“Is that really God’s voice I’m hearing?”

To many people Mother Teresa was the ultimate saint, sacrificing her life to caring for the poor, and smiling serenely through it all.

But all was not well behind that smile of hers.

The problem was this: she hears what she believes is Christ’s voice on a train in 1946 telling her to “Come be my light” by serving the poor in the slums of Calcutta, but after she gets there and starts working Jesus disappears. She doesn’t feel the love and personal contact she felt from him before. Seven years later she writes a letter about the terrible darkness within her “as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started the work.”

So all that time the world was knocking at her door, thinking she was wonder woman in intimate touch with God and feeling his presence everywhere, she was feeling abandoned by God. Her prayers were empty and she even admitted that saving souls held no attraction for her.

To an atheist this is further proof of how religion twists people into mental knots. But, Christians argue, “It was God’s voice she heard.” So they, just like her, work themselves to the bone doing what they believe God called them to do. But after years of slogging away God seems miles away and life has become a loathsome ritual. But they carry on anyway, just like Mother Teresa, smiling in public as if everything is wonderful, while pouring out their pain in private journals and letters.

There’s something sadly wrong about a religion like that, because it sets people up for discouragement and disillusionment when, after working one’s tail off for God, life is dark and empty. It happened to Mother Teresa.

It didn’t happen to the apostle Paul, however, and he experienced pressures as great as any Mother Teresa ever faced, but God never disappeared on him or left him in terrible darkness.

Christ met his every need and frustration with all the help necessary to see him through (2 Corinthians 4:8-10 and 12:9-10). Sadly, that wasn’t what Mother Teresa experienced. One has to wonder, then, if it really was Christ’s voice she heard on that train, especially when Christ explicitly said he’d never abandon us (John 14:21) – a very different story to that told by Mother Teresa in her letters.

But she did at least write about her pain, and that, hopefully, will free other people up to talk about the pain religion has created in their lives too. And to those who’ve been doing their all for God but God seems so distant, perhaps they too might ask, “Is that really God’s voice I’m hearing?”

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Does God still give visions?

In Acts 2:17, Peter quotes a prophecy from the book of Joel that “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people,” and “your young men will see visions.” The Greek word for visions means God-given visions, and so does the Hebrew word for visions in Joel 2:28, so yes, God gives visions, but does Acts 2:17 mean God will be giving visions to Christians all through the centuries, or was it meant only for the Jews back then?

In context, verse 14, Peter is talking to his “Fellow Jews” when he quotes Joel, and he ends the quote with “Men of Israel” in verse 22, so the prophecy is clearly meant for the Jews and Israel back then. But why Joel? Because Joel’s prophecy was both a warning and hope for the Jews of Peter’s time, just it had been a warning and hope for the Jews of Joel’s time.

In both Acts 2 and Joel the Jews were heading for the “dreadful day of the Lord” (Joel 1:15), a time when Judah would be attacked and destroyed by an invading army. In Joel the attacker was most likely Babylon, and in Acts it would be the Romans in 70 AD, when Jerusalem would be totally destroyed.

To the Jews in Joel’s day who responded to his warning and repented, God promised mercy, protection, and the pouring out of his Spirit and other “wonders” to provide clear evidence that he was with them before calamity struck – and that he would save any survivors who called on him when calamity struck. So hope was offered with the warning. But the Jews of Joel’s day didn’t respond to God’s call, and all the way up to Acts 2 they never received protection from pagan powers and they never received the Holy Spirit or the other wonders Joel promised.

And now in Acts 2 the Jews are warned again of the dreadful day of the Lord coming, in their case the impending attack by the Romans, but with the same hope being offered of the pouring out of the Spirit and other wonders to provide clear evidence God was with them, and that God would spare those who called on him from the calamity coming.

And many Jews did heed the warning (Acts 2:40), and the Holy Spirit was poured out on 3,000 of them in one day, followed by all sorts of visions and other wonders given and done by the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts.

In context, then, Acts 2:17 is about God giving visions back then, and why. If some take that to mean God still gives visions today, Acts 2:17 is not a good verse for proving it.

Visions, dreams and voices – who needs them?

People keep popping up who claim they’ve been given “messages from the Lord” through visions, dreams and voices in their heads. But is it really God speaking to them, and how do they know?

It’s a well-known fact, for instance, documented brilliantly in the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind,’ that the human mind can create people and events that seem utterly real that aren’t real at all. A person claiming a hotline to God, then, could in fact be a schizophrenic, whose premonitions, proclamations and prophecies are caused by nothing more than a chemical imbalance in the brain. Can anyone say for certain, then, that his visions are supernatural when the cause could be quite natural, like medication, mental illness, intense stress, or simply eating too much before bed?

The mind is a tricky thing, and it can be easily manipulated. A hypnotist, for instance, can also create visions in a person’s head and make people think all kinds of crazy things, none of which are from God. So there’s an element of doubt, surely, when a person states with absolute authority that his visions are from God, when visions can quite easily be created without God being involved at all.

Fortunately, God himself provided the means for detecting a real message from him. He sent Jesus Christ with all the messages we’d ever need, and then confirmed his choice of messenger personally by bringing him back from the dead. So all we need do when someone says he or she has a vision or a message from God is compare it to the message of the one messenger we know for certain came from God, and if it agrees, great, and if it doesn’t, ignore it.

And to aid us in that quest, God promised us a Spirit helper who would help us understand what Jesus taught (John 14:26). No spooky premonitions or wild prophecies, just a clear guide for detecting if a “message from the Lord” really is of God, or not, so we can tell if a charismatic visionary or a self-proclaimed prophet is talking through his hat.

People will keep popping up, however, who claim they’ve had revelations from God, which is tragic, because look at the fruits of such “revelations” so far. We have a world full of confusing, differing religious cults and self-proclaimed prophets, all of them a law to themselves in deciding what God’s will is. The result is a tragic mess of warring religions, denominational splits, wild speculation, failed prophecies, arrogant know-it-alls, chronic self-deception and all too often, horrible disillusionment.

Surely by the fruits, then, we can ask the question, “Visions, dreams and voices – who needs them?”

“The Lord spoke to me….”

I’ve had several people tell me the Lord spoke to them with messages meant for me. On one occasion I was told I’d have a dream that night that would change my life, and not knowing any better I believed the man. But the dream didn’t happen. Nor did the predictions by other people that I would rise to a high position in my church denomination, and that my local congregation would grow into many hundreds of people.

All three predictions failed, but the people making them were utterly convinced the Lord was speaking to them, despite the statement in Hebrews 1:1-2 that “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

God’s not in the habit anymore of speaking direct messages through human prophets like he did in the Old Testament. Instead, he concentrates our attention on what he already revealed to us through his Son, with the help of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). The Lord has already spoken to us what we need to know through his Word, Jesus, and it’s the Spirit’s job to help us understand it, not give us new messages through more prophets.

Ah but, some might say, I hear things in my head, like an inner voice, that I should talk to someone, or send them a card of encouragement, or offer help of some kind, and on so many occasions a crucial need is met. Like the story of the Christian zooming past a stalled car who suddenly felt the need to go back and help. He was late for an important meeting, however, so on he zoomed. But the thought kept pressing on his mind so strongly that many miles later he turned round, drove back to the stalled car, where he easily pinpointed the car’s problem and everyone was on their way in minutes. “The Lord spoke to me,” the Christian said, and who can deny it when the fruits were so good?

So what’s the difference between saying “The Lord spoke to me” through an inner thought that led to an act of love, and saying “The Lord spoke to me” with a direct message from God about a person’s future? The difference is clear from Scripture, that “in these last days” God isn’t speaking through the voices of human prophets, he’s speaking through his Spirit into our hearts (Galatians 4:6) to create belief in his Son and love for one another (1 John 3:23-24), and it’s when THOSE are happening that we really know the Lord is speaking to us.

Hello reality; goodbye religion

God said we’d die, and there hasn’t been a human yet who hasn’t died. Hello reality, therefore; we’re all going to die – either in the natural ageing process, often advanced by disease and poverty, or we’re killed by accident, war or a natural disaster. And even if scientists discover how to reverse the ageing gene, imagine what billions of ageless humans would do to each other in the fight for survival.

But religion jumps in with a soothing solution: Death happens to us all, yes, but not to worry, there’s another life after death, based on some vision of the afterlife a man had. And being a very charismatic chap millions of people in his region of the world believed him.

And isn’t that how Christianity got started too? Jesus arrived on the scene, also claiming he had special insight into life after death. He even claimed he’d come from God and been sent by God to solve the problem of human death in himself, and humans would no longer have to worry about death if they believed and followed him. And many people in his region of the world believed and followed him too.

But Jesus’ credibility took a nosedive when he died. So now what proof was there of life after death when Jesus, just like all the other charismatic visionaries in human history, died, and with their death the proof of whether they were right or not about their version of the afterlife died with them?

But Jesus came back to life again. And the most shocked people of all were his followers, who thought he’d been talking through his hat when he predicted he would rise from the dead. But now he’d gone and done it, forcing that rag tag bunch of shattered, despondent men and women to face reality, that what he said about life being possible after death was true.

And face it they did. It’s what started them on the road to believing in this man. It wasn’t for any religious reason or superstition based on vague, unprovable visions; it was based on evidence, the pure, raw evidence that a human being had defeated death, and he was standing there and talking to them – and eating food – as proof of it.

So hello reality, goodbye religion, because who needs the superstition and vague visions of religion when the proof of life after death has already happened, and a human has defeated death? But religion breezes over that as if it never happened, resulting in all sorts of weird ideas about the afterlife that have no proof whatsoever to back them up.