My brief description of Agnes’ complex case probably makes sense to many readers, but I venture to guess that many more are confused or skeptical about the still small voice. For me, there was this background. Some 35 years ago on a spiritual retreat, I was instructed on the use of a spiritual journal.31 Each entry began with a letter from me to the Lord of my life, describing my concerns and considerations for that day. But the second part of this experience seemed unusual—I write the Lord’s response. The retreat directors, Matthew and Dennis Linn, outlined the characteristics of the response as: affirming, with a vocabulary of words and concepts not recognizable as mine, but compatible with my nature, usually of scriptural origin, and almost always surprising (Table 3, left column). About that same time, I read two books recording the conversations with God by two listeners.32,33 Immersed in reading the daily entries, I became habituated to these conversations as a prayer. When I found another compilation of God’s conversations with Neale Donald Walsch 20 years later,34 they seemed perfectly natural.
Characteristics of the Still Small Voice
||Download (.pdf) TABLE 3
Characteristics of the Still Small Voice
|Linn’s Attributes ||Hybel’s Filters |
Vocabulary of concepts/words not easily recognized as one’s own
Surprised by novelty and fit of answers to questions
Compatible with God’s character
Wise, simple, elegant choice of words
Direction of message compatible with character of listener
An interesting corroboration was published last year,35 The Power of a Whisper in which the author describes how his life was favorably influenced by hearing and following the still small voice. Wishing to guide his readers on who was speaking, he offered several filters to ensure it was God’s voice. They matched the Linns’ guidelines (see Table 3, right column). Then he told of writing his parishioners to solicit from those who had such experiences descriptions of God’s conversation. Over one weekend he received 500 replies each describing messages of affirmation, admonition or calls to action. He concluded that we have a communicating God, and hearing His voice is a common experience in his Parish. So I wonder how common it is among my colleagues in Critical Care. Again, I invite you to find in your own experiences any similar occurrences as a basis for exploring further this topic.
My experience with spiritual journaling over the intervening years was repeated, consistently affirming, scriptural, surprising. I recently scanned my ten 3-ring binders in which I had collected those conversations, and selected 10 consecutive conversational exchanges. I compiled these with other stories told in this chapter to get some feedback from some twenty friends. One reply was especially helpful:
I was totally stunned by your story of “the still small voice.” I have a HUGE problem with people who believe they communicate directly with God, and I have an even greater problem with those who try to justify it with such lightweight and “shaky” logic. If I didn’t know you better, I would say the person who wrote that was delusional, dysfunctional, or just plain crazy.
In my view, this response articulated well several problems with living the interface of science and belief. First, “if not delusional, dysfunctional or just plain crazy,” what am I? My best explanation is that I am a man living the interface of science and belief, taking the evidence of each seriously. This allows me to experience the joy and awe of discovery through science and the gratitude and blessing of conversation with God through belief. Second, what would we accept as evidence for God’s existence or willingness to communicate? Classical arguments about God’s existence convince believers and cause nonbelievers to look for more convincing evidence.
Listening for and hearing the still small voice is a complex human endeavor. It requires some or all of the following: belief that God can and will speak to me; a quiet spirit free from noise, hurry and crowds; a desire to know God’s answers to my questions, or God’s preference among courses of action in front of me; and a willingness to obey the instructions after putting the conversation to the test. Ceaseless striving for discovering alternative explanations for the still small voice can squelch these subtle movements of the spirit. Alternatively, cultivating these aptitudes for active receptivity is an all-consuming spiritual practice that can interfere with the search for more convincing evidence. So my approach is to go with the flow of the still small voice, choosing to listen rather than search. This choice was supported by several happenings in my life. One occurred early in my relationship with my wife, Elaine, when I told her about the progressive peripheral polyarthritis which I had suffered for the previous year. She listened empathically as I finished the story, and then asked if she could pray for me. “Of course,” I answered, so she laid her hands on my left shoulder saying “Lord, please heal Larry’s arthritis.” Immediately, I experienced warmth spreading from my left shoulder down my left arm and across my shoulders to my right arm, warming all my joints from shoulder to wrist and the metacarpal joints of each finger. This feeling lasted a few minutes, when the stiffness, pain and fluid in the joints disappeared and never returned. I know that I know God used Elaine’s love to heal me, and I expect that this spiritual experience will have no effect on the belief of any others who hear this story—it is my spiritual experience, done for me alone, so anyone hearing this story is unlikely to be convinced—and any of my friends who wish to tap in to the spiritual experience need to have their own. It seems one cannot accept God’s healing presence vicariously; one needs their own spiritual experience.
If I were able to use the scientific method to test my belief that God exists and speaks to his people, I would phrase the null hypothesis “God does not exist/speak to His people.” Then I would examine each of the entries in my spiritual journal for God’s conversational attributes, and finding multiple responses to my inquiries, I would reject the hypothesis and conclude the opposite—God does exist and speaks to his people. I compiled ten such examples which falsified this HO, provided my subjective evaluation is allowed as evidence. And there is the risk, for as convinced as I am by my subjective evidence, I do understand why the scientific method cannot accept it for lack of objective evidence and reproducibility in the observers. This does not weaken my belief that God spoke to me; indeed, my faith is enhanced and my enthusiasm to hear His word is heightened. Yet I do not expect others to be convinced by my subjective evidence—they must have their own spiritual experience before they become convinced.
So belief becomes a personal choice to act on subjective perception of God’s presence. It seems like my healing and my learning transcend all my understanding of how it can occur, so it is not unreasonable for me to invoke divine intervention. To the extent God did it, it is the polite behavior for me to feel grateful and to express my gratitude to Her. Suspending my search for scientific proof seems like a good idea given my improved health. It is an even better idea given my prior faith experiences, so I have no trouble dealing with God as if She exists. This sets me free to converse with God and to hear Her still small voice. How else can God communicate with Her children? Besides, everything for which I do have scientific proof is so complex and beautiful that it draws out of me wonder and praise, so I get it both ways: my skepticism cannot disprove God in scientific terms because I do not have a Godometer; and whenever I can prove anything scientific, the result causes me to praise God.