This page is a partial answer to an extended letter on another page, Difficult Questions:  A letter about doubt.  The reader may wish to refer to that page for a better understanding of the background of this one.  This is the eighth and final page of answers.

  Once again I'm beginning to write what might, but probably won't, be the last installment of the answers to your questions.  Let's continue with your letter.

  "Why did he only come down in the flesh and talk to people 2 to 8 thousand years ago? If he treats us all the same why doesn't he come down and talk to us now? Why does he make me rely on men to explain it all to me? GOD - COME DOWN AND EXPLAIN IT ALL TO ME !!!!!!! IT JUST DOESN'T MAKE...SENSE!!!!! IT ALL MUST HAVE BEEN.... IT'S ALL BASED ON PEOPLE WHO CLAIM TO HAVE TALKED TO GOD, BUT HE DIDN'T COME AND TALK TO ME!! HE SHOULD TREAT EVERYONE THE SAME. HE'S GOD FOR GOD'S SAKE!!!!!!!!"

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  Dispensationalists would say that God deals with man in different ways in different ages; I'm not a dispensationalist, but I understand the view.  In essence, the idea is that history has passed through several ages related to the way God deals with man--before the fall, from the fall to Noah, from Noah to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses--some would divide from Moses to Saul, from Saul to the exile, from the exile to Christ--and then the church age, and ultimately the age which is to come.  By this view, God deals with man according to specific rules which control that period of time.  I don't want to minimize this.  There is a real sense in which each of these landmark events changed the way in which God was involved with man, starting a new "set of rules", as it were.  According to this view, God deals with us through the church and the scriptures during this time, and not through supernatural involvement.  However, I'm disinclined to think so--it seems too limiting to me.  To a degree, this seems like one of those theories which tried to explain the perceived reality, instead of springing from the scriptures and teaching us to change our reality--in other words, I think that someone tried to explain why there weren't any supernatural events in the church, rather than trying to figure out how to bring them back.

  But it must be recognized that the Bible is full of God talking to men, sending angels to help people, intervening in miraculous ways, even making personal appearances from time to time, and for most of us, this is not our normal experience.  I don't know whether we deserve an explanation, but we're bound to insist on one, so let's see what we've got.

  For one thing, stop and realize that the Bible records nearly every major miracle over several thousand years.  (There may have been a couple in the intertestamental period--the story of Chanukah, for example--and possibly a few acts of various prophets which were overlooked, but this is the bulk of it.)  The number of people to whom God spoke directly, as a portion of the total number of people in the world (at times, even as a fraction of the total number of the people of God) is minimal.  It seems like God is always talking to people, doing things, showing up, getting involved--but then, the Bible is the history of what God has done, and even as that, there are quite a few sections in which He did very little for a very long time.  There never was a time in the Old Testament in which God spoke to everyone--the closest He ever came to that was one day at Mount Sinai, and the people were so terrified, they asked Moses to hold the meetings in the future, and just tell them what God said.  Most of the time, he spoke to specific chosen individuals.  In fact, the three-part government of Israel involved the priests who spoke to God, the prophets to whom God spoke, and the kings who carried out God's directives.  Note that although priests and kings were chosen by God, he rarely spoke to them save through the prophets.

  As a matter of fact, one of the distinguishing aspects of the New Covenant is that God no longer deals only through single individuals, but speaks to all of his people.  Yet in experience, most Christians perceive life as you do--that God has never spoken to them, nor to anyone they know.  Or has He?

  Let me say up front that I have never heard the audible voice of God; but that is not saying the same thing as He never spoke to me.  But what does that mean, and why do so many think it is not their experience?

  At the major ivy league universities of this country, there are Nobel Prize-winning physicists, men who worked on the Manhattan Project, and other singular individuals whose understanding of physics goes far beyond anything you or I might imagine.  But were I to attend one of these schools and major in physics, it would probably be several years before I ever met one of these men.  After all, I'll have to begin in the basic classes, and any grad student could teach the basic classes; then I'll move to the more advanced courses which delve into physics as it is taught at so many other colleges--but in these classes, I do not need a professor so much better than those in so many other colleges.  When I'm a senior--maybe a junior--I'll be involved in a project in which Freeman Dyson (to choose one such individual) is also involved, and I will gain from my exposure to him; I might even be in a seminar in which he is involved as an instructor.  However, Mr. Dyson will teach mostly the post-graduate courses.  His talents and knowledge would be wasted on undergraduate material.  He will be the doctoral thesis counselor for some of those pursuing doctorates in his field, teach a few courses in the most advanced theoretical areas, and supervise some of the research in university facilities.  If things do not work out, I might never actually meet the man--but I will gain from him none the less.  If I ever ask a question which stumps my professor (and speaking as someone who has been a professor, that does happen), he will be able to get the answer from one of the greatest living authorities in the field, if necessary.  Even if I never ask such a question, the fact that my professor is a colleague of this man will have heightened his understanding of the field, and so increased his value to me.  Freeman Dyson does not ever have to speak directly to me for me to gain from his understanding.

  What am I saying?  That God doesn't have to speak to you if He can speak to someone "higher up the spiritual food chain", as it were, and have him speak to you?  Not at all.  Yet I do think that you've overlooked God speaking to you through channels other than audible communication.  For starters, I believe that you have a printed copy of the complete Bible, but have never in all these years read the entire thing.  O.K., I'm not sure how much value there is in having read some portions of it myself.  There are some things in there which seem to have no relevance to me, some things which were such basic restatements of things I already knew by the time I read them, and indeed some things which I could not comprehend, perhaps may never comprehend.  But think of this--suppose I wrote all this material to you, and then one day you came over to my house and asked these questions again.  Would I not first say, "Did you read my letters?"  (Actually, I'm a bad example--I love to explain things, and often repeat myself without knowing it.  I seem to recall someone in my past once made a game of seeing how many times they could get me to explain the same thing before I would realize that I had explained it to them before, but I rarely noticed.  Still, you get the point.)  God has already told you so much that you haven't heard, because it hasn't been worth your time and effort to read it--and if it hasn't been worth your effort to find out what He's already said, how can you complain that he hasn't said more?

  And once you begin prayerfully reading the scriptures, it is likely that you will come upon things which you don't understand; if at that point, you ask God to help you understand it, He very well may do so.  Yet I wouldn't expect an audible explanation--certainly not for the first decade or so.  After all, if you then re-read the passage, and it begins to become clear, it is possible that He has spoken to you in that way--and if instead your pastor or a teacher or a family member or friend or, for goodness sake, even me, shows up and provides some understanding, some explanation, which makes things a bit clearer, could that not also be God's way of answering your questions--perhaps in even more direct a way than Freeman Dyson could answer your questions through your professor?  It might happen through a sermon or Sunday school lesson, or through someone else talking about their experiences, or simply from a question you've asked--much as you've asked these questions.  I don't consider it in any way a failure of my humility to suggest that God might have sent me to give you a few answers--and not that I would claim any inspirational authority to my words, but just that what He has given me is given that I might give it to others (I've already mentioned the Philemon teaching).  After all, part of how the "Body of Christ" works is that different parts work together, each with its own purpose, to cause the whole and the parts to grow and mature together.

  By now, you've read the page on Guidance; it speaks of how God directs us through subjective and objective means.  Hearing the audible voice of God is a drastic form of guidance, one which I would not expect but in the face of horrendous obstacles.  May your future never be such that it is needed.  Yet there are men alive today who have heard it, and have taken steps into dark places against incredible odds to do that to which they were called, never wavering in the face of all that would hinder them until they had completed some task which in the terms of God's kingdom on earth was of great significance.

  "The above blind ramblings (or free writing as we called it in college) are not meant to shake your firm belief in religion. They are not meant to offend you, I envy you. You believe your religion. You know what you believe. You are comfortable in your faith. I just don't understand it all. I really didn't start out to write out this, I just wanted to send you a note and talk for a while, but these things have been on my mind for a long time and they are making me mad because I can't talk to anyone about it."

  I know that your note was sent to someone else, and copied to me as an afterthought (coming soon in your comments), but the person to whom you are referring isn't me.  You have heard some of my songs; yet there are songs I've written which sprang from the doubts I faced.  "Sometimes" may be the ultimate expression of this, but I've put several others on the web written at various times in my life, including "That's When I'll Believe", "My Life to You", "I Use to Think", and "Gethsemene"--which although each expressed a different aspect in a different context and pushed ultimately toward faith drew from the well of doubt and despair in my own life.  Even today, I wonder--not whether the religion I have studied is true; God knows that I have seen reality as it is, and will not be fooled into believing the lie--but whether I have missed the path, or worse been tossed aside as not useful for His plan in the future.  I have landed in a place where the future is dark; I keep moving in this direction because I have no other, and life does not allow us to stand still for long.  There is much I don't know, much I don't understand, much I cannot see; and although there is much which I have finished questioning, there are always new questions ahead.  Perhaps if there weren't, we would cease to grow in grace and knowledge.  Doubt is part of the growth dynamic.

  "I don't trust religous leaders and preachers because they are going to steer me to their religion, and I was turned off by you when I mentioned some of these thoughts in passing, and I [make reference to someone close] who is not on the level of development where you question these things. I can't talk to her about much of anything deep and you are the only person I can open up to and I know you can't turn this off and stop reading it because it is very long and doesn't have any paragraph indentations or follow too many rules of grammar, and your curiosity has gotten the best of you."

  Hmmm...part of that is very personal, but let's see what we can do.

  You shouldn't be so hard on religious leaders and preachers.  They aren't really trying to "steer you to their religion" (at least, most are not).  They are trying to help you understand as they do, and most of them are connected to a particular church or denomination because they and it are very close.  I know one person whose theology is very close to mine, in part because I had a great impact on him in the earliest years of his faith, in part because he and I were influenced by some of the same men of God, in part because he has in turn influenced my thinking (and in part because he is extremely intelligent).  But I've oft quoted to him the old Quaker saying, "Everyone's a little queer 'cept me and thee, and at times I'm not so sure of thee."  We are both Baptists at the core, with strong charismatic backgrounds and many years in the congregations of other denominations.  He is now a Baptist pastor, a denomination which he chose because he agreed more with it than with any other.  Were you to ask your questions of him, his answers would be similar in direction to mine, as he would explain things as he perceives them.  His answers would be similar in many ways to those you would get from many other Baptist pastors, although not precisely the same; and if you came to understand things better through his help, he might suggest that you would be more comfortable (or more edified) in his church or in a church which thought and taught similarly to his own.  But he certainly wouldn't try to "convert" you to his denomination (you're a Baptist anyway, but forget that for the sake of the example) if you are already part of a church that believes the gospel and the Bible.  All of us at times have needs which are not readily met in the familiar places; that doesn't mean that we need to abandon them--only that we may need to broaden our understanding of who is with us, of who is part of this body, and of where our answers might be found.  Among ministers, the idea you've expressed is called "sheep stealing", and most of us disdain it, although some are guilty.

  Of course, the "you" you mention is not me; but I'm pleased that I was included as an afterthought, and hope that this has been of some help.  As to your referenced person, I don't know her well.  But there are times in our lives when we grow and times when we stagnate, times when we believe and times when we question.  And there are times during which we can't relate to certain questions or issues, perhaps because for us they have never been a problem, or perhaps because we long ago got past them, or perhaps because we have not reached the level of our understanding at which we can grasp the problem and see what we do not understand.  My father once said, "The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know."  It is that way with all knowledge, and with any category of knowledge, but especially so in our desire to comprehend the infinite, to know God, who is beyond knowing.  Perhaps as you come through this, you will have learned something which she may one day need.  No one gets through a long life without some crisis of faith (not even atheists), and although the young often believe more and doubt less, they too will reach an age at which the old answers are no longer adequate, if they are so blessed.

  "No I didn't get all this from the book [another referenced person] gave me - they were in my head already. You understand my ramblings. Show this to Mark when he has time. I want his input also. Don't give me any of that 'you just have to believe it all' nonsense. I don't believe it all. That's my problem. Well, where did all that come from? I feel better already. I'm almost ready to go deal with [life]. Thanks for letting me vent."

  In a way, it's good that you don't believe it all, that you've asked these questions.  The road of faith is littered with those whose simple unquestioning faith was demolished by a single question beyond what they could resolve.  I don't believe all that I have been taught over the years--in fact, many things I was taught were simply wrong, and others were correct but extremely shallow and misleading.

  I remember again C. S. Lewis commenting that throughout history various philosophers (I have used that title on myself without embarrassment) and critics of the faith have written polemics in which they have described what they believed was Christianity, and then demolished it.  His observation was that their version of the faith was something of a straw man--it did not resemble the truth in any significant way--and thus their "proof" of the error of the gospel destroyed only their own misapprehension thereof, without blemishing the true faith at all.  For those of us with the intellect and experience to raise questions and seek answers, our religion is an ongoing development, a lesson continuously learned, a product still being produced.  That which does not stand scrutiny is discarded, replaced with a better understanding of the reality in which we live.  After all, theology is everything--what you truly do believe will quite certainly control what you do.  (Perhaps you've seen my story about the boiler, which discusses why this is.  In short, if you believe something, you will act as if it were true; if you don't act as if it's true, you probably don't really believe it.)  What I believe now is different from the faith I had in high school, even than I had when I finished college, probably even from what I understood at the time my ministry was in radio, when I held my professorship.  The faith I had then would be inadequate for me today; I expect that in another decade there will be further refinements as I draw closer to the unattainable full knowledge of the truth--and possibly as I make mistakes which will need to be corrected in the years beyond that.

  "PS, I am not trying to be blasphemous (however you spell it). God understands this and is not going to strike me with lightning. I really want to talk to him. People in the old testament did it and he should treat us all the same.  Bye."

  Physical growth only requires that we eat and remain healthy and alive.  Mental, moral, ethical, and spiritual growth require something more, that we recognize a need, a lack, and begin the process of meeting it.  Just as most scientific discoveries begin with a question, most spiritual growth begins with a problem or a doubt.  I have elsewhere referred to the "fertilizer factor" (in my page on the Fruit of the Spirit), the notion that Christian growth involves problem situations which we must at least endure, perhaps overcome.  I'm sure God wants to talk to you; but you must be in a place where you can hear, and you must take the time to listen.

  It appears that I've finished your letter.  I want to thank you for permitting me the opportunity to address such a challenging array of questions, and hope that you'll drop me a note if there's anything you wish for me to pursue further, or anything else I might be able to explain.

  Best of grace.


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