Yesterday I posted links to a brief discussion by Moreland about “hearing God,” as well as a link to Doug Geivett about coincidences. Now I’d like to evaluate that material.
i) Of course, just as a matter of chance, some coincidental conjunctions are inevitable. That, itself, doesn’t demand any special explanation. The question is whether certain conjunctions occur in ways too frequent or uncanny to be random.
The technical term for this is synchronicity. That’s a Jungian coinage. I don’t consider Jung to be a reliable source. However, synchronicity has been taken seriously by more respectable investigators like Wolfgang Pauli, Arthur Koestler, David Bohm, Stephen Braude, Dean Radin, and Rupert Sheldrake. To that extent I think we can make a prima facie case for synchronicity. The question is how we then interpret this phenomenon.
In particular, what do we make of conjunctions that seem to be too lucky to be purely fortuitous, yet have no apparent significance? One possible explanation is that our anecdotal experience is a small, random sample of a larger providential pattern. If we were privy to the larger pattern, we could also discern the larger significance of these seemingly isolated, anomalous incidents.
Another possible explanation is that these are clues that God scatters here and there to remind people that there is more to reality than natural forces.
ii) From an apologetic standpoint, the potential value of synchronicity is the evidence which this might furnish that “natural” events are orchestrated by a higher intelligence. That would undercut a secular worldview. But this phenomenon merits further study.
iii) To some extent Moreland’s discussion intersects with synchronicity. Up to a point I think his analysis provides some useful criteria for discerning God’s providence in our lives. However, I have problems with his approach.
iv) On the one hand, Christians ought to reflect on God’s providence in their lives. Mind you, God’s providence may often be unremarkable, and–in that respect–indetectible. Nothing out of the ordinary stands out. And that is part of walking by faith rather than sight.
v) On the other hand, there’s a difference between being observant, or reflecting on the past, and actively seeking out signs of God’s special providence.
vi) Apropos (v), Moreland says things like:
First, one can learn to discern God’s voice like one learns anyone else’s voice—through practice, trial and error; and in the case of God, with Scripture as one’s guide and as one’s primary way of familiarizing oneself not only with correct propositional boundaries, but also with the tone and texture of God’s speech.
Second, I think we should take heart from the fact that, often, God speaks to us and we are unaware that it is happening because God will at times speak to us in our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations in a way that “sounds” like our own.
Frankly, I don’t see the point. Assuming that God still speaks to Christians, why would he speak to us in riddles? Isn’t that counterproductive? If he has something to tell us that we need to hear, why use such ambiguous methods? What’s the value of giving someone unclear directions? Speaking for myself, that would be an excellent reason not to make important decisions on that basis.
If you have to work that hard at “discerning God’s voice,” are you hearing or are you projecting? Moreland’s approach is too much like nephelococcygia.
It’s one thing to take life as it comes to us, with no prior expectation of how God will work in our lives. It’s quite another thing to anticipate God’s next move, or arrange the outcome.
viii) Finally, let’s not forget Dallas Willard is an open theist. So is Richard Foster. It’s odd that some folks who’ve lost their faith in God’s foreknowledge (not to mention his meticulous providence) are cultivating techniques to “hear” God whispering in our ear or guiding us by subtle signs and private impressions. But if God doesn’t know the future (much less control the future), how can he give us pointers on what to do next? Isn’t that a blind God leading the blind?