply, with little fanfare.
I spoke with a friend today. She spoke of her own lean toward apathy, and then told me a story of a student of hers wracked by the attempted suicide of a boyfriend, and how her student had no one to go to. As she told me of how she listened and counseled the student, it was plain she was anything but apathetic. Her eyes glistened and sparkled and fired as she spoke of this girl, and I remarked, “You don’t seem apathetic now.”
My friend, moments before, had wondered what life is about. I could almost see God nudging her along, lighting her eyes, calling her—and “nudging,” “lighting,” and “calling” are all metaphors for a process we cannot grasp—to a kind of life that, while difficult and full of hardness, would never be described as apathetic. Is the acorn that is the fledgling life of my friend designed to express its “oak-ness” in the world of teaching? Of counseling? Perhaps, according to clues I see, but that is her own story to tell.
For it is just that…a story she must tell, in faith, as she opens herself to the leaning in of God.
There’s nothing really reasonable about thinking of God hovering over seven billion souls at the same time, intimately knowing, communicating, responding, nudging, and welcoming all at the same time. Explain it how you will, explain it away how you will…it is beyond us, and can only be contemplated in faith and trembling.
But for some reason, in as skeptical a mood as I have been in lately, as I sat with my friend whose eyes were dancing with her love of a student, it seemed so clear that the love of God (whatever we might mean when we use the phrase) is seeking us, reaching for us, nudging us toward becoming the tree the acorn in us was born to become.
Now, I’m going to listen to a song by—aptly enough—The Rescues. A friend once posted a link to this song on Facebook. I clicked on it, and immediately claimed the song as being for me. It was just a story I told myself, but the song resonated powerfully for me that day, and it does still.
My love, you’re not listening…
3 Replies to “Listening to God”
Jeff—Thanks for sharing these reflections. And thanks for sharing the song—I’m struck by the lines about His dreams at the end. I also appreciate being loved through the conversation. Did you realize how long the male guitar player sings on only one breath?!
I’ve been looking at the concept of abiding in John this week. In 14:10, the word “living” is the same “abiding” concept used in 15:4 when Jesus asks us to remain in Him. 14:10 seems to indicate that Jesus’ words and activity are perfectly in line with God. And Jesus calls us to abide in Him in the same way He abides in the Father. I wonder: is it really possible to be so close to Jesus that our thoughts are His, our words are His, and our activity is His? ‘Cause that’s a lot of listening—that’s a really high bar. Even if it is true, it must take a lifetime of practice.
And so I ask: is the “oak tree of life” He dreams for me worth the lifetime pursuit of attending to His leanings into my life?
“The three letters of the English name we call this Power, this Being, this non-sensory Reality, cannot begin to adequately name Him, the One that is no He, but that is rather, beyond gender, beyond humanity, beyond what our collective imagination can grasp.” – Amen human brother! Who is this creator, this designer of life, motion, vastness, detail, and chaos? How can we be so Earth-centric in our portrayal of the inventor of everything seen and unseen? As if this one world of 400 billion in one galaxy among the infinite is the epicenter of salvation? Let *all* the host of heaven proclaim ‘Him’ and recognize majesty. I’ll count myself humble to think that a being was sent to Earth as Jesus to confirm that the conflict in my heart is well known in this universe, and that there is a ‘plan’ that involves recognizing love as the conqueror. That rings true to the core of my fibers. I love you Jeff.
Jeff…thank you for “Leaving Ruin”, WOW! As a retired pastor there is just so much I could identify with and still struggle with and hear. When you get ready to go beyond your angst with Christian unfaithfulness and willing to do the hard work of “seeking first the kingdom of God”, find a copy of Dale Aukerman’s “Reckoning with Apocalypse” published by Crossroads. If you read it and LISTEN I think its fair to say that God’s mysterious promise will be fulfilled “you shall find”. No proselytizing intended, just the genuine love of Christ for someone I perceive to be, in the best sense of the word, a brother.