God in a Box
“I think you’re putting God in a box,” said the person sitting across the table. This was supposed to be the trump card. We were talking about some Christian author and her claim that God speaks to her. I hadn’t read the books—they’re intended for women—but I’ve heard the same claim from countless pastors and teachers: “Here’s the message God gave to me …” Every book and every sermon, then, becomes a special revelation from God, funneled through the pastor or teacher. So then we’re supposed to listen as if this person is a prophet. I was skeptical of this author’s claim to speak for God. But in this case, it didn’t stop there. It went on to, “And I can teach you to hear God’s voice too.” So now every Christian can be their own prophet!
I’m not going to argue that miraculous spiritual gifts ceased with the end of the apostolic era (cessationism). God can do anything. But just because God can do anything doesn’t mean that he does. Too often this is used as an excuse to believe that God says and does whatever we want him to say and do.
I can see the appeal of the idea that God speaks to us individually. It would answer our questions and give direction for our lives. It seems like it would bring certainty in the midst of confusion. But it actually does the opposite, because we never know for certain if something was really a sign from God or just a coincidence. We never know if a thought came from God, from our renewed minds, or from our sinful flesh. We don’t know if that feeling is the Holy Spirit or just our wishful thinking. For one thing, the Scriptures never mention the Holy Spirit speaking through our feelings. But beyond that, this idea also results in even greater confusion and uncertainty.
God does not want us to live in confusion and uncertainty (1 Cor. 14:33). God wants us to know him, and he wants us to know his will with certainty. So God put himself in a box, and he put himself there for our comfort. And by “box,” I really mean a book—the Holy Scriptures, also called the Bible.
Boxes and other containers are valuable things. Imagine if milk didn’t come in milk jugs. Instead there’s just a cow at the grocery store and you hold your hands under her while someone squeezes some milk into your hands. Then, whatever you can hold in your hands is what you can carry home.
Or maybe you have a little box at home where you put your keys when you walk in the door. If you don’t use a box, you probably have a designated spot for them. And you know that chaos ensues when you don’t put your keys in the designated spot. The box, or the key ring, or the little spot on the counter exists so that you always know where to find your keys.
Boxes are valuable. Not only are they good for storage, but they also help us keep track of where things are. When something is in a box, then we know where to find it. The same thing is true for God and his Word. God put himself into his Word so that we will know where to find him.
We know that God speaks through the Scriptures. And we should even be careful with that statement, because it can make it sound like God has some personal message hidden in each passage for us. Maybe instead of using the word “through,” we should simply say, “God speaks the Scriptures,” because God’s message is the actual words on the page.
So, for example, when it says that “Samuel hacked Agag to pieces” (1 Sam. 15:33), what it really means is that Samuel hacked Agag to pieces. Some things are just historical details, and that’s okay, because the big picture reveals God’s character in how he deals with his people. And when it says that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3), what it really means is that Christ died for our sins. And God wants to make sure that we don’t miss this message.
God has given us his words for our comfort. If God’s voice needs to be discerned through our hearts, the message will be uncertain, because we will never know if it is really God speaking or something else. At best, we will be uncertain of the message. At worst, we will be certain of a lie. But God has put himself in a box—or, more precisely, a book—for our comfort. No one wants to put God in a box. But when God has put himself in a box so that we know exactly where to find him, that is a precious thing. So it is a joy to open up this book and find the God of mercy who has revealed himself through his Son, Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:2).
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