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Signs and Guidance

Signs and Guidance

Last night in our Tuesday night group we discussed signs and guidance. How does one get and follow the right guidance from God?

We were reading the Matthew 2:1-12, and following my gospel parallels, I suggested a parallel reading of Luke 2:8-20, which we did. You have various signs, a report of scriptural interpretation, dreams, and angels between the two stories. There are some remarkable parallels of content, along with some substantial differences, fitted to the message of each gospel writer.

But being a person who likes to set off discussion I asked about our individual ability to hear from God. How would we feel about the various means of receiving a message from God? How would we discern whether a message really was from God.

Pretty much everyone had experienced the twin claims about hardships. On the one hand people will claim that you’re obviously getting close to something big, and the devil is trying to prevent you from getting there. On the other, there are those who would say that if you’re on the right path, things will be easy, so you should correct course.

The same sign seems to mean two different things.

We mentioned some responses at the time to the fire at Notre Dame cathedral. Any lover of art and architecture can hardly help but be saddened by that fire. Yet it immediately has become a “sign” for many things.

At Energion, we’re releasing a book titled Ditch the Building on May 17. It’s available for pre-order now. It’s definitely not connected. But in some people’s minds, it could be. The fire has been seen as a sign of the times, of disasters to come for our planet. It’s been seen as a sort of judgment on dead religion. My Facebook feed is littered with lessons being learned with varying degrees of actual connection. Well, really very little connection.

As I said in my book When People Speak for God, the last person who has to hear from God is you.

No matter whether you are listening to a new idea, a message someone claims to have received directly from God, or the interpretation of a passage of scripture, your individual mind, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, is the final filter to separate sense from nonsense. The last person, and the decisive person, to hear from God is you. Even the firmest believer in the detailed accuracy of the text of scripture will realize that many interpretations of that scripture are nonsense.

… This is the other end of the telephone cord. Inspiration is not just about God. It is about how God communicates with human beings. Thus it is not just about God’s perfection; it is also about humanity’s imperfection. It is not just about God’s infinite perspective; it is also about humanity’s finite capacity to understand.

The human mind is probably the most neglected part of God’s creation….

Henry Neufeld, When People Speak for God, 4.
Signs and Wondering

Signs and Wondering

Over the last few weeks I have heard many stories of people who see certain events in their lives as signs of one thing or another. In fact, I could probably say the same thing about just about any period of time during my life. People are constantly seeing signs.

Of course there is always a problem interpreting the sign. In fact, in the majority of cases, the person who reports something they thought was a sign also say that they are wondering just what the sign means. These signs can be quite simple things, such as meetings that failed, an actual sign seen on the highway when one is thinking of a particular topic, receiving a payment (or not), and so forth.

I’m reminded of the great scene in the final volume of the Chronicles of Narnia (The Last Battle) in which the ape is trying to convince the donkey to wear a lion skin, which the donkey thinks is a very bad idea. Suddenly there is a thunderclap, which the donkey takes as a sign that he should not wear the skin. The ape, however, is quicker and says that he was about to say that if the donkey should wear the lion skin, Aslan should send a thunderclap.

Which presents the problem of interpreting signs–they are so tremendously flexible. The most common temptation is to use a sign to justify a decision that we already intended to make. A close second is the use of a sign to convince someone else that God is on our side in an argument.

Now I don’t have any problem with us using stories to shape the expression of our decisions. I think many people, myself included, need to create some sort of narrative to go with a decision. I also know that it’s a fact that often some event that I regard intellectually as unrelated, nonetheless pushes my mind onto a different track. At the same time I do know that the event is not a good reason for taking a particular course of action.

Signs can be a great deal of fun if you treat them largely as a stimulus to creative thinking, but they can be very dangerous things if you take them too seriously. As a general rule, the signs are more difficult to interpret than the original data.