Late one afternoon, a few months ago, an apparently well-heeled young woman showed up at my church. She was neatly dressed, drove a nice car, and spoke with authority and confidence. I didn’t know her. She told me that while driving west along Highway 2, God told her to stop at our church because God told her we would provide a place for her to stay for the evening.
This presented me with a theological problem. You see I don’t believe that God speaks to people about where to spend the night. So, after making sure she wasn’t in trouble, I told her so. She wasn’t pleased. I offered to connect with the Salvation Army, which has provision for emergency shelter. She refused, but asked if she could use my phone to call another church. I wonder if she also told them that God had informed her that they would provide her lodging?
Does God tell you things? Put things on your heart? Give you dreams? Maybe, for example, God is telling you that it is time to change jobs or vote for the Conservatives. Or stop cheating on your wife? Or get a divorce?
I hear people say these sorts of things all the time. It is as if some people think they have their own personal pipeline to God . . . like this year’s group of Republicans running for President of the USA. One of the best tweets of 2011 came from comedian Kelly Oxford. She tweeted, “Cain, Perry, Bachmann all claimed God told them to run for president and all are out of the race. God is hilarious.” According to Rick Santorum’s wife, God also told him to run. She may even be right, because he still has an outside chance. But surely, they can’t all be right. Ironically, the candidate most likely to win is Mitt Romney, who most Evangelicals claim isn’t even a Christian, because of his Mormon faith. I wonder what God is telling him?
I’d be impressed with such claims except, as I’ve said, I just don’t believe them. Never have. Why not? Well, for starters, if there is one thing all pastors learn sooner rather than later, it is that the human heart—and mind—is deceitful above all things. And so we all have a tendency, when we believe in God, to want to believe that just about any intuition or hope or dream we have is from God.
Of course, this approach to faith is very dangerous because it adds up to giving our intuitions, hopes and dreams divine authority. When someone says, “God put it on my heart,” who is going to argue? Until, of course, the hollowness of such claims is too obvious to ignore, as when five or six Republicans all claim that God told them to run for president.
I recently read Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s new book, Thinking Fast and Slow. In it, he describes ten or twenty ways in which the human brain easily believes things it shouldn’t, makes up “just so,” stories to confirm its biases, and often makes quick intuitive judgments based on far too little evidence. To make matters worse, the slower, rational, deeply informed part of the brain that is supposed to keep odd beliefs and intutions in line is usually far too slow and lazy to do so. So people will say, “God told me so” and believe it long before the more thoughtful part of the brain ever has a chance to ask, “really?”
Is there an alternative to believing that you have a direct line to God when it comes to decisions, hopes, and dreams? Sure—though this is a more difficult—and truer—path. Use the values that God’s Word in scripture (as opposed to a private pipeline) are all about, values such as love, justice, mercy, and humility, to guide your decision making. And then use your brain to weigh the decision, thoughtfully and carefully. Because that is exactly what God gave us brains, rather than pipelines, for.