Last week NPR published an article profiling anthropologist T.M. Lurhmann and her study of the Vineyard churches, with a focus on members who “said God had repeatedly spoken to them and that they had heard what God wanted them to do.”
She cites research that more than 25% of Americans think they have been given a direct revelation from God. In addition to more traditional forms of prayer, some of the study participants cultivate this “interactive” relationship with God by pretending he’s having coffee, walking, or “snuggling” with them.
Lurhmann is not an evangelical Christian, and she’s understandably skeptical of this approach to connecting with the Divine.
“They’re using their own understanding of conversation — their own conversations and friends — and building this daydreamlike exchange…..they’re trying to experience God as talking back to them and to experience what God says as being really real, and not the creation of their own imaginations.”
Some of you are bristling right now at the implication that they could be imagining God’s voice. Others, like me, feel equally uncomfortable with the assertion that they aren’t. I’m not saying God can’t or won’t communicate directly with us, but the impossibility of arguing with “God told me” makes me suspicious that most of that 25% is simply hearing what it wants to.
Any time I hear someone claim to receive an insight from God beyond what they’ve read in scripture, I want to ask these questions:
—When the Bible records God directly communicating with a human being, it’s usually a) scary; b) unexpected and inconvenient; c) NOT what the recipient wants to hear. How does your revelation compare?
—Put more snarkily, is this a pattern we learn from scripture or from Joel Osteen?
—Given these same examples, what precedent do we have for thinking we can set the time of the conversation?
—How do you know it’s God? How do you objectively discern between your thoughts and God’s guidance?
—Can I have the rights to the book deal explaining this process? Because it will make millions.
—Have you ever received a “sign” that turned out to be completely false?
—Is it possible you’re experiencing God as your therapist, as Luhrmann puts it? Or mistaking your will for his will?
—Or is there something to this and I’m just too cynical?
Don’t just tell me about that time God answered your prayer. Let’s go a little deeper. What do you think?