Samuel heard it and mistook it for the voice of the priest. It was an audible voice, just like a human voice (1 Sam. 3). Moses heard it too. Elijah had to go all the way to Mt. Horeb to hear it, and then it came in a still whisper. Jesus heard it at his baptism in a vision and so did Paul, and we could go on. Throughout the history of God's people and even unto today people have been hearing God's voice. What characterizes most, if not all these direct communications (without aid of cellphone) is that they are brief and direct, and often they involve the direct calling by name of the human being involved.
One of the reasons this phenomenon interests me so much is that it happened to me--- once and only once. It was in the turbulent times when I was at Carolina at the beginning of the 70s. Our national support for the Vietnam war was waning or winding down, but still we were being drafted to go and fight. I remember vividly watching TV in Graham Dorm with my friends when they showed the draft lottery for that day. One of my friends was drafted no. 1-- he put a chair through his TV and went off and joined the Peace Corps immediately. Me, I was just praying hard. My number was 192. I had real issues with this whole involuntary process. I had even gotten the papers to file to be a conscientious objector on religious grounds, but then I never filled them out. I was in a lot of internal turmoil and I was pretty distant and alienated from God. I was even angry with God some, because of the war and what it was doing to my friends.
But God was coming after me it seems, in the person of several of my roommates and friends, most of whom were devout Christians. At this point something strange happened. No, I was not smoking dope, nor dropping acid. I didn't ever do those kinds of things anyway. I was a musician and drugs mess with your voice and abilities to play. I liked having a clear head, so I mostly didn't drink either--- just the occasional glass of wine or beer with a friend at a meal. Like I said, I liked being clear headed.
But pressure was building up inside me. I went to the UNC clinic one day because my ears were ringing and I was having a bout of high blood pressure. When they couldn't find anything wrong with me, they sent me to the counselor. After a superficial chat he decided that what I needed was a girlfriend. That wasn't the problem-- I needed God. One night, late one night, I was walking across the quad mulling my life over when I heard a voice. Now at first I thought it was a friend shouting across the quad at me-- the voice kept saying "Ben, Ben". I looked everywhere, and there was absolutely no one around. I do mean no one. No human soul was there at that hour in the wee hours of the morning but me. This experience was unsettling. I was not expecting it, it literally came out of the blue. I wasn't in a time of prayer or anything like that. My memory is I was heading out to go get one of my favorite North Carolina doughnuts--- Krispy Kreme, which originated in Winston Salem. That's my story and I'm stickin to it--- I went looking for a doughnut and found God.
Later on when I was puzzling about this experience a friend pointed me to a Bible verse. I really didn't know the Bible all that well. The first time I tried to read the whole thing front to back I got stuck in the early 'begats' and Levitical rules and gave up. What a weird book, I thought. These particular verses however seemed to have been written just for me--- John 10.3-4- "He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out...and his sheep follow him because they recognize the sound of his voice." I have to tell you when I read those verses it freaked me smooth! You see, my name 'Ben' means 'son' in Hebrew. And when I heard that voice it sounded so much like a familiar voice calling my name, like it could almost be my Daddy calling me, which was impossible since he was in Charlotte working away. Hearing that voice, set me on a different path, one I am still treding today.
I have been enjoying reading Don Miller's popular book Blue like Jazz of late. There is a wonderful passage in it where he tells a story about his friend Penny who was born to two hippies (who named her Plenty-- which she managed to change later). She grew up in an atheistic environment and went to perhaps the most 'free thinking' non-Christian college in America-- Reed College in Portland. She met Don there however and she told him an amazing story--- Don and Penny were having a chat and then she said: (Blue like Jazz pp.48-49)
"Now you have to promise to believe me."
"Promise what?" [Don said]
"Okay but I'm not crazy." She took a deep breath. "I heard God speak to me."
"Speak to you?" I questioned.
"What did he say?"
He said "Penny I have a better life for you, not only now but forever." When Penny said that she put her hand over her mouth, as if that would stop her from crying.
"Really,' I said, "God said that to you"
"Yes" Penny talked through her hand "Do you believe me?"
"It doesn't matter whether you believe me or not." Penny started walking again. "That is what happened, Don it was crazy. God said it... I should read you my journal from that night. It was like, oh my God, God talked to me. I am having this trippy God thing right now. God talked to me. I kept asking Him to say it again, but He wouldn't. I guess its because I heard Him the first time, you know."
Don then asked her if that is when she became a Christian. She said no, and he asked why.
She said "I was drunk and high, Don. You should be sober when you make important decisions."
"That's a good point." I agreed But I still thought she was crazy. "So what happened next?"
"Well" Penny started, "A couple of nights later I got on my knees and said I didn't want to be like this anymore. I wanted to be good, you know. I wanted God to help me care about other people,because that's all I wanted to do, but I wasn't any good at it." And that's when Penny became a Christian.
The thing I find so striking about this story is the similarities to my own, minus the drugs and booze. God spoke to her once to get her to or past the point of crisis and decision I suppose. The same happened to me. I haven't heard from Him in that way sense. But then, I wasn't reading his Word then--- I've been doing that ever since and both the Word and my life make much better sense now :)
Rob Bell tells a quite similar story as well. He was teaching water skiing in Wisconsin one summer and they had Sunday chapel at the camp and he found himself volunteering to do the sermon-- out of the blue. The day came and he says he heard a voice deep in his soul, not an audible outer voice say "Teach this book, and I will take care of everything else." (Velvet Elvis, p.40). Now this is a call story, not really a conversion story. The same can be said of Samuel's story and Elijah's story and Jesus' story. Sometimes they are call experiences, sometimes conversion experiences. And to be sure, everyone Jesus converts, he calls to do something.
So how about you? Have you ever audibly heard the voice of God? I would like to hear from you if you have. After the posting I did a few weeks ago about the phone call from God one of my fellow NT scholars in the guild Dale Allison sent me an email with a book title-- turns out lots of folks have gotten actual phone calls from the deceased, and they are not all certifiably crazy. Indeed most of them are quite sane-- Here's the book title--- "Phone Calls from the
Dead", the authors D. Scott Rogo and Raymond Bayless.
Are you listening????