Objections to Hearing God (Part Six): An additional response to “Does God ‘Try’?”

July 24, 2012

Previously, I gave hypothetical examples that show divine omnipotence compatible with missing some instance of divine communication. In doing so, they show the Does God Try objection (DGT) unsound.

This post gives a few more that try to prove the same point. Unlike the previous examples though, these describe cases of missing some instance of divine communication that DGT proponents would likely acknowledge occur, and yet would agree pose no threat to omnipotence.

Let's call these "the accepted examples."

  • One can read some portion of the Bible, or hear some biblical passage, and yet fail to recognize or believe that it's divine communication.
  • One can read or hear some passage of the Bible, but wrongly interpret it, and thus, fail to understand what God intends to communicate or teach through that passage. Indeed, reliably understanding these features of a passage usually doesn't happen without someone or other doing the hard work of hermeneutics and exegesis.
  • During Jesus' earthly ministry, his hearers frequently misunderstood his claims.
  • For most of his time on earth, Jesus concealed his divine attributes, and as a result, many failed to recognize him as God. Those who did so thus failed to recognize his speech as divine communication.
  • In at least one instance (Luke 24:13-35), Jesus concealed from others not only his identity as the second person of the Trinity, but even the fact that he was Jesus of Nazareth, and thus, prevented them from recognizing altogether who they were talking to. (These last two examples are akin to those from the previous post.)

The accepted examples are instructive for two reasons. First, they make explicit that most of us already agree that missing it is compatible with omnipotence. And second, they show that the DGT objection, were it sound, would exact too high a cost, namely, by implying that certain widely accepted truths are no more compatible with omnipotence than HG supposedly is.

To be sure, the modes of divine communication in the accepted examples differ in various ways from the HG-type examples. However, there seems to be no way of distinguishing the two--short of being ad hoc--such that the former, but not the latter, are compatible with omnipotence. If the HG-type examples are incompatible with omnipotence, then the accepted examples are, too; that's too costly. Or if the accepted examples are compatible with omnipotence, then so is HG, and therefore, again, DGT is an unsound objection to HG.


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4 Responses to 'Objections to Hearing God (Part Six): An additional response to “Does God ‘Try’?”'

  1. avatar Craig says:

    Timothy, I am happy to have stumbled on this series. Let me first say that I don’t find the DGT objection, at least as stated, very promising. Regarding the HG claim*, my impression is that people who affirm it often try to defend it in terms of their own experiences of (what they take to be) private revelations from God. My question is whether you might be willing to concede that a person’s own experiences can provide grounds for provisionally rejecting HG.

    Some background might be helpful. I recall reading Willard’s In Search of Guidance years ago as an earnest Christian, believing that my “conversational relationship with God” wasn’t up to par. To my own pastor’s surprise I could not honestly affirm that I had ever received a “custom-tailored” private revelation from God. This developed into a serious concern, since at the time I would have affirmed HG. Over the years, and after much prayer, Bible study, soul-searching, and thought, I eventually concluded that HG was dubious–that, at least for some of his children, God probably did not give custom-tailored guidance in the form of private revelation. Although I didn’t take my own experiences to falsify the claims of others regarding their experiences of divine guidance, I came to think that, in affirming claims like HG, these others (like Willard and my own pastor) were too hastily drawing generalizations about their own conversational relationships with God.

    So what do you think? Do you think that it is possible for one’s own experiences to justify a provisional rejection of HG?

    * HG: “as a matter of course, every believer can expect his or her own private revelations, two-way personalized communications, and custom-tailored guidance from God.”

  2. avatar Sam Harper says:

    Concerning Jesus concealing his identity, that doesn’t strike me as a counter-example to the claim that God doesn’t merely try to communicate and fail. After all, if Jesus was concealing his identity, then he wasn’t trying to reveal his identity in those cases. He was doing just the opposite.

    But none of these examples strike me as being good counter-examples to what we’re talking about here–the question of whether God tries and fails to give personal revelations to people through their subjective experiences. What I’d like to see is an example of God delivering a prophecy or revelation and the recipient being unaware that anything was being communicated to him. After all, the big confusion people have that leads to conferences and books on “how to hear the voice of God” is that people can’t tell the difference between their own voice and the voice of God. People can’t tell the difference between subjective impressions and divine communication. So that’s the sort of thing we need a Biblical example of–God attempting to communicate to somebody through personal revelation, and that person not realizing it.

    In the case of the Bible, nobody confuses the written words in the Bible with their own imagination. EVerybody realizes that SOMEBODY besides themselves wrote those words. They’re just confused about who wrote them.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Craig.

    Before I reply, note that the content of the posts in this series don’t depend on any particular answer to your question.

    It’s a fair question though. You ask: Is it possible to be justified in thinking, on the basis of one’s experience alone (i.e. lack of the relevant experience alone), that God does not speak to individuals regularly.

    Short answer: in principle, yes–provisionally.

    Longer answer: It’s possible, at least provisionally, for lack of experience on its own to justify one’s belief that God does not speak regularly. But the point at which one learns of credible experiences of hearing God, he becomes unjustified in holding that belief. Thus, one could be *synchronically* justified in this position, but over time, he would be *diachronically* unjustified. (synchronically = at a given time; diachronically = over time)

    Yet, even so, I suspect that here, those who take themselves to be synchronically justified likely would fail to meet the conditions under which one may infer non-occurrence of a phenomenon from lack of experience of that phenomenon.

    Generally, one may infer the non-existence/occurrence of something only if two conditions are met: (1) If the thing/event were to exist/occur, then you would expect to have evidence of it; (2) one lacks such evidence.

    In the present case, even if one lacks evidence–i.e. condition (2) is met–one likely does not satisfy condition (1). As I’ve claimed in these posts, it’s plausibly the case that one would expect to have evidence of HG only if certain conditions are met (some perhaps by us, others perhaps not). Accordingly, I don’t think that one may infer from one’s lack of experience of hearing God that, indeed, God does not regularly speak.

    Now, an aside: I’ve been careful not to endorse HG-proper in these posts–it’s too strong a claim. What I mean is that I think one can consistently affirm both that God intends the Christian life, generally, to include this conversational component and also, that there can be very long periods of time during which God could be silent to an individual. The lives of many in church history seem to exhibit that pattern. It’s for reasons like these that I don’t think a Christian should feel any guilt or inferiority if she lacks such experiences.

  4. avatar Timothy Bayless says:

    Glad to have your comments, Sam. I clicked on your link. Your picture and blog look familiar. Thanks for visiting. I think that I’ve addressed all of your objections, and the assumptions they appear to make, in previous posts. Because your comment raises so many issues, though, and because there are others that might have similar objections, I’m going to post my reply as an upcoming blog post.