Kym Ackerman left her dental appointment in Flagstaff, Arizona with a numinous feeling of wonder. On an X-ray of her left-side molars, she had just seen the image of Jesus. According to The Huffington Post, Ackerman explained that her mother died when she was only 17, but seeing “Jesus” in her tooth made her feel that she has been protected by a guardian angel.
The Huffington Post also reported that a couple felt the presence of God when they saw an image of Jesus on their Walmart shopping receipt. The Daily Mirror reported that a woman in Birmingham, England believes that Jesus revealed his presence to her through an image on her bathroom floor. (Full disclosure: she and her family have also met ghosts in their house.)
When the cult leader Jeffrey Don Lundgren executed an entire family in Kirtland, Ohio, he said that God had ordered him to do it. A mom allegedly tried to drown her child because Jesus told her to. A woman once told me about a man who tried to get her to go out with him by claiming God told him to date her. Just whose voice are these people hearing? From what area code do these calls originate?
Is everyone who claims to hear God either manipulative or crazy? Sometimes it seems that way. And yet, conservative estimates suggests that one out of ten people has experienced a “God communication” event. A Gallup poll suggested the numbers are much higher: almost one in four people say they have heard a voice or seen a vision in response to prayer.
Many well-known and highly regarded people, including scholars and world leaders, claimed to have heard God’s voice, either audibly or as words in their own minds. Skeptics commonly lump such experiences together under the category of auditory hallucinations, yet most of the people who claim to have heard God speak are normal folks. They are not always religious, and many have done things in response to God’s voice that have changed society for the better.
In the Bible there are numerous examples of men and women who have heard God speak. Some of those people were, admittedly, a little strange, but most were ordinary people, whose experience of hearing God enriched their lives and benefitted the people around them.
But if God really does speak to people, how can a person know whether the words/ideas in his or her mind come from God or are just originating in his or her imagination? How can a person know that he or she is not self-deceived? The Bible, which teaches that God does speak to people, also warns its readers to watch out for people who falsely claim to have heard from God.
An answer consistent with Biblical teaching might be put this way: the only way to tell whether or not God is speaking is to become familiar with his voice. Nothing can replace familiarity with God’s voice.
I have a friend whom I have not seen or talked to in more than a year, but were he to call today, I would recognize him immediately. I know his voice. I know the kinds of things he says, and the way he says them. A person can, in much the same way, learn to recognize God’s voice.
Those who are familiar with God’s voice know that he never whines. He doesn’t beg, he doesn’t say, “Ple-e-e-ease!” He never insults. He doesn’t say, “Why are you so stupid?” He certainly never tells a person to do anything immoral or anything that contradicts his revelation through Jesus Christ and through the Scriptures.
The psalmist says, “The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.” God speaks with authority. His voice is weighty. It has gravitas.
The best way to develop a familiarity with God’s voice is to spend time reading and thinking about the Bible. The Bible speaks in God’s tones, and someone who knows those tones is likely to recognize God’s voice. But a person who doesn’t know the Bible might accept calls coming from an altogether different area code than heaven, and not even know it.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, May 30, 2015