For some people, the issue is even more fundamental: “Does God speak to us at all?” For others the problem is discerning whether the voices in their heads are God or their own desires. The issue becomes more pastorally problematic when a person is certain that God is speaking to her when, given the content of the message, it’s difficult to agree with!
Dallas Willard, deals with all of these issues with theological, philosophical, and practical insight. The core of Willard’s argument challenges our presuppositions. Our difficulty in hearing God is often rooted in our idea that God is distant.
If we think of God as being literally outside the physical realm, then it will seem as if he is utterly out of reach for us and we out of reach for him. (74)
As we begin to understand that all reality is infused with the presence of God, we become more open to receiving communication from him.
The analogy he develops regarding our bodies is worth quoting at length:
God’s relation to the world is similar—though not identical—to your relation to your body. You inhabit your body, yet it is not possible to locate or physically identify you—or any act of your consciousness or any element of your character—at any point in your body. God inhabits space, though he infinitely exceeds it as well (1 Kings 8:27). “The whole earth is full of his glory” (Is 6:3). … Your whole body is accessible to you, and you are accessible through it. As your consciousness plays over and through your whole body, so in a similar—though of course not identical—fashion, “the eyes of the LORD range throughout the entire earth, to strengthen those whose heart is true to him” (2 Chron 16:9). (78)
God speaks to us in an analogous way that we communicate with our bodies. For the Christian, developing this understanding and ability to listen is crucial.
I have never read a better book on communicating with God than Willard’s Hearing God. I highly recommend it to anyone who wrestles with discerning the voice of God.
(Thanks to Brian Lachine for both recommending and buying me a copy of this book.)
—Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984, 1993, 1999).