Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

God is dumb.

Seriously – when does he ever speak?

Again and again today, I hear and read of people saying stuff like “and then this morning the Lord said to me such-and-such.” I have to presume that most of these instances are just a realisation they’ve had, which they have paraphrased as a sentence from God.

Of course, you also meet people who say that they have actually heard an audible voice from God, but that’s something else isn’t it? No matter how apprehensive we might be of believing them, it still comes across as a slightly more honest description of what happened.

The Bible is littered with instances of God actually speaking, but again, how much of this was actually spoken words? And how much of it was someone putting God’s revelation into words?

At a Christian prophecy conference in Auckland a few years ago, I remember telling new friend Courtney that I wished I could get an email from God each day, telling me what to do. That’d be a lot easier, I thought. But then, a lot of what He could say would be subject to whatever context I read it in.

“1. Eat breakfast.”

I’m in a bit of a hurry this morning. I know – I’ll buy breakfast.

“2. Go to work.”

Sure – but eating breakfast is my top priority, so I might be a bit late.

“3. Pray.”

I’ll pray after breakfast while I’m on my way to work. No I won’t, I’ll quickly recite The Lord’s Prayer now, then that’ll be done.

Of course, God could be more precise:

“1. Eat a whole healthy breakfast, using your own resources, be finished by 8:20, then wash-up, dry, put everything away and brush your teeth by 8:25, so that you can catch your bus. Make sure you have nothing else outstanding to do at home beforehand, as you won’t have time afterwards to make your bed, pack your bag, go to the toilet, the bank or anywhere else.

The term ‘breakfast’ refers to your first meal of the day, and should include a bowl of healthy cereal, plenty of your oldest full-fat cows’ milk, one spoon of sugar (the term “spoon” refers to the one in the sugar-bowl), a cup (that’s your big mug filled to within 1cm of the rim) of 100% fruit juice (not a “fruit drink” as defined on the label), 2 slices of toast (toasted for between 60 and 96 seconds) (don’t drop crumbs anywhere except on the plate) with a medium spread of full-fat margerine and nothing else.

This list is in English, current Oxford-published dictionary definitions apply, and by attempting to carry out these instructions you hereby agree to completely absolve me from any personal opinions you may have (including, but not limited to, sickness, health and/or indifference) regarding these actions’ consequences.”

Quite frankly, if I had an email from God like that, I might just feed my breakfast to the cat. After all, He never said that I had to eat it.

Anyway, the point I’m… hang on a second, he did used to send us instructions like that.

3 "This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.
6 "Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. [
a] 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.
11 "Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull's blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.
15 "He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull's blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the Tent of Meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.
18 "Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull's blood and some of the goat's blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.
20 "When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat's head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.
23 "Then Aaron is to go into the Tent of Meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24 He shall bathe himself with water in a holy place and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.
26 "The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and offal are to be burned up. 28 The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.
(Leviticus 16:3-28 NIV)

I wonder – was Aaron allowed to strut around like a chicken while he did all this? You know – just for a laugh? Because God never actually said that he couldn’t.

At a corporate training session in 1996, I was told that communication was in fact only 10% words, and 90% body-language.

I’ve concluded that, generally speaking, communication is actually 10% words, and 90% context. (which includes body-language)


Oh dear, I appear to have typed the word “yes.” Without a context, “yes” could mean literally anything.

There are 2 lessons that I’ve learnt about words:

1. You can always add more words to them.

2. Therefore words can’t convey the whole truth. Ever.

(do you like the way I added the word ‘ever’?)

Even the Bible is endlessly debated over, because, being only words, it’s just not specific enough for us. Any argument that this is a failing on our part to understand it correctly, is really an agreement with my central point here about the dominant power of context - what we already know and believe.

Having long-since abandoned giving us long-winded wordy instructions, and with the words of the Bible now frozen, God seems to send most of his remaining communications to us via the silent context of our lives. Even when we learn something new from the Bible, it's not the words that have changed, but the context in which we read them.

Even the teaching of the Holy Spirit changes the context of our reading.

Over a year ago I spent quite a lot of time lying on the grass on Richmond’s Riverside Development, weighing up whether or not to return to New Zealand. Eventually I’d figured that there was little point in him actually telling me anything if I was going to do what He wanted anyway, so I resolved to head back to NZ, and gave him a week to change my mind.

Today (by which I mean now generally) (and 'now' means the date of this post, not necessarily the date on which I am typing this) (sigh, all right) about a year later not much has changed.

I was lying on the same grassy knoll asking God for another clear direction on whether to return to New Zealand yet again.

I looked up, and remembered why I had stopped lying on this patch a year ago, and moved to Richmond Green.

Pigeons. Perched in the sprawling branches of the tree above me. Picture a pigeon seen from underneath. Now picture lots of them. Yep, that’s the hail of bullets I was facing.

It occurred to me that there were probably a lot of people and powers who didn’t want me back in New Zealand. Who were waiting there for me, ready to do their damnest to go all over me again until I left.

It struck me that said antagonists were opposing God’s ways. I probably shouldn't follow them.

It’s certainly not as definite as the words “Return to New Zealand next week”, but weighing the idea up within the context of everything else in my life, I certainly can’t ignore it.

And to influence thoughts through a flock of pigeons, if that’s what was indeed happening, would certainly take a god.


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