* Mark Shea mentioned that he might give my blog a plug today for which I am exceedingly grateful. If this is the first time you have come to my blog, this post is the 5th of a series of posts relating the notes from a Bible study my wife and I led for a group of teens last summer. All of the posts in this series can be found here. You may also be interested in a post a wrote a couple of weeks ago on Lent. All feedback, criticism and input is gratefully received.
Before I get to the substance of this post I think a few key Scripture verses will create the correct frame of reference for the topic at hand: how do you distinguish the voice of God from ‘other’ voices (in this case society’s/our culture’s/etc.)?
Malachi 3:6 – Surely I, the LORD, do not change, nor do you cease to be sons of Jacob.
Romans 8: 38-39 – For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
1 John 2:15-17 – Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever.”
Romans 12: 2 – Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
John 14: 6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 8: 31-32 – Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Matthew 5: 14-16 – You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
Now onto our topic: How can we know God’s voice?
One of the key elements of knowing God’s voice is realizing that it doesn’t change (ref: Malachi 3:6). God is always good, always faithful, always trustworthy and always loving. God, our Father, is unchanging in His essence, or, in other words, in His attributes.
Because God does not change, we can distinguish his voice. We can compare what we hear with what we know to be true of God as well as what we know to NOT be true of God.
It’s important to understand that “un-changing” does not mean that He can’t “change His mind.” God’s character and attributes don’t change but there are frequent examples in the Old Testament of God promising Divine retribution and then relenting (i.e. changing His mind) when the people repent.
However, this is not God changing Himself because He is a merciful God. Even though He relents and spares those who repent, He has not changed. He is still just and merciful and above all loving.
Ok so that’s God’s voice, but what does the world’s/society’s/culture’s voice sound like?
There are three key elements of our society’s voice I think. The first is that nothing is true, everything is relative. The second is that because nothing is true, nothing really matters. The last is that you shouldn’t make waves, you should fit in and you should look and act like everyone else. If you do care about anything you should care about money, sex and power.
The world doesn’t believe in absolute truth. Truth is relative; all cultures and customs are equally good; what’s good for you doesn’t have to be good for me; to each his own; just be yourself; don’t judge; to each their own, etc.
If you study any subject with possible exception of math (because it doesn’t apply) you will be strongly discouraged from making any value judgments. You will be discouraged from saying “that’s wrong” meaning morally wrong. The only truth in which our society as a whole believes is “There is no truth.” Even though that statement is self-refuting logically it doesn’t matter to our society because the statement is about feeling, not rigorous logical thought.
Because nothing is true, our culture thinks that nothing really matters, at least not enough to insist on it (with the possible exception of tolerance for any and all conflicting beliefs/practices/worldviews). It’s considered weird to be a virgin on your wedding night, let alone be celibate for a lifetime as a priest, religious or someone called to singleness. It doesn’t matter if you’re a virgin, if it feels good, do it. The culture thinks that sex outside of marriage between two (or more) consenting adults (male, female or ‘other’) is perfectly ok.
Our culture says to ‘be yourself’ (whatever that means) and then goes on to tell you how to dress “as yourself”, act “as yourself”, talk “as yourself” and think “as yourself.” Our culture says that you should be the best person ‘you can be’ and that’s good enough. Our culture says that if girls want to be loved you have to be ‘sexy’ and dress for attention. For guys to be loved they have to be proud, strong and ‘cool’.
Our culture says hate those who hate you, hate those who are ‘mean’, and hate those that don’t fit in or are different.
How is God’s voice different?
Against our culture’s voice, God’s voice also has three elements. First of all, not only is there Truth, but Jesus says, “I am the Truth…” (John 14:6). Secondly, because there is truth, our actions and choices matter and we can choose to do what’s right. Third, Jesus says to let our light shine before all; in other words, stand out and be different.
Jesus says, “I am the Truth…”. Truth is defined by God and is absolute. Truth provides boundaries, definitions, clarity. Having a boundary sets you free because without a boundary you’re lost and can’t know what is real (i.e true). As an example, my two year old is constantly testing his boundaries. He wants to know if I really mean it when I give him a rule. However, once he has pushed his boundaries and discovered that they are firm he’s suddenly much happier and plays by himself without acting out or otherwise misbehaving (much). He is free, within his boundaries to do anything he likes and by knowing where those boundaries are he knows something that is true to which he can relate, thereby knowing himself and being free.
The truth is essential for free will. By knowing there is in fact a choice (i.e. truth) we can then choose freely how to act and behave and know the real results of our actions.
Knowing that there is Truth, and that Truth is defined by God, we can make value judgments about behaviors. Because God’s truth is that sex is the sacramental culmination of love between a husband and wife we can say that, truthfully, sex outside of that marriage covenant is wrong (be it pre-marital, adulterous, homosexual, bestiality etc.) In our culture that’s a radical position to take and that belief is very threatening to anyone who doesn’t believe in absolute truth because it challenges the core of their own being.
Because there is Truth we have real choices to make. I’m not talking about black socks vs. white socks but every day we have real choices to make about how we interact with other people, about what we think, on what we dwell or at what we look. Our choices matter because we’re either choosing to follow Jesus with our actions or we’re choosing to not follow him.
The last thing is that God’s voice says to be different, be counter-cultural, and stand out because you’re making different choices with your life. “Let your light shine before all.”
The funny thing about light is that it makes things visible that were previously hidden. By choosing to wait for sex until marriage you shine the light of Truth (no such thing as ‘just sex’, sex is holy and meant for the marriage bed) into the darkness of a ‘sex-without-consequences’ culture. That light represents a threat to the darkness of our culture which is why making the choice to be chaste and doing it because it’s right, not just ‘because I want to’ or ‘because it’s best for me,’ receives such ridicule, disbelief and hatred.
The same is true for any other moral action. By deliberately choosing to live lives in relationship and in service to God, our existence challenges our culture’s core identity. That’s why atheists and so-called atheists hate faithful Christians so much.
How does this help us distinguish God’s voice?
God’s voice calls us to live morally courageous lives. God’s voice calls us to do what is right. I wrote in my last post about how being Catholic requires ‘doing.’ By giving us the truth and by being the truth Jesus sets us free from the darkness of our culture and frees us to make hard choices (i.e. true choices) and truly be Catholic.
God’s voice will always be the voice of truth, of the light in the darkness. God’s voice will always call us to live in holiness (not holier-than-thou-ness). God’s voice will never say, “Whatever.” but instead, “I love you.”