Last post, we covered the issue of revelation. Revelation is problematic because of its very nature. Whether it’s Ellen White having a vision, Saul being knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus, or even Jesus being crucified, it seems that revelation is highly subjective and personal. Some people hear the voice of an angel, while others hear only thunder. (John 12:29)
I want to revisit the question, “How do you know?” On this question, it hardly makes sense to press too hard. People know revelation has happened to them in the same way that you know that a chili dog is an appropriate food to eat at midnight: you just know. And it’s really hard to argue with personal experience, so I don’t do it. If I’m ever having a conversation with a theist and they drop lines like “I just know”, I will typically bow out of that conversation.
And while it is important, in my view, not to have beliefs held without sound reason, I understand that everyone’s version of “sound reason” differs, and that it might not even be important to have beliefs based on reason. This is my personal value, not one that everyone has in their lives, nor should it be imposed upon them, in any way. What people believe is borne almost directly out of the conscious experience of the individual, and we all have vastly and complexly different experiences.
This all sounds well and good. We can allow for people to believe what they would like to about the world. However, when their beliefs begin to impair the well-being of others, the claims that they are making must be subject to a much higher standard of scrutiny than their own personal experience. So even if I were not to doubt that you have a message from the Lord, the question is: how do you convey that to me? It seems especially necessary that I know you’re really God’s dude before you overtake my city. Here’s what I mean.
Consider Joshua. Joshua is a figure of war in the Bible, and the brotha is slaying folks left and right. He conquers Jericho, Ai, executes a couple of Amorite kings, then moves on for the conquest of the southland…and then he has breakfast. But what’s more interesting than what Joshua does and the swift, Old Testamental justice he enacts on anyone unfortunate enough to be living on his turf, is what he says about it while doing it.
But don’t stop; pursue your enemies! Attack them from the rear and don’t let them reach their cities, for the Lord your God has given them into your hand. (Joshua 10:19)
Joshua said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the Lord will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.’ 26 And afterward Joshua struck them [Amorite kings] and killed them, and hanged them on five trees; and they were hanging on the trees until evening. (Joshua 10:25-26)
Really? God delivered those enemies into your hands? Really? God is going to do this? Really? Did you just hang some dead bodies for dramatic effect? Where is the proof for these claims at all that lies outside your personal or cultural experience?
Oh yeah, umm….God said this land was ours, so, uhh, if you wouldn’t mind….
Ask yourself what proof or sign these surrounding nations were given that they were dealing the one true God, the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the one who’s praised for at least two days out of every week all over America today. The eerie chill that a lot of Christians have over the atrocities committed by the OT God, I think, is largely due to the conception of punishment. So, even when no crime is stated, even when no offense is registered, religious people tend to say, “Well, they were evil” even having no proof from the text. But think about what evils these cultures could have done to merit their utter destruction by this God of love and mercy. (A God of vengeance and justice, too, for sure. But I at least need to know what it is they’ve done.)
And so we return to the main question: If I was a Canaanite, what proof could you have offered me that you have a right to my land?
What I’m suggesting is hardly revolutionary. It is simply that having a message from God, or having the right from God to do a thing or have a piece of land, is conspicuously similar to just saying that you do, almost indistinguishably so.
Having a message from God is conspicuously similar to just saying that you do.
Revelation, prayer, hearing a voice from Heaven, etc, these may be acceptable methods of evidence for you to live your own life by. But when deciding things about the welfare of others, it represents a disregard for their rights if we believe that our experience alone justifies having our beliefs enacted on another person without acceptable levels of communicable proof. God telling you to become a pastor might be enough for you, but His revelation to you is not enough to tell that girl why she should date you. It might be enough to convince you of His love, but it doesn’t give you the right to enact His vengeance.
Because at the end of the day, what you call the voice of an angel, someone else calls thunder.
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