Read Philippians 2:5-13.

It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)

When there is talk of God teaching us directly, without intermediary, or of God speaking, or leading, or reminding, or convicting, and of our listening for such teaching, the question often arises, “isn’t that dangerous?” How do we know we aren’t just listening to ourselves?

The first response that comes to mind is this: who do you think would be the safer, more reliable teacher, say a pastor of a church you have attended for many years, whom you know, and love, and trust, for the most part, or God himself? But that answer is too easy.

A second answer comes to mind: do you really think your conscience would allow you to murder and say “God told me to do it?” Or to cheat, or lie, or have an affair, or even to hate? But that answer is also too easy.
The truth is that Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light, to deceive even the elect, if that were possible. We can mistake the voice of pride, or of the world, or of Satan, as God’s voice, especially early in the spiritual life. I once conversed with a man who said that an angel told him he was the holiest man living.

Spiritual writers often warn against accepting voices, visions, or other revelations as being from God without first testing them against the Bible and having them approved by other spiritual people. In fact, John of the Cross advises rejecting all such phenomena as likely being of Satan. He says that if such revelations are in fact from God, He will forgive us for rejecting them to avoid deception—and that if they are from God, they will have their effect immediately, deep in the spirit; they don’t require some kind of posterior intellectual assent on our part.

However, God commonly teaches without the use of words or visions. God is found deep in the spirit, deeper than Satan can go. The voice of God is the voice of love. What love compels us to do cannot be a sin.

The problem with the original question is that it presupposes that we need to provide for and protect our own salvation. We need to watch over ourselves, to make sure we are following the right path. We need to see in advance and avoid all the pitfalls. We need to save ourselves. That kind of self-assessment and self-guidance is the true and great danger. What we need is to leave our salvation entirely in God’s safe and capable hands. When Saint Teresa of Avila spent too much time worrying about her own state God told her “you think about me. I’ll think about you.”

But even that is not the final answer. The final answer is “yes, that is indeed very dangerous.” It may result in the loss of many things that you love—reputation, possessions, experiences, goals, desires, even your very self—but you will be reborn in Christ.

Categories: Meditation

Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin College and the director of ccel.org and hymnary.org.