I recently attended an interfaith discussion on the book of Genesis. As we know, the biblical characters in Genesis claimed to hear God’s voice—all the time! Genesis is filled with phrases such as, “Then God said,” or “God told so and so.” The same is true for the prophets! What are we to make of these biblical claims? Do we believe them? Do we trust them? Should we question and test these biblical claims? Yes, we should!
Out of the blue, the facilitator of the interfaith discussion asked the following questions:
“Has anyone in this group actually heard the voice of God? If so, in what language did God speak?”
The facilitator was fishing. He wanted to hear our responses for his own personal reasons. One by one, each of us took our turn answering his questions. Eleven people were in the group that day. Five of us admitted to hearing God’s voice in our own language. Six people stated that they had never heard God’s voice, but they had experienced God’s presence in other ways, like nudging, protecting, or guiding.
The facilitator was one of the six people who had never heard God’s voice. Hence, he was curious as to the legitimacy of such claims. He was questioning and testing.
We’ve all heard people say, “God told me such and such.” To be brutally honest, I admit that I have always rolled my eyes, and privately doubted such statements. Then, one day, when I was least expecting it, I actually heard God’s voice. Suddenly, I became someone who could say, “God told me.” I could even go so far as to say, “God told me more than I ever asked or wanted to know.” I could also say that I had no control over when God chose to speak to me. I learned that lesson, in the middle of the night, on more than one occasion.
Each time that I heard God’s voice, it was an unmistakable, undeniable communication, discernible in my mind and spirit, but not audible to the human ear. In every case, I was given insight—a type of knowing—that had not previously been revealed or known. In all honesty, I hope to hear God’s voice again, someday, but that may not happen.
I came to appreciate the words of Thomas Aquinas quoted here from a book entitled, “A Science and Religion Primer.”
“For Thomas Aquinas, 1225 – 1274, humans come to know through two complementary sources: the natural light of reason and the light of faith.”
Herein lies the difference between knowledge that is acquired through intellect, and knowledge acquired through insight. To be certain, these two realms of knowing cross each other all the time. Sometimes insight informs intellect. Other times, intellectual knowledge leads to insightful understanding.
Such is the nature of insight gained through the light of faith. This was Thomas Aquinas’s definition of one way to know something. Such communication cannot be explained through the natural light of reason. There’s nothing wrong with insight, gained directly through God’s voice, but we run into trouble when we don’t test our insights, against our intellect.
For Aquinas, the two forms of knowing were to be complementary. In other words, we wouldn’t make finite determinations based on only one form of knowledge. We’d make them based on both insight and intellect. To be taken seriously, people of faith must present themselves to the world through both realms of knowledge, as we move into the church of tomorrow. I believe true spiritual wisdom is a mix of insight and intellect—a well balanced mix!