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Understanding God’s voice

21-10-2012 - Posted by Andre Piet

On the website CIP, the well-known William Ouweneel in Christian-Holland regularly responds to questions related to the Bible. I was alerted to a contribution in which he addressed the question of how a believer can learn to understand God’s voice and how you can know what God’s voice is and that of yourself. Because of the importance of the topic, I will, in this blog, take a closer look at some of the most important points in Ouweneel’s speech.

I will closely follow the basic idea of Ouweneel’s presentation.

Let’s first establish that appearances, in the Bible, indeed exists. (…) I’m thinking in particular of the book of Acts. There we read that an angel, at times, appears to someone. That is of course very special and very exceptional. But also that the Spirit of God, in someone’s heart, this or that says to that person. A good example of this is Philip, who was commissioned to go onto the road toward Gaza; and then a chariot passes by on which a eunuch of Ethiopia is sitting. And then it says: The Spirit of God said to Philip, “join yourself to this chariot.” (….) So, at that moment, the Holy Spirit in the heart of Philip, spoke to him.

Ouweneel calls Acts 8 “a good example” of how the Spirit of God in someone’s heart can speak. However, anyone willing to examine this part of Acts 8 more closely, will see for himself that it is an appearance of an angel (a messenger). In verse 26 it says that a messenger from the Lord spoke to Philip and gave him a specific command. Then in verse 29 it says, “and the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join yourself to this chariot.” The capital letter “G”, that most translations use, suggests that it was God Himself Who spoke, but there is no reason to assume that “the spirit”, here, would be another than that which sent him on his way, shortly beforehand. So, it was an angel who appeared to him, of which Ouweneel himself declared: “That is very special and very exceptional.” Moreover, there is no mention made of how this messenger spoke to Philip. Ouweneel’s conclusion that the Holy Spirit, in the heart of Philip, spoke to him, is doubly unfounded. Ouweneel further develops this non-argument by saying:

Now, if all is well, all of us have received the Holy Spirit, and, therefore, we must still be able to understand the voice of the Holy Spirit.

This statement is true in itself, but the suggestion that the voice of the Holy Spirit is an inner voice, is not supported by what he had just argued from Acts 8. A believer is, by definition, someone who has heard God’s voice. How else could he be a believer? But please note: we are not talking about an inner voice, but about the voice that is heard from the Scriptures, of which Paul writes in his farewell letter that these are “God inspired” (God-breathed; 2Tim.3:16).

It is incorrect to say that that, apparently, was true only during the start-time, because the canon of the New Testament was not yet complete. Now, all that we have to know, can be found in the Bible, and so on. Well, I think that’s not an argument, because the expression “join yourself to this chariot” is nowhere to be found in the Bible. If we are, at a certain moment, in such a situation, then the Holy Spirit will also have to give direct instructions for us to know what we have to do, here and now.

Ouweneel’s assumption is wrong. To know what we in a particular situation have to do, we do not need to rely on an inner voice. According to the Timothy-letter, it is the inspired Scripture which makes us competent. As a result, the man of God “may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2Tim.3:17). All Scripture, the library which Paul left Timothy (2Tim.4:13), makes us wise (2Tim.3:15), so that we have enough light available for every situation in our lives. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps.119:105).

People sometimes ask me, how do I know that it is not the voice of the devil? Well, to be sure, the devil comes not easily in between, if you have an intimate relationship with the Lord God. Wouldn’t that be something. (…) But it is of course true that from out of our own subconscious-self comes to the fore our own thoughts and ideas. (…) How do you distinguish those from the voice of God’s Spirit? Well, first of all I would say: do not make a too big a difference between them.

A very dangerous advice, for the difference between God’s voice and the voices within myself, is like the difference between day and night! The voice of God is established, black on white, in Scripture. It is objective and for anyone to check. By contrast, the voices that a man is aware of within himself are unreliable and utterly unfit to blindly follow.

Also, in the inner voice from your own subconscious-self, the voice of God can be present. Than those two, as it were, become truly one. I have a nice example of this in Psalm 27. As you read in (…) verse 8: “To Thee said my heart ‘They sought my face, Thy face, O Jehovah, I seek.'” Well, that’s odd. My heart speaks, says the psalmist. (…) But what says my heart?: They sought my face. But who is it who talks? It is the Lord God who speaks!

Indeed, Ps.27:8 shows how God’s voice becomes one with what David says. David recites God’s own words. (For now, it is not important at what occasion this was.) And at such a time, God’s voice and that of a man come together. In contrast, Ouweneel encourages a subjective search for God’s voice. This is not only a hopeless undertaking, but is also completely unnecessary. For God has spoken, and His word is perfectly chronicled. Take that word into your mouth and you hear God’s voice!

When I feel things coming up in my own inner self, then I trust that, in that, God also is present. But that is especially the case when, for example, that voice interrupts me when I am praying, in whatever manner. Then I experience it all the more, like a voice coming to me from the outside. And even if that voice goes against my thoughts or even says things that I really would rather not hear, I know, internally (and I can not prove it and I cannot explain it either), it is He who is speaking.

While Ouweneel speaks of God’s voice, he is sinking deep down into a morass of subjectivity. It is navel-gazing, which he initiates. He recognizes God’s voice in unusual inner feelings and experiences, but it is irrational. He “cannot prove” it and not even explain it. Is it not sad to so carelessly ignore God’s unmistakable voice in Scripture?

… If you do not respond to God’s voice, yes, then that voice becomes steadily softer. Why would the Lord God talk to you, if you still not do what He says.

Without him realizing it, these words are an indictment of his own argument. Indeed, whoever does not consider God’s word to be sufficient in Scripture, does not have to expect to encounter it elsewhere. Certainly not in his own darkened hearts.

So it is important to learn to listen to that voice. It is important to respond to it. And if you’re going to focus on that voice, then you will, also, increasingly hear that voice in your life. It is very important for every believer in his life to act and live according to the guidance of God’s Spirit within him.

God leads through His Word, the Scriptures – seventy books. That word should be in our mouths and in our hearts (Rom.10:8). The road that is pointed out by Ouweneel, leads one into the mists of mysticism where nothing is sure, but uncertainty itself. He acts, here, as a captain who casts the anchor into the hold of his own ship.

This may also come via the advice of others, although, how do you know if they are led by the Spirit? That, you should always test. You can be guided by bible texts, but ultimately, whether it are others or it is a Bible text or it is a voice from your own heart, it must always be accompanied by the inner conviction: this is the Lord who is speaking.

The Scriptures are, in Ouweneel’s advice, degraded to one of the many voices. They are no longer the yardstick or benchmark, but are on a par with the advice of others or the voice from one’s own heart. Decisive is the “inner conviction”, according to Ouweneel. Alas, but in what Ouweneel here argues, I do not hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. That voice is no other than the voice of the Scriptures. Any other voice is “the voice of the stranger” (John 10:3-5).