Objections to Hearing God (Part Four): Does God “Try”?

April 2, 2012

As my previous posts have shown, objections to “Hearing God” come in different ways. Here's another objection to the idea that we can hear God speak as part of the normal Christian life. This one is to an explanation that proponents of the view (a view that I'm calling "HG") sometimes give for the occurrence of divine silence—the phenomenon whereby God, at least at times, seems not to be speaking.

HG proponents offer several explanations for this. Sometimes, they say, it appears that this silence is because God actually isn't speaking. Presumably, no one disagrees with that, so that’s not at issue.

What is at issue is whether God speaks, but the person spoken to somehow "misses it." [See this post for more on "missing it."]  Though this explanation isn't, properly speaking, an essential commitment of HG, let's assume for now that it is—and in any case, HG proponents often give it.

The objection to HG, then, is that this explanation implies that God could try at something, but fail to bring it about.

It's impossible, goes the objection, for someone to “miss” God's voice because that implies he intended to be heard (why else would he speak?) but the thing intended didn't come about, presumably because of some feature of the intended hearer. And that appears to be incompatible with the doctrine of omnipotence (the doctrine that God is all-powerful). Surely, God could successfully communicate with anyone, regardless of who he's talking to.

Let's call this the “Does God Try?” (DGT) objection to HG. Expressed in argument form, it goes like this:

(1) If HG is true, then God can try and fail at something.

(2) But God cannot try and fail at anything (at anything that's [metaphysically] possible to do).

(3) Therefore, HG is false.

The argument is valid: if the premises are true, so is the conclusion. Rebutting it thus requires showing one of the premises false or at least showing that there are better reasons for thinking a premise false than true.

There's no problem with premise (2). It more or less states the doctrine of omnipotence. Because omnipotence is an attribute God possesses essentially (that is, God cannot fail to have it and still exist), no theist of any kind should deny it.

Premise (1) is the only premise the HG proponent may object to, then. And it turns out that there are good reasons to reject it. The DGT objection is based on a mistaken assumption about what the HG proponent thinks that God intends to do when he speaks. I’ll give my own take on this in a coming post.

What do you think of the idea that, if God speaks, we could “miss” it? Do you think the DGT objection is any good? Why or why not?

Read Part Five in this series!

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