Does hearing God’s voice mean that we are mentally ill?

Monday Musings for March 18, 2019

We live in a crazy world. But one of the problems with craziness is that you can’t take a blood test to find out if you have it. What we have instead are people’s opinions on what might be “normal” (a phrase clinicians avoid) … and you’re beginning to see the problem. When enough of the right people decide on new standards for mental illness, those of us who were formerly considered well adjusted may find ourselves on the other side of the fence.

Now, some people are unquestionably mentally ill, and here I’m thinking of Nebuchadnezzar’s bout with boanthropy (Daniel 4). But that’s an extreme example. The majority of people who experience mental illness (almost 1 in 5 Americans experience an episode each year) do so while looking much like everyone else. They shave, drive to work, buying groceries, etc. So, what does any of this have to do with Christianity?

Some people consider Christians mentally ill categorically. So imagine if those people became the majority and decided to institutionalize all of us. That may sound silly… but remember how it was Germany — and not just Hitler — who “decided” certain things about the “Judeo” part of the Judeo-Christian religions.

Where there is a body of people who decide on thresholds and criteria for mental illness, the process is arbitrary… and any group of people may be declared mentally ill. If praying aloud offended enough people, they could vote to have us put away for being a danger to ourselves and to society… and if you don’t think this kind of change is possible quickly, consider how the LGBT community has traveled from the closet to courts of power in just a few decades.

So, what do we do with people who claim to hear the voice of God? That’s today’s issue. How do we know such people are not crazy? … and by extension, why aren’t the rest of us believers crazy for believing that souls exist… and that a man rose from the dead to save them?

The norm is that most of us do not “hear” God’s voice audibly. Some people did… like Samuel (1 Samuel 3) and Jesus (Matthew 3:17). But what made them notable was that they were exceptions. Most of us “hear” God metaphorically… through his word, through prayer and through observation of his creation. Yet, we are all instructed to “hear” … and the implications are profound. There is a penalty for not hearing what God is saying: such people shall not enter his rest.

“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”(Psalm 95:6–11, NIV)

The implications are pretty clear. God wants us — not just to hear — but to hear and obey. That starts with hearing — and who’s really to say whether or not a claim of hearing God’s voice audibly is legitimate? It’s never happened to me… but I’m not vain enough to think that my experience represents a limit on how God does things.

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