There are two assumptions behind this question: firstly, that there actually is a being whom it is appropriate to call God; and, secondly, that this God communicates with us in some way.
My experience of life in this world only makes sense to me, if I recognise the existence of a being, whom I choose to refer to as God. I’m sure my knowledge and understanding of God are very limited. I feel like one of the blind men who are each given part of an elephant to hold and are then asked to describe the elephant. One man is holding a leg, another is holding an ear and another is holding the elephant’s tail. They each have very different images of an elephant.
Each one of us has somewhat different experiences of God and consequently we develop different ideas as to what God is like. I’m convinced that God is a loving being, a creative force, the source of life, in whom we live and move and have our being. The power of God is everywhere. In that sense God is omnipotent.
Although God is at work in mysterious ways at all times and in all places, I don’t think He/She is always in control. I don’t think we can blame God for wars, violence, torture, injustice, or forest fires, nor even for natural disasters, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
So the power of God – the Holy Spirit, if you like – is at work everywhere, influencing events, but without being in control. One way in which this loving God influences events is by inspiring and empowering individuals and faith communities to act in accordance with His/Her loving purposes. God’s Spirit can guide us, if we listen out for His/Her guidance.
So the question as to how God communicates with us is an important one.
I can tell you how I think God communicates with me. I go to Quaker meetings for worship, because thoughts and ideas sometimes come to me which seem to be inspired by God. And – more often, I guess – thoughts and ideas come to other people in the meeting, which they share with the rest of us through spoken ministry.
In our meetings for worship for business and in meetings for clearness, we seek God’s guidance in relation to specific matters of business or concern. When a meeting arrives at a decision which is in harmony with the loving purposes of God, the clerk is able, with the help of the meeting, to record the sense of the meeting in a written minute.
I joked the other day that I was thankful that God speaks British – rather than American – English. But on the whole I don’t think God communicates with me in words. Thoughts, images, and ideas come to me, for which I then have to find the words. One possible exception to this, is when the right words come to me in a moment of inspiration when I’m writing a song.
From time to time God communicates with me through dreams. Two dreams during the past week or so have prompted me to write this blogpost. In the first dream I found myself in Lee-on-the-Solent, the small coastal town in which I grew up. In the distance I could see a large white bird with black markings soaring over the rooftops. The bird flew slowly in a very large circle around me and my companion. It circled round us two or three times, gradually coming closer until it was over the nearby recreation ground. It wasn’t just a big bird. It was HUGE. And it no longer had any black markings. It was all white. It was far too big to be some sort of eagle, let alone a dove. It was too plump to be a stork. As I awoke from my dream I understood it to be a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
The following night I dreamt that I was having a shower in a large room which had become flooded. The water was up to my knees or thereabouts. I could see that the neighbouring room, which I think was a kitchen, was becoming flooded as well due to the drains being blocked. I interpreted the water as another symbol of the Holy Spirit, now trying to flow through me, but not being able to flow out properly. It seemed to me that God was encouraging me to start writing for my blog again.
So God communicates with me in meetings for worship and through dreams. He/She also communicates through the words and actions of other people. At breakfast time each morning I read from a book of daily readings by Henri Nouwen. These short passages often “speak to my condition”, as the writings of Thomas Merton have done in the past (and still do). But I would like now to quote from a passage by C. S. Lewis, which was sent to me by a friend just a few days ago: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in ourconsciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse adeaf world.”
If we were better able to listen to the “still, small voice”, and to follow the promptings of love and truth in our hearts, perhaps there would be less pain in the world. One friend of mine has spoken of hearing “a voice which isn’t a voice”, which I think is a good way of putting it.
In thinking about how God communicates with us, I’m led to recall a number of Old Testament stories: Joseph interpreting the dreams of his fellow prisoners and of the Pharaoh; Moses kneeling in awe at the sight of a burning bush; Elijah finding God not in earthquake or storm, but as a quiet whispering sound, a “still, small voice”.
I do believe that God continues to communicate with us in similar ways today. And the underlying message always seems to be the same: “I love you. Love one another.”