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Replay: When God Communicates is it Subjective or Objective?

Posted by on Jun 30, 2012 in discipleship, scripture, spirit/holy spirit | 25 comments

Replay: When God Communicates is it Subjective or Objective?

Four years ago, I wrote a post called “When God Communicates: Subjective or Objective?” Have you ever thought about the difference between how God communicates and how we receive what he communicates? I’m not talking about any specific type of communication, but any time God communicates with us, including through Scripture. This post is part of my thinking on this topic.

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When God Communicates: Subjective or Objective?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve read something similar to this a few times: Scripture is objective; but any other communication from God is subjective. This post is not directed at anyone in particular. Instead, as I’ve read the above comment a few times, I’ve been thinking about the objectivity and subjectivity of God’s communication.

By the way, I like to say “God communicates” instead of “God speaks”. Usually, the verb “speak” assumes something (audible communication) that is not always present when God communicates. So, when I say, “God communicates”, I mean many different types of communications, including but not limited to Scripture, dreams, visions, impressions, other people.

When God communicates to us, he always communicates objectively. His communication is never subjective. However, our interpretation of God’s communications is always subjective. This includes our interpretation of Scripture – it is always subjective. It is true that some interpretations are less subjective than others, but all interpretations are subjective.

It would be incorrect to say that interpretations of Scripture are always less subjective than interpretations of other communications from God. For example, when God told Abram to leave Haran, Abram did not consider that communication to be subjective. When God communicated with Saul on the road to Damascus, Saul did not consider that communication to be subjective. When God communicated to Peter while Peter was on the roof of Simon’s house in Joppa (the dream with the sheet and animals), Peter did not consider that communication to be subjective. Notice that all of these acts of communication are now part of Scripture, but they were not part of Scripture when they occurred.

(Interestingly, Peter’s dream became normative for everyone. I wonder what would have happened if Peter had thought his dream was more subjective than Scripture and had compared his dream to Scripture. But, this is another issue altogether.)

I am not questioning the importance of Scripture. I do believe that Scripture is extremely important. I believe that Scripture is inspired by God, and I believe that Scripture is inerrant in the original autographs. I believe that Scripture is authoritative. However, there are times when I’ve felt that Scripture has been placed in a position above the living presence of God Himself – and not just Scripture, but our (individual or corporate) interpretation of Scripture.

Our goal should not be to relate properly to Scripture. Our goal should be to relate properly to God. Some may suggest that studying Scripture brings one into a right relationship with God, but remember that the scribes and Pharisees studied Scripture meticulously, as do many scholars today. Studying Scripture does not guarantee that we are hearing God.

God always communicates to us objectively. Perhaps we have not heard him – as others have heard him in the past and as has been recorded for us – because we are not listening to him. Instead, we have replaced him with something else. We have made our interpretation of Scripture objective, and we’ve made God subjective.


25 Comments

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  1. 6-30-2012

    I am being objective, you are onto it. truth is being revealed to you and all. you are right our translations of the bible have torn down and gotten in the way from hearing God directly,beiing objective, turned and tuned into everyone’s subjection, just the way the evil powers of the air have planned, using the Spirit of error that keeps one in bondage, us forsaking the power of love, replaced with the love of power, not realizing seeking earthly satisfaction we lose all, seek heaven above all and earth gets thrown in.

  2. 6-30-2012

    thanks brother for the post, could you elaborate more on your meaning of objective and subjective? Thanks, :)

  3. 6-30-2012

    Alan,
    Thank you for this thought provoking post. In my personal (subjective) experience, I find that absolutely nothing has endeared me to the Lord like His loving care, friendship, and kindness. All of these are revealed to me by His objective communications. How my heart soars when He speaks to me. He said, “My sheep hear my voice”, This, hearing the Lord’s voice, was not always as clear or consistent as it is today. For 25 years or so, I was in an adulterous relationship with church. I knew the Lord, but I could hardly understand His voice. There were other voices drowning out His still small, loving, gentle, kind, graceful voice. Authoritative voices, loud demanding voices, the voices of my other lover, church. The churches voice was loud and clear, authoritative, it had God’s book to rule and direct me with. She had God’s super saints the church leaders for me to follow, and obey. I learn to serve the Lord by proxy. I served the church leaders, as I was told this was service to Jesus. My time, money, and attention was clearly focused on severing her, but when I asked a question she did not like, she divorced me and cast me out. This, serving church, seemed right, and wrong at the same time. It was this paradox that the Lord had to solve for me. He would not share me with another lover. I had to choose Him or the other.

  4. 6-30-2012

    Howard,

    Yes. In this post, of course, I’m talking about interpreting any type of communication from God, not just Scripture.

    John,

    Here’s one set of definitions:

    objective – not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased.

    subjective – existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought (opposed to objective).

    However, unlike the definition above, I would not say that a subjective interpretation is always opposed to the object itself (i.e., what God actually communicates).

    Marc,

    I understand that you are using the term church to refer to a worldly system instead of the people of God. If you were in love with a worldly system, then I’m glad that God called you away from that love.

    -Alan

  5. 6-30-2012

    Alan, I wrote this short essay a couple weeks ago but didn’t know quite what I should do with it. When I saw your excellent writing on similar veins I felt led to add it to the discussion. I sense a danger among us interested in new testament restoration, myself included, to become very intellectual and legalistical in the sense of trying to copy New Testament principles. I think this movement tends to draw intellectual minded people because of its well grounded biblical basis and thus its ability to prove right to a certain degree, however I also think we as a people need to be aware of this tendency so that is why I am adding it to the discussion here.

    Being Guided by the Spirit: Establishing a right perspective of the Bible.

    As one who is interested in the experiences of our forerunners in the faith, especially those first ones in the first century who took the leap of faith following the Spirit into new territories never before tread on. They did this with no New Testament in their hand, but finding guidance corporately as well as individually through the leading of the Holy Spirit. I stand amazed at those who were willing to contradict the religious experts of their time as well as aspects of the Old Testament.
    Those believers had a revelation of Jesus Christ that rocked their world. One of their main revelations was the awareness and experience that the Holy Spirit actually lived in their internal being and could guide them intuitively. Christ had to leave them (sacrifice his life to purify these dwelling places) so that the Holy Spirit could come and indwell holy beings who would allow him to express himself through their mortal bodies.
    They discovered that they no longer needed special buildings to meet in, for Holiness was with them wherever they were.
    They discovered that they no longer needed holy people or priests to lead them because the Holy Spirit indwelt all of them and he could speak through whichever vessel he chose to inspire, guide, or love his body.
    They discovered that they no longer needed a written code or external law to guide them, for now the law giver was actually living in them and could guide them in each situation specifically as to how he wanted to express himself in each situation.
    Those early believers wrote down their experiences they were having. We have letters they wrote among themselves as expressions of the revelations they were experiencing within this new framework of Christ in us. They never intended for their writings to become a sort of New Testament Torah for future believers.
    Many of us who desire this restoration of the New Testament Church read our Bibles and see a contradiction to what we read in scripture and what we see in the modern church and rightly so. We may have discovered this through reading our New Testaments but now are turning them into a strict written code to judge others. We intellectually interpret through our minds New Testament biblical principles to beat others over the head with. We’re right, your wrong for the Bible tells me so. We forget so quickly that the Holy Spirit is the only guide. He uses people, nature, bible, experiences, etc. to lead us but none of them are our guide. We can have wrong interpretations of the Bible even when we think we are right, so it is very important to leave room for Spirit guidance to contradict what we insist is biblical.
    To fully restore the life of Christ expressed in the New Testament Church we have to go beyond New Testament principles. We have to know and be guided by the same source that guided them and gave them life! That source will shape who we are! This is truly restoration!

    “There are no such things as ‘Christian principles.’ There is the Person of Christ, who is the principle of everything. If we wish to be faithful to Him, we cannot dream of reducing Christianity to a certain number of principles, the consequences of which can be logically deduced. This tendency to transform the work of the Living God into a philosophical doctrine is the constant temptation of theology, and their greatest disloyalty when they transform the action of the Spirit which brings forth fruit in themselves into an ethic, a new law, into ‘principles’ which only have to be ‘applied.'” Jacques Ellul as quoted in Christianity is Christ by Jim Fowler

    For further reading see Christianity is Christ by Jim Fowler at http://www.christinyou.net/pages/xntyisxst.html

  6. 6-30-2012

    I find it helpful to keep in mind that when God speaks to us – using scripture or personally or through others – there is always going to be an issue of translation. We cannot speak his perfect, heavenly language. We depend on him to stoop down and use our own which can’t possibly contain the multitudes of truth contained in each of his words. Even those who have been given visions and communicated with directly such as the prophets are reduced to saying, “as” and “like” in their explanation of their own experiences. Our language cannot contain God and so I think that as confident as we may be in God, we need to exercise a good deal of humility in our handling of communication from God. In practice, this may means that God does not change on whit, but our understanding of Him and his word will necessarily grow, deepen and even change as we come to understand him better.

  7. 6-30-2012

    This one hurt my brain moreso than usual — but I do appreciate it.

    I guess my take-away is that we must be aware that we ‘hear’ all messages through our own filters/lenses. The goal for us should be to have less of ourselves & our own filters & lenses and more of Christ in us leading us & helping clarify what we are ‘hearing’. When we have a vibrant relationship with the Lord & with others – it helps us

    and as Frank Viola has said — you cannot separate Jesus & His teachings. Jesus is all.

    Jesus is & must be the OBJECT of our faith. We are made emotional creatures – and there is a lot more to our relationship with Him than knowledge / brain connection to the scriptures.

    Thanks as always
    :)

  8. 7-1-2012

    I rally like Rod’s essay. It brings up great points to think about.
    Overall, I think a key to remember about our tendencies toward understanding what God communicates is to humble ourselves and ask for clearer understanding continually. He wants us to understand and will continue to bring clarity if we maintain a learning and listening posture. Having consistent fellowship with Jesus makes it easier to hear and understand him. Who of us can say we understand well a friend that we don’t frequent with? But through great familiarity we understand what someone is trying to communicate because we have already gained a background of their heart and way of thinking and the way they live. What they say won’t be totally out of the blue and would line up with other things they have shared.
    For example, today in prayer a very specific direction was given, but it was easy to understand because of so many other things Jesus had said over the past couple years in other prayer times. It is specific for our family, lines up with Gods overall word and heart, as well as other specific things he spoke. It’s not a direction for the church at large specifically, but for us.
    It’s interesting that Gods objectivity is poured through each of us uniquely according to his creativeness in us individually .

  9. 7-1-2012

    Marc, that was very profound

  10. 7-1-2012

    Rod, good insight, we are led internally today and share to whom we are called to and listen tow hom are called to us edifying the body of Christ between believers

  11. 7-1-2012

    Recently I have come to realize some of my leaders are prepared to hear ‘words from God’ that don’t particularly line up with Scripture…not just personal, private revelation for their own lives, but broad teachings for the entire group, often based on a few verses seemingly entirely out of context. Yes, there can be variations in how we understand an obscure passage, but this sort of teaching, while acknowledging the plain sense of the passage, goes on to attach a ‘higher meaning’ obtained by ‘direct revelation.’

    I’m not sure communication from God can ever be entirely objective, but that is not to say that all understanding of a passage of Scripture can only be subjective or that a variety of interpretations are ‘all good.’ It doesn’t take a deep knowledge of original languages to detect cases of ‘wresting’ Scripture for personal purposes.

  12. 7-1-2012

    I’ve really appreciate the great comments here. Thanks for taking part in this discussion.

    -Alan

  13. 7-2-2012

    I understand that you are using the term church to refer to a worldly system instead of the people of God. If you were in love with a worldly system, then I’m glad that God called you away from that love.

    -Alan
    Church, If you ask a man on the street corner, or the guy in the pew, or the preacher where is the nearest church, the will give you directions to a building. Church, as we know it, is simply one of many religious arms, of the larger world system. As we know, each division of the enemies world orders (systems), have demonic principalities operating them behind the scenes. Church, under that definition, is a spiritual entity that Christ did not, and would have never instituted. It is an imposter of the authentic ekklesia (communitas)of Christ. Christ is calling all who would know Him outside of those demonically influence institutions to “come out of her”. Let those who have ears to hear, hear.

  14. 7-2-2012

    Marc, although waht you say is truth, God, christ is not calling everyone out of the world system that is disguised as good. for There are those in there that are truly looking for God and God uses God’s vessesls, such as you, Alan and me along with the others here to reach them, even inside the pews.
    And as far as the guy asking on the corner where is a church, is the open opportuniy to bring in christ to that person, not bash on the building, not that you intend this, but brother you seem to come across this way, which i believe you do not intent this. You desire for all to come to truth and have a personal relationship with Christ and then there is unity of the Spirit
    Also remember, Christ at judgement says to the person go away I never kknew you you who work iniquity. And that person says but Lord I did this, this and that in your name, and a many came to belief in you and I also cast out demons in your name. Also what Christ dsaid to his disciples prior to his death leave them alone those that are preaching his name a divided kingdom shall not stand. Even Paul said those of contention and those of sincerity,He was exceedingly glad for Christ is being preached. Those of us that are seeking Christ, God shall find him period, no matter what the enemy tries to derail you, me or anyone that has chosen to know God. WILL Love you brother oyu have been a great inspiration to me and thank you again for wickedshepardss.com, very enlightening about truth

  15. 7-2-2012

    Marc,

    Thanks for sharing your view again. If you were to ask the “man on the street corner,” he would probably have different understandings of many of the terms that I use related to God and his children (including the term “God”). Knowing that, I wouldn’t ask the “man on the street corner” the question, “Where is the nearest church?”

    -Alan

  16. 7-4-2012

    Alan, I understand. My heart is for of those who have not heard the Good News, “That Church Was Not God’s Idea”, that Jesus is real, and His kingdom life is available to all who will know Him directly. So, let all who come after us assuredly know, that we faithfully proclaimed the real Good News of a new spiritual leader, and His name is Jesus. Let everyone know, that all of the evil and false teaching propagated in His name by christian religion and church, was something the enemy did and not our faithful Lord.

  17. 7-4-2012

    AMEN, marc, and Amen again over and over Wow!!!! truth truth, and truth I love truth and thus iun truth do all things which love God’s is truth

  18. 7-4-2012

    The good news (the Gospel) is about Christ’s death and resurrection…I think you may be writing in your own view to call a statement about the church ‘not being God’s idea’ being in the same category. You will come dangerously close to rejecting some of the New Testament that way unless all you mean is to decry the evils in some of the church practices today.

  19. 7-4-2012

    absolutely, decry the evils, let my people go, quit mixing law and grace they do not mix, like oil and water. you can stir it up but it settles down it still does not mix. these are seperate one is old and the new is new. Just like an old wineskin cannot take new wine. for when the wine ferments it will burst the bag and this is what is being taught in churches, creating and keeping the people in need just like in Jesus’s time before this new covenant took place. The devil has set up camp in the churches to deceive the people. We have a many of people wanting to serve God and find they can’t in the energy of their own flesh. fortunately god himself shows them truth and says come out there my people. Just as back in the day of Christ Jesus they kicked him out. For he spoke truth and they were afraid of there job security. So they sought to crucify Christ, for no one was attending their synagogue at the time and even stephan got stoned to death for saying God does not reside in buildings. Truth has to be spoken it has been glossed over for too long. It is time for the wolves in sheeps clothing to be exposed

  20. 7-5-2012

    (Actually “let my people go,” is old covenant) :)

    I’m right with you on the habit of confusing law and grace in much preaching, as well as our inability to serve in our own strength (flesh).

    Still, saying “the devil has set up camp in the churches” is a pretty strong generalization which lumps some fine, Scripturally astute bodies in with the rest. Perhaps you just haven’t found those bodies (yes, I will boldly call them churches…no more should allow the bad instances to kill the use of this word than the bad use of ‘gay’ should prohibit me using it to describe a form of happiness or the bad use of a ‘rainbow’ to prohibit reference to God’s covenant with Noah).

  21. 7-5-2012

    Tom, Touche, yes and what we are doing is communicating, letting each other know what we think about words. Sometimes semantics are important and sometimes not. Yet us describing what a word means to us gets rid of misinterpretations.
    Helps each other grow, and come out of her my people is a quote from revelations
    Revelation 18:3-5

    New International Version (NIV)

    3 For all the nations have drunk
    the maddening wine of her adulteries.
    The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
    and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”

    Warning to Escape Babylon’s Judgment

    4 Then I heard another voice from heaven say:

    “‘Come out of her, my people,’[a]
    so that you will not share in her sins,
    so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
    5 for her sins are piled up to heaven,
    and God has remembered her crimes.

  22. 7-6-2012

    Howard, Communicating indeed. : )

  23. 7-6-2012

    Marc, thanks and has anyone just ever said Hey God I just want to be with you, not asking anything, not caring for anything to know, just to be in God’s presence. How utterly satisfying

  24. 2-7-2013

    There’s something about the way that this is being stated that bugs me. Can an interpretation, even of scripture ever be completely objective? If the answer is no, then how can we ever be certain that anything we say about it is 100% true. It seems, to me at least, that this ultimately and necessarily leads to relativism.

    Let me suggest an alternative:

    If it is by the Spirit that we “interpret” the scripture, then the means are in an of themselves objective. If our interpretation of the objective scriptures is done by a completely objective person (The Holy Spirit) and we simply agree with how ti is already interpreted by Him, then it remains objective.

    In a sense we are not interpreting the scriptures, but simply coming to understand its interpretation as given by the Spirit.

    As to revelation apart from scripture… it may be objective, but in the absence of an objective verifying source, it will as you say always be subjective.

  25. 2-7-2013

    Miguel,

    I think I understand your concern. This only leads to relativism if it is assumed that a valid interpretation does not exist or that different interpretations can be valid for different people. I don’t believe either of those. Instead, I believe there is a valid interpretation (truth, if you will), even if we cannot be 100% sure that we know what that valid interpretation is. However, we can be more sure of some interpretations than others. This is often called critical realism.

    -Alan