Objections to Hearing God (Part Five): A response to “Does God ‘Try’?”

July 19, 2012

The Does God Try (DGT) objection says that if HG claims we can "miss it" when God speaks, then HG is incompatible with the doctrine of divine omnipotence—very roughly, the attribute whereby God can do anything that is metaphysically possible to do. If DGT were a sound objection it would show HG inconsistent with Christianity.

The supposed incompatibility of HG and Christianity, according to DGT, is because

(1) If HG is true (i.e. if God speaks and we "miss it"), then God can try and fail at something.

But this claim is false, and one reason to think so is that HG is consistent with the fact that God can intend his speech to be missed.

Consider two general kinds of intentions to act that God can form.

God can form a conditional intention. This is an intent to act that is of an "If…then…" form—an intent to do something provided that something else is the case. We express conditional intentions when we say things like, "If it's too hot tomorrow, then I'm going to the movies instead of the game," or, "You're paying the tip only if I pay our check."

As applied to hearing/missing God's voice,

  • God could intend that if Barbarelli is willing to act on what he hears, then God will allow his voice to come from the periphery to the focus of Barbarelli's attention.
  • He could decide that Giorgione hear his voice with greater frequency only if Giorgione stops doing some action that violates his conscience.
  • He could will that Tully hear his voice with greater clarity only if Tully stops distracting himself.
  • God could act such that, if Cicero chooses to familiarize himself better with some aspect of biblical revelation, then Cicero will recognize God's voice as God's voice.

Moreover, God can also form an unconditional intention to be heard/missed (unconditional relative to the intended hearer's immediate response). That is, God can have aims that are best achieved only by allowing some person to hear/miss it, come what may.

Thus, for example,

  • God could make his own communicative efforts less-than-clear in order to help train Orcutt in an ability—that of recognizing what God's voice is like; or that of helping Orcutt discern God's voice from among competing distractions.
  • God could allow Orcutt to miss his voice at various times, or in various ways, in order to help Orcutt form certain habits of character—courage to act in faith on the basis of good reasons, for instance; or as incentive for cultivating a less distracted life.
  • He could allow Orcutt to miss it in some fashion in order to maintain what some have called "epistemic distance" from Orcutt—this plausibly being the only way in some cases to preserve human freedom or moral responsibility.

The point to notice in the examples above is that the intended hearer misses it in some fashion, yet the situations, so described, are compatible with God's being omnipotent.

If situations like those above are even possible (and why think they're not?), it follows that premise (1) is false, and thus, that DGT is an unsound objection to HG.

In the next post, I'll suggest one more set of reasons to think (1) false.

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4 Responses to 'Objections to Hearing God (Part Five): A response to “Does God ‘Try’?”'

  1. […] Part Five in this series! Tweet(function() { var po = document.createElement('script'); po.type = […]

  2. Jonathan says:

    VERY insightful. However, even if it is plausible that God does speak in the sense that most Christians understand this, how are we to understand that it is God speaking? I guess what I am asking is if all this is true how is this truth put into practice in daily life? Is there any practical teaching by which we can discern the voice of God?

  3. Jonathan,
    I think those are good questions. The purpose of the series has been to deal with objections, so that’s why I’ve not mentioned much in terms of how-to. For practical advice, you could start with
    * JP’s recently posted talk on discerning God’s voice at https://www.jpmoreland.com/media/discerning-gods-voice/
    * Gary Best’s book, Naturally Supernatural (http://amzn.to/NZvzpF)
    * Jack Deere’s book, The Beginner’s Guide to the Gift of Prophecy (http://amzn.to/Qs8gpo)

    There’s no substitute for hands-on experience. In addition to any of the above materials, I’d recommend getting to know Christians that you think are trustworthy and who regard having a conversational relationship with God as part of normal Christian practice–and who actually do it. I’d also recommend getting involved in something that would give you a chance to grow in this area. An obvious example would be, say, a healing prayer ministry at a local church (if not your own church, then a church in your area that is on board with such things).

    Does this help?

  4. […] I gave hypothetical examples that show divine omnipotence compatible with missing some instance of divine communication. In […]