You make an interesting point. It is true that all these ways of finding God’s will are a bit indirect. We usually find ourselves looking back to find God has been there, nudging us in a particular direction.
Frustrating as it may be, I think that is the nature of biblical faith.
So, before going into another important approach to discerning God’s call, let me say something about why God is so indirect.
God is usually indirect.
It goes to who God is, and who we are as God’s creation.
As people of faith we live with a paradox. The most important relationship of our lives is with someone we can’t see, or touch, or hear.
God made everything in creation — God made your senses, and God made everything your senses can perceive. If you can sense it, it isn’t actually God.
We are the drawing, trying to connect to the artist.
That makes our relationship with God a little like that of a newspaper cartoon with the the artist who drew it. The cartoon people live on paper, in two dimensions. They are totally incapable of perceiving life in the artist’s world of three spacial dimensions.
And if the cartoon characters were made suddenly 3-D, they still wouldn’t grasp the artist’s world of movement in time.
The wonder, the paradox, is that God the Artist reaches down into our world. We find the traces all around us. But we can’t grasp God’s world at all. Created beings don’t have the senses or mental categories to grasp the creator of senses and minds.
You get glimpses of this in Scripture. I’ll mention two:
Israel’s God is invisible.
First is in Exodus 25, where God is giving Moses the instructions on how to make the Tabernacle, the first place of worship for Israel. In the holy place there is to be a box called the “ark” for the Ten Commandments. Above the ark are to be two “cherubim.” These are golden creatures one on either side with their wings stretching across over the ark. Their wings form the “mercy seat,” a kind of throne for God.
That is where Moses would go to meet with God: standing before a throne that to all appearances was completely empty.
This would have been a total contrast to people’s expectations. All the nations back then had temples, and their gods were there for all to see.
I think God was making a major point by this: God is not a convenient statue who can be moved around at will. God is free and unpredictable. God, like Aslan, in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is not safe — but he is good.
Even Moses wasn’t able to see God’s face.
The second biblical scene is from Exodus 33. Moses has spent a lot of time on the mountain, in the cloud, getting direct instructions from God. But he really wants to see.
Show me your glory, I pray.’ (Exodus 33:18, NRSV)
God says it is impossible.
you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ (Exodus 33:20, NRSV)
But God makes a deal with Moses. God hides Moses in a rocky mountain crag until God’s glory has passed by. Then Moses can look and see God’s back.
That’s the picture of life for people who want to see what God is doing, or who want hear directly from God. We don’t know what we are asking for. If we saw God directly we’d drop dead.
Guidance comes from looking back to find God was there.
The good news is that if, like Moses, we keep looking, we can see where God has been. The traces are all around us.
That is what is happening when you listen using the “examen“ or the “prayer of the senses” taught by St. Ignatius, or when you listen to both the internal call and the external call as taught by John Calvin, or when you listen to heart’s gladness and the world’s need as taught by Frederich Buechner.
Keep looking back. If you keep listening and keep looking you will know that God has been there. And you’ll be able to follow.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments! When have you looked back in your life and seen that God had been there?
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