My senior year of high school, I wrote a letter to the administrator, who was also a pastor. Our teachers tell us to ‘think, don’t feel’ in direct contradiction to Obi-wan Kenobi’s advice in Star Wars, I said, but then we’re told, ‘Where do you feel God leading you?’
How can we say both? What are we supposed to do? think? feel?
I think my experience is probably fairly similar to what a lot of conservative Christians face. The culture I grew up in had a major focus on apologetics and defending the reasonableness of Christianity. It emphasized logic for conservative political positions, reading scripture daily, and a personal ‘walk with Christ’ (which basically translates to Christianity having an everyday impact on how one lives their life).
We learned how relativism and personal morality (“this is my truth, that’s yours”) made no sense, and that just because you want something to be true (or feel it is true) doesn’t mean it corresponds with reality. We learned about how the Bible was put together and how it was historical and consistent. We were taught christology and pneumatology.
And yet, at the end of the day, when confronted with question like ‘What college offer should I accept,’ we commonly received advice along the lines of, “Pray about it and see where God is leading you.” Which, at the end of the day, sounds an awful lot like ‘listen to your heart’…(which is “deceitful above all things and exceedingly wicked“) So, I asked that pastor: What are we to do?
Instead of writing me back, he did a chapel sermon on my question. And, I have to say, it’s one of the only sermons of which I have any lingering memory.
God, my pastor said, wants you to obey His word. If you move to Colorado in pursuit of that, you’re following God’s will. If Colorado doesn’t work out, and you have to move back, but you’re still obeying God’s word as found in Scripture, you’re following God’s will.
God is very clear about what He wants us to do in His written word. He doesn’t leave us to guess at it. Everything else ought to be done in pursuit of that, the pastor reminded us.
So, what college (or job, or state) am I supposed to go with? Well, whichever one you think is best. Whichever one works. Whichever one you want to get into, even if it takes multiple tries.
God doesn’t try to send you secret messages through the decisions of others, your own failings or successes, or the colors of the wind. He’s already given you His message, preserved through centuries, miraculously through the Holy Spirit, in the Bible.
God is not your passive-aggressive girlfriend. He doesn’t drop little hints, hoping you’ll remember your 6 month anniversary, or give you the silent treatment if you ignored Him last night. He won’t try to manipulate you into making the right decision, or be subtle and obscure about expressing His feelings for you. He doesn’t require you to possess extra-sensory perceptions, and He actually forbids entrail readings, astrology, and other supposedly predictive activities.
You don’t need to get God to wear a mood ring to bring the key to unlock the mystery of God and His emotions and understand the complex infrastructure known as His Will. He’s already told it to you, clearly, in Scripture.
Often we are tempted to take human decisions or natural occurrences and treat them like God’s voice. It’s an interesting sort of idolatry, really, and it almost always ends badly when taken to the logical extreme.
We use it to explain why we didn’t get what we wanted (‘God shut that door so I would go in a different direction’), or to justify what we ourselves want and to protect our decisions from those who might offer dissent (‘It is God’s will that I become a starving artist’).
Amazingly, we often paint the tragic occurrences of a fallen world (someone not getting a job, being sick, making an unwise or even sinful decision with widespread consequences) as signs from God to somehow guide our behavior and make choices based solely on how we have decided to interpret those events (with said deceitful hearts and thoughts that are not like God’s thoughts).
Certainly there is general revelation all around us in creation, which testifies to God’s nature. If a leaf, rainbow, or bird reminds you of God and what He has put down in His word, it is fulfilling part of its purpose.
However, if someone is reading a specific course for your life in a leaf, rainbow, or bird, those would be tasseography (sort of), aeromancy, and ornithomancy respectively; all of which are generally condemned by scripture.
Happily, our God is a God of order, not chaos. Obeying God is not a guessing game or even a translation project. He has laid out His requirements for us in scripture, through both the law (which we cannot keep perfectly), and the Gospel of Jesus Christ (who justifies us in His death and resurrection.)
We are commanded to confess with our tongues and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord, rather than being instructed in the ways of finding hidden symbols and signs in order to decipher His will.