The problem with being Spirit-led

Yes, I dare go there.

It sounds so good, “being Spirit-led.” Who can argue with that?
But that’s the problem. Is it wise to fancy a person or idea as above scrutiny? Patterns of exclusively single-sourced guidance often don’t turn out well, whether it’s only going by what the Bible says, only listening to advice from wise people (yes, even that could be problematic), or only listening to the voices in your head.

It’s not that Sophia won’t whisper in our ears, but are sure we’re often listening well enough to catch what she’s saying? Can we trust ourselves enough to rely so heavily on what goes on between the ears?

Perhaps others are less recalcitrant than me, but the only way I’m going to discern God’s direction is for the still small voice to beat through my walls of resistance and outsmart my well-evolved systems of self-delusion, I may never know what to do.

If I wait for a flash from heaven to shed new light on a situation, I’ll likely never find a way out of my ruts.
“Being led by the Spirit” in the way we use the terminology in Western evangelicalism presumes this kind of individualistic, me-an’-God, quiet-time whisper as the only possible mode of revelation.

But what about that thing you read that struck a chord of resonance OR conviction, or that person who challenged you OR nudged you toward something you’d never considered– who’s to say that can’t have been the Wild Goose (or the Great Pigeon! [A speaker on a podcast said most of the birds in the Old Testament are more mundane than we’ve translated them. Soar like an eagle? Hmm, maybe a buzzard. A gentle dove? Maybe just a dirty pigeon.])?

Anabaptists make a bit of a sacred cow out of the concept of community (and fail miserably to live up to our ideals), and, as with many movements, they are probably too enamoured by this corrective notion as the answer to everything. But it’s certainly a key component we are much the lesser without.

Please, not sola sciptura! And not just “Spirit-led.” Tradition by itself was never sufficient but neither are any of these. Community has also made interpretive mistakes but it’s an important partner with the rest.

We need all these things interacting – often in tension -- as we discern what God is saying to our communities and to our selves.

And might I add a fifth criterion to this rubric? One person called it the common sense filter. I like to call it “where’s the fruit?” Sometimes this can only be done in retrospect, but I suggest that even if all four other filters align, if the outcome just doesn’t seem God-glorifying, maybe despite it all, we didn’t discern correctly. Failure or embarrassment is not the worry here, but abuse and hatefulness. The Bible, tradition, and all our pals seemed to be in favour of slavery and the subjugation of women through most of history, but those never bore the fruit of righteousness.

It’s certainly not efficient to have to wade through all these filters in decision making and discernment, but we’re talking about a God who became incarnate among us in a specific time and place to share his mission with us. And then entrusted his message to a bunch of proven unreliable numbskulls. Doesn’t seem like a really high value is placed on efficiency there.

But that’s another subject for another day.

Does God speak? Yes! Does the Spirit lead? Indeed. Sometimes in unexpected ways. If the Spirit only ever sounds an awful lot like us, we might want to ask if we’re hearing her at all.


Andrew said…
Right on. Thanks.

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