A Falafel Kind of Faith

posted by Southern Evangelical Seminary

By Jim Damron,

Note:  The only way I could refute such claims and defend the Christian faith is because of the training and education I received from Southern Evangelical Seminary.  In this particular case, it was the writings and teaching of Dr. Thomas Howe that enabled me not only to have the ability but the confidence to engage in the discussion.

Stacy and Phil were a young couple I met on a recent trip to Israel.[1]  They were visiting Israel for the first time and were looking forward to experiencing all the Holy Land had to offer.  They couldn’t hide their excitement as they anticipated looking over the Dead Sea from atop Masada, taking a boat ride in the Sea of Galilee, and walking along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.  Finally they would personally experience the land where Jesus lived, walk in His footsteps, and gain a deeper sense of His presence.  As we journeyed throughout Israel, the couple and I had the occasion to have a few lengthy conversations about faith including, doctrine, the problem of evil, and other various topics of Christianity.  But one theme kept reoccurring with each conversation, hearing God’s voice.

Stacy and Phil were no strangers to hearing God’s voice.  Apparently, they heard it all the time.  God spoke to them and directed their path each and every day.  He gave them guidance on career choices, where to live, and even told them to take this journey to Israel.  The more they discussed it the more intrigued I became but something did not seem kosher (when in Israel…)  “How does God speak to you?” I asked one evening.

“I pray, and I hear his voice,” Stacy replied somewhat flippantly.

“How do you know it’s God’s voice?” I asked.

“I just know,” she replied dismissively.

Further questioning resulted in similar reactions so at the risk of ruffling any unnecessary feathers, I let the matter drop.

The next morning, Stacy came rushing up to me in a slight panic and said hastily, “Jim, I need your help!”

“Certainly,” I replied,  “What do you need?” “Last night I had a dream,” she said worriedly.

“I was in a large room with all the travelers on this trip.  Everyone was by themselves painting a picture on their individual canvas.  Some were painting mountains, some ocean vistas, and some were painting faces of loved ones.  Then when I approached my canvas I looked and discovered there was nothing on it.  It was blank!  What do you think that means?”

“Maybe you just ate some bad falafel,” I replied somewhat facetiously (Truthfully, I was actually being a great deal facetious but, in my defense, I am not a morning person and I was trying to prove a point).  My point was, as I later explained to Stacy, that not every voice you hear in your head is necessarily the voice of God.  Not every opportunity is an opportunity from God.  Has God spoken to us through other people?  Sure.  Has God spoken to us in dreams?  Of course.  Just look at how many Muslims have met Christ through dreams.  But the primary way He speaks to us is through His written Word.  Stacy seemed to be looking everywhere but God’s Word for His voice.  I explained this to Stacy and she listened and even commented on how important Scripture was to her.

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What Does This Passage Mean for You?

“Yes, the Bible is vitally important,” Stacy commented.  “When my husband and I read verses we ask ourselves what this passage means to us and use this understanding for direction.”  Ah, there it was, the reason for my concern.  Unfortunately, Stacy’s comment is not an uncommon one when people approach Scripture because some people assume the meaning is to be found in themselves.  As Al Mohler once said,

“I don’t care what you think the passage means, I care what the passage means.”(Albert Mohler, Ligonier Conference, 2007).

This is important.  If the meaning of a particular passage of Scripture is found inside my head or my feelings, then the meaning is subjective.  If the meaning is subjective, then it is not objective and only relative.  If it is not objective and only relative, then it possesses no real authority outside of how it may suit my arbitrary preferences and feelings.  But, Scripture claims to be much more than this.  It claims to be authoritative and the very Word of God (2 Tim 3:14-17).  Opponents argue that we cannot really know that it is the very Word of God because no ONE interpretation is more correct.  It’s like the blind men and the elephant illustration, they would say.  One blind man grabs the tail and interprets it as a rope.  Another grabs the trunk and interprets it as a hose.  Still another grabs a leg and interprets it as a tree.  We are all blinded by sin, and none of us can be sure that what is interpreted is correct.  But, the only way we know that the blind men are misguided (pun) is because we have access to the thing necessary to make a correct interpretation, in this case the true picture of the elephant.  If the correct biblical interpretation is unknowable, then we would never know it was incorrect.  To say there is no correct interpretation, is to say that that interpretation is the correct interpretation.

Subjectivity & Catholic Morality

This idea has also found its way in the teachings of Catholic morality.  Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), moral theology has been renewed to highlight, among other things, Scripture as the “soul of all theology” (D.V. 24).  This was an important refocus.  In fact, I recently completed a class in Catholic morality where one of the required textbooks reiterated the importance that Scripture has in our lives but also highlighted the importance of context when interpreting and applying Scripture.  This was a great encouragement to me.  Maybe the Catholics have it!  Yet a few pages later the same textbook explained how the meaning of the Bible grows and develops.  Then again, maybe they don’t.  At first I thought this was just a semantic confusion where the term “meaning” was substituted for “application” or that the meaning of a passage does change in terms of its impact on the reader.  But this was not the case.  Then I asked myself where does the author think the change is occurring?  Is it in the words themselves or in the understanding of the reader?

The author, as efficient cause, communicates meaning.  This is done verbally or written.  In the case of Scripture, the author’s intended meaning is completely inaccessible because: 1) to explain his meaning the author would have to create another verbal text which would need an interpretation as well, ad infinitum, and 2) all the human authors are deadThus, the meaning of a given text can only be found in the text itself.  When the author communicates a written text the meaning is then carried to our minds via the text.  Moreover, for every particular passage there is one specific meaning.  Though the meaning does not change there may be a multitude of changing applications.

So the next time you are trying to discern God’s voice, first read and meditate on what He has already said in His Word.  And if you wake up after a disturbing dream and wonder whether God was speaking:  pray, seek guidance, and review your diet.  It just might have been some bad falafel.


Jim holds degrees from Southern Evangelical Seminary (MDiv, Apologetics), Columbia International University (MA, Intercultural Studies) and Queens University (BA, Biology/Spanish).  He also holds an AS in Respiratory Care and is currently completing a Masters in Bioethics and Health Policy at Loyola Chicago. He spends his time working in the field of pulmonary medicine utilizing his medical and ethics background as well as traveling to speak to youth and adults on faith-based and non faith based topics.  Check him out here:  www.jimdamron.com


Notes

Note:  The only way I could refute such claims and defend the Christian faith is because of the training and education I received from Southern Evangelical Seminary.  In this particular case, it was the writings and teaching of Dr. Thomas Howe that enabled me not only to have the ability but the confidence to engage in the discussion.

[1] Though the account is true, the names have been changed out of respect.

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