to God in prayer. But there are also crucial differences. In prayer we have no visible sign of anyone listening, no one nodding a head and restating our opinions.Oppenheimer expresses the frustration this way: "One cannot go on forever being grateful for silence. A good listener is not one who we begin to think has gone quietly away" And we do want guidance, not just sympathy, from an all-knowing God.These examples of human guidance can only begin to express the, "problem" of an infinite God guiding finite human beings. Consider, for example, a healthy form of
|by Philip YanceyProfessional counselors often encounter this type of questioner; the indecisiveness itself is the reason for counseling. Such clients yearn for a wise parent to make all the important decisions. But a wise counselor rears back from playing this parental role. The client needs not good advice, but the mature ability to make his or her own decisions. The counselor must take on the long-term goal of freeing the client from the unhealthy dependency of "victimization."The counselor's response offers an important insight concerning one of the most puzzling aspects of guidance. In reference to morally neutral issues—those not dealt with in Scripture—why doesn't God forthrightly tell me which decision is the right one? Could it be that such a response would inevitably jeopardize human freedom, a course God has scrupulously avoided from the Garden of Eden onward? He desires not so much to run our lives as to have us offer our lives to Him in obedience and service.Option three: Sometimes we simply want a chance to think aloud, in the presence of a friendly listener. Whole schools of therapy extol the virtues of this role. The counselor nods meaningfully, restates the client's questions, and, without directive interference, helps the client clarify a position.At first glance, this approach resembles our approachIs not an omniscientGod the ideal 'expert? Is He not the most objective adviser we could possibly imagine? Why, then, is His guidance so much less clear than a lawyer's or doctor's?|
e wonder how to deal with major anxieties about the future that hang over us: What job should I take? What church should I attend? Should I have another child? Some Christians exhort us to seek a deep, mystical confirmation before deciding on a course of action, while others urge us to study the Bible and then make up our own minds. But where do we look for help to decide on a philosophy of guidance?
For various reasons, I have found the common approaches confusing and unsatisfying. They often leave unanswered basic questions about God's sovereignty and His readiness to impinge upon human affairs.
I have tried to take a step back from the actual precipice of choice in order to consider a more fundamental question—how does an infinite God guide finite human beings?
In trying to fathom His options, I have relied on a wonderful, although densely written, philosophical work titled Incarnation and Immanence, by Lady Helen Op-penheimer.
She begins the portion on divine guidance by first examining how we ask humans for guidance. She lists three responses we hope to hear.
Option one: We ask some people because we know they will support the decision we are already leaning toward. Employees within large companies do this masterfully. They seek counsel from those who will build a groundswell of support for their pet projects. Children are even more disingenuous: They instinctively sense which parent will most likely comply and then approach that parent for permission.
Even sophisticated politicians fall back on this practice. A wavering presidential candidate will huddle with several groups of top advisers and then emerge confidently to announce his candidacy. It matters little that he has a 12 percent recognition factor among the electorate—he has gotten the advice he wanted.
But surely this common technique does not offer us a model for obtaining God's advice. Going to Him for approval of our predetermined plans would be blasphemy.
Option two: We go to some people because we truly want to be told what to do. "I can't decide which college to go to—you tell me," the befuddled teenager says to his parents. "Look, it's up to you whether we buy a new car," the spouse says. "You decide, and I'll go along with whatever you choose."
Philip Yancey is a best-selling author and an editor-at-large for Christianity Today and Campus Life magazines. This article is adapted from the Vital Issues booklet Guidance, « 1983, Multnomah Press. Used by permission.
MOODY / NOVEMBER 1984
human guidance that relates to option two, wanting to be told what to do.We consult experts in fields such as law or medicine and freely subject ourselves to their superior judgment on vital issues. We want, and pay dearly for, their informed advice. Is not an omniscient God the ideal "expert"? Is He not the most objective adviser we could possibly imagine? Why, then, is His guidance so much less clear than a lawyers or doctors?At this point comes the difference between f initude and infinitude. 1 go to a lawyer or doctor to exhaust his advice. I want him to study books, talk to his colleagues, scan his computer files to gather the best possible advice. After he helps me to the limits of his capacity, I take the results and decide my course of action.With God, the process is different. He has unlimited capacity. In a sense, at the most basic level of human independence, it would be cheating to receive "the inside story" concerning the future. We would have no meaningful opportunity for faith or obedience if we knew the inevitable result of taking one sort of action and not another. Human freedom would dissolve. .An all-knowing God cannot "give advice" like a conscientious lawyer. Where would He draw the line? Imagine what would happen if one musician' (or politician, or pastor, or confused college student) but not others had direct and limitless access to Gods infinite wisdom and creativity.C. S. Lewis hints at Gods "hesitance" to intervene directly: "He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.... Perhaps we do not fully realize the problem, so to call it, of enabling finite free wills to co-exist with Omnipotence. It seems to involve at every moment almost a sort of 'divine abdication.'"RELATIONSHIP, NOT METHODSWe are good at stating what guidance is not, but bad at defining what it is. I have begun to wonder if our problem with guidance centers on our tendency to see it in terms of a technique, rather than part of a relationship. As decision-making techniques, options one and three fail to satisfy, but seen in the context of a relationship, they take on an entirely different light.The most intimate relationship I have ever had is that of marriage. Yet I quickly confess that in marriage Op-penheimer's second option is the rarest: I almost never go to my wife to be told what to do. But within the womb of intimacy, I often go to her to seek support for my own decisions (option one) and to seek out a compassionate "friendly listener" (option three).At times in the rush of a day, I have neglected to tell her some important or pleasant thing that has happened; perhaps an article has been accepted for publication or I've received an award. If my wife finds out later, she confronts me with a wounded, sometimes fiery look and says, "You never told me that!" She recoils when a neighbor or fellow employee knows something about me before she does.And she has reason to be disturbed. She has a right, a legal, contractual right, to be the most important person in
my life, and that right encompasses all the significant aspects of my life. She should know more about me than anyone else—hers is an entirely appropriate, even endearing, kind of jealousy.
Or, I think of negative things I fail to mention—an irritation 1 try to bury deep inside, a necessary confrontation I seek to avoid, a fear or insecurity I wish would go away. But after 13 years of marriage, I have simply given up trying to hide those things. At some point, they will always come out. My own body will give me away: a Hit of the jaw, a quiver of the eye, a sudden stiffening, an unnatural silence.
I've learned that the very fact of communication is almost as important as the content. Although I seldom go to my wife for advice the way I would with a lawyer or professional counselor, I strive to share with her everything that I do and am. When I do face options, naturally I go
Most of the questions
about guidance are misunderstood. They are the typically impatient demands of us Americans who want a shortcut to the 'magic/
through the process with her. But at the end, when the decision is reached, we are both quite unsure of who contributed what to the ultimate result.
Such a division—who contributes what—would seem strangely irrelevant to intimacy. Certainly we both maintain our independence and freedom in the process; yet somehow, if we are relating well, we arrive at a joint decision.
The intimacy of human marriage perhaps offers a glimpse of the intimacy longed for by God. A theme peals out from the Bible, a call for us to act like the bride of Christ that we are. God is the lover, we are the beloved. When we reject Him, we prostitute ourselves—the prophets often referred to this sexual imagery.
The Bible contains little specific advice on the techniques of guidance, but much on the proper way to maintain a love relationship with God. What my wife and I are learning about communication is a shadow of the intimacy God desires. He wants a conscious and willing acceptance of His presence whenever I make a decision. The spotlight of guidance shifts from technique to relationship.
AN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP
o recommend a biblical text on the doctrine of guidance, I would not suggest the story of Gideon or the apostle Raul. Instead, 1 would suggest the Psalms—all 150 of them.
I learned to appreciate trie Psalms on a trip to Colorado, in the midst of the busiest and most anxiety-
MOODY / NOVEMBER 1984
filled year of my life. I went there to escape office pressures so \ could concentrate on one last editing of a book manuscript. I also needed to seek out guidance on some major decisions about my future.
r determined to rise early each morning, drive orwalkto a scenic setting, and begin the day by reading through 10 consecutive psalms. Previously, I had dipped into the Psalms only one at a time. I found it jarring to read 10 in sequence.
Some offered praise to God in jubilation and thanksgiving. They extolled His everlasting love, His deliverance, His clear guidance in daily affairs. Others, often sandwiched between the most triumphant ones, blasted God for His seeming absence, His failure to guide clearly, His apparent forgetfulness of the promises He had made. At first the discord seemed bizarre, almost as if the Hebrew canonizers had arranged the order with a streak of mocking irony.
After a few days of unresolved dissonance, 1 began to change my perspective on the Psalms, f stopped looking to them for specific advice. Instead, f viewed them as spiritual journals, accounts of a few people who took seriously the intimate relationship between God and man.
The authors were brutally honest; they chronicled not only the full benefits of that love relationship, but also the outrageous disappointments. You must read all 150 to get the full picture of the welter of emotions marked by faith and doubt.
The assumed author of some of those psalms was called a "man after God's own heart." Now I understand
MOODY / NOVEMBER 1984
why. David took God seriously.
He involved God in every major and minor triumph and every major and minor failure. He railed at God, exalted Him, doubted Him, praised Him, feared Him, loved Him. But regardless of what happened, God was never far from David's thoughts.
He practiced the presence of God in daily details. And he took the time to keep a revealing poetic record of the intimacy between them. The Psalms primarily communicate not concepts, but the record of how a relationship is maintained.
Later the prophets would look back on the era that produced these Psalms as the golden age of Israel. And in feverish pronouncements against their own disobedient contemporaries, they would deliver the most damning accusation of all: "You have forgotten God!"
NO AAAGICAL SOLUTION
believe most of the questions about guidance, the how-to's, are misunderstood. They are the typically impatient demands of us Americans who want a shortcut to the "magic," the benefit of relating to Almighty God.
But there is no shortcut, no magic that can reduce it to a three-point outline. There is only the possibility of a lifetime search for intimacy with a God who seems sometimes close, sometimes far, sometimes loving, and sometimes forgetful.
We have little sympathy, as Lewis said, for the "problems" of omnipotence. But God does not want sympathy; He wants love and a lasting commitment to take Him seriously, every day, regardless. And if there is a formula for guidance, it would have to be that.
Does God guide? Yes, I believe He does. Most times, I believe, its in subtle ways. He feeds ideas into our minds, speaks through a nagging sensation of dissatisfaction, inspires us to choose better than we otherwise would have done, brings to the surface hidden dangers of temptation, and perhaps even rearranges certain circumstances. God's guidance will supply real help, but in ways that will not overwhelm my freedom.
Yet, I cannot help but think that this whole issue of divine guidance, which draws throngs of people to seminars and sells thousands of books, is powerfully overrated. It deserves only as much attention as the Bible devotes to the topic.
Sociologist Bronislaw Malinowski suggested a distinction between magic and religion. Magic, he said, is when we manipulate the deities so that they perform our wishes; religion is when we subject ourselves to their will.
True guidance cannot resemble magic, a way for God to give us shortcuts and genie bottles. Rather, it must fall under Malinowski's definition of religion. If so, it wilt occur in the context of a committed relationship between a Christian and his God. Once that relationship exists, divine guidance becomes not an end in itself, but merely one more means God uses in nourishing faith.
WHAT DOES GUIDE ME?
have thought through some key events of my recent life to search for threads of guidance. I refer to them not as examples of yet another technique, but as illustrations of the quiet nudges God can use to guide us without overwhelming us.
For me, guidance only becomes evident when I look back months and years later. Then the circuitous process falls into place and Godfe hand seems clear. But at the moment of decision, I feel confusion and uncertainty. Indeed, almost all the guidance in my life has been subtle and indirect.
For example, 1 think of a major crossroad in my career. While working for Campus Life magazine, 1 felt the constant tug between two irreconcilable directions. One pulled me toward management, business, marketing, budgeting; the other toward editorial directing and writing.
For many months, I tried both, unable to decide. Each field offered ministry opportunities, similar rewards, and equal appeal. 1 enjoyed both roles. Most advisers counseled me toward the management role because of the organization^ needs. I often prayed about the decision, but never received any concrete guidance.
In time, however, I began to notice a trend, a battle with insomnia. Externally, I handled well the pressures of management and appeared to stay healthy. But often I would have bouts of insomnia so severe that I would get only one or two hours of sleep. Further, it took me almost a year to notice another detail: 1 slept when I worked on writing projects, but not when I worked in management. I tried to ignore those signs for another few months, but they became almost comically evident.
For a time I would work a full week on writing projects,
then one on management. My observations were correct. I
slept like a baby during writing weeks and hardly at all
during management weeks. Could this be divine guid
ance? I wondered. ■
The situation did not change. Finally 1 concluded that ]
the message of insomnia was as direct a form of guidance
as I would get. Now that I look back on it, its directness
seems startling. . • -; :
I also think of the circumstances that led to some of the books I've written. Where Is God When It Hurts came out of a book rejection.
In 19751 had just discovered Devotions, by John Donne, a meditation in 23 parts, written while Donne lay with a terminal illness. The concepts were superb, but the English of that King James era made the content impenetrable to many modem readers. So 1 wrote several publishers and proposed to do for Devotions what Ken j Taylor had done for the King James Version—a Uving Donne, perhaps, or John Donne Redone.
I spent long hours working up samples. Everyone judged the idea fine as a literary exercise, but totally unmarketable as a contemporary book.
My boss at that time had a constructive suggestion. "The problem," he said, "is not just the dated language, but the dated context and even dated way of thinking. Why don't you do your own book on the problem of pain and suffering, using modem examples?" Where Is God When It Hurts was bom.
While researching for that book, I met Paul Brand, a world authority on the subject of pain. I came to know him "by chance," when my wife cleaned out a supply closet at the warehouse of a Christian relief organization.
"Therefe an article here on pain that 1 think you'll like," she told me. Dr. Brand's unique perspective in this report so fascinated me that I immediately arranged for a meeting. During our conversations, I learned of a scruffed-up transcript of some devotional talks he had j kept in a file drawer for 20 years. That transcript became the genesis of Fearfully and Wonderfully Made and In His Image.
As I look back, Godls hand seems evident in those and many other choices. They fit together in a pattern. But at the time, they seemed no more extraordinary than any other event in my life—a rejection slip, a musty book from a supply closet, a 20-year-old set of devotional talks given in India.
This pattern has recurred so often, and clear guidance for the future has occurred so seldom, that I am about to conclude we have faced the wrong direction. I had always thought of guidance as forward looking. We keep praying, hoping, counting on God to reveal what we should do next. But in my own experience, I have found the direction to be different. The focus must be on the moment before me, the present. How is my relationship to God? As circumstances change, for better or worse, will I respond with obedience and trust?
For me, guidance becomes clear only as I look back. At the moment, my future is a big blur. My present is a daily struggle to crank out more words and a desire to grow in relationship with God Himself. But in looking at my past, at last 1 can see a pattern.
A picture is being painted for me and for all who are called the sons and daughters of God. Yet it does not take shape until enough time passes for us to stand up and look back on what colors and designs have been laid down. If I saw the pattern in advance, a "paint-by-numbers" scheme, that would leave no room for faith. And besides, God does not paint by numbers. ■
MOODY / NOVEMBER 1984