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

  1. Jonathan says:

    I’m really enjoying this series. I am a big fan of Stand To Reason ministries and they are pretty vocal on this issue. And I’ve had several questions on this issue especially on the Does God Try objection. Can’t wait for more.

  2. Timothy Bayless says:

    Thanks, Jonathan. I really appreciate Stand to Reason, too. They’re doing a lot of good, and I consider us very much on the same team. Still, this is a dialog worth having. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts/questions when the next one comes out.

  3. David Carpenter says:

    If God speaks and we “miss it,” can we really say that God “failed?” It seems to me that since God respects greatly the freedom of choice He created us with, God can indeed “try” to reach us. God “tried” to reach/save/repair relationship with all of mankind, yet some reject this attempt. Did God fail?

    This is a rather abbreviated, simplistic view I’m sure; however, I appreciate this series and the opportunity to learn from great minds..

  4. Timothy Bayless says:

    Thanks for checking out the blog, David. I don’t think it’s too simplistic. With a little development, it makes for a good rebuttal to the DGT objection. Actually, one of my responses will be along those lines in the next post. Even the terms “tries” and “fails” might be too emotionally loaded to be useful. What do you think? And did any other contexts come to mind in which God’s action could be compared to his merely “trying” to do something?

  5. […] compatible with missing some instance of divine communication. In doing so, they show the Does God Try objection (DGT) […]

  6. […] Does God Try (DGT) objection says that if HG claims we can "miss it" when God speaks, then HG is incompatible […]