“So God told you to leave your husband?” “Yes” she answered, “He said I was released from my marriage.”
These are the kind of scenarios that cause pastors to wish they’d never taught their church members that God speaks. But this woman wasn’t using God as an excuse to get out of her marriage. She wasn’t looking for an escape hatch to find a younger model. This woman was a victim of domestic abuse. A marriage of ten years to a controlling and aggressive husband had left her fragile and broken. Her life was falling apart.
Was it God speaking to her? When she told her pastor what she’d heard, he answered her with quotes from the Bible; “God hates divorce… What God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Domestic abuse has been the forefront of the Australian news of late. Stories have emerged of pastors counselling victims to stay with their husbands in spite of abuse, a high view of the sanctity of marriage informing their counsel. So was it God speaking to this lady, and if it was, how could it be if it contradicted the Scriptures?
What the pastor quoted was true. God does hate divorce (Malachi 2:16). His plan for marriage is for two people to join together in a lifelong relationship such that nothing separates them (Matthew 19:6). For better or worse, the marriage vows say. The ideal is for both parties to stay faithful to the covenant relationship; caring, loving and providing for each other. But tragically not every covenant is honoured. In such cases we’re told divorce may be necessary because of humanity’s hardness of heart (Matthew 19:8). The Scriptures cite instances of adultery and desertion, but not abuse. What do we do when faced with a situation the Bible doesn’t specifically address?
When I was in high school, I was nominated the person most likely to be married first by my friends. My dream was to be a wife and mother and nothing more. I still remember my cousin suggesting that perhaps I should consider a career in medicine and thinking she was an alien from another planet. Why would I have a career when I would get married? I had planned my wedding dress, the style of my house, the number of children I would have and yes, even the babies’ names.
Then I went through my 20s – I had a few prospects – but it didn’t happen. Then came my 30s – with a few more – but still it didn’t happen. Now into my 40s and Mr Right is nowhere to be found. Life didn’t turn out quite the way I expected.
When I was first asked to speak on singleness at a friend’s church, I baulked. Are you kidding me? Who wants to be the poster girl for singleness? Are you sure you don’t want another message on how to hear God’s voice?
Then I realised there weren’t many people talking about it. Over 50% of us are single in countries like Australia, the US and the UK1, but we’re under-represented in church life.2 Single pastors and leaders in church are rare.3 And even when they’re there, no-one wants to talk about it.
I was 21 years old, had been in church all my life and read the Bible from cover to cover, but had never heard God speak. I knew a lot about God – the things that my parents and pastor had taught me – but I knew him in the same way you’d know the Queen of England through the pages of a magazine. I didn’t know him for myself.
Then at university I met a friend. Jill talked about God like he was her next-door neighbour. “God said this,” “God said that.” At first I was intrigued. Then I got annoyed. Why was Jill always hearing from God and I wasn’t? And more than that, why did people like Abraham, Isaiah, Paul and Phillip and all the others in the Bible hear God’s voice while I couldn’t?
I longed to know what it would be like to have a personal conversation with the Creator of the Universe. If God could speak to me, what would he say? What would the one who knew all my past and all the possibilities of my future speak to me about?
Then again, if God did speak, what if he called me to the wilds of the outback, or worse still, ask me to marry someone ugly? And what if I got it wrong?
What does God sound like? How do I Know it’s Him?
Stories of God talking to his people abound throughout the Bible, but we usually only get the highlights. We read; “God said; ‘Go to Egypt’”, and then; “Mary and Joseph left for Egypt.” We’re not told how God spoke, how they knew it was him or how they decided to act on what they’d heard.
In God Conversations, international speaker and pastor Tania Harris invites you into her own journey learning to hear God’s voice. Share the doubts, fears, and wonder as she navigates her conversations with God in light of his communication with the ancients. Part memoir, part teaching, this unique and creative collection of stories will help you to recognise God’s voice when he speaks and to see what happens when we listen.
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Praise for God Conversations:
“How do you know it’s God? This book will show you.” (David Crafts, Hillsong Sydney)
Tania has woven theology, biblical stories and her personal journey together to show us how God speaks. (Melinda Dwight, Alpha Australia)
Read it and buckle up! (Björn Schäfer, ICF Switzerland)
You’ll find yourself saying, ‘I can do this too.’ (John Steele, New Life Churches, New Zealand)
I confess I was concerned when I first heard William P. Young’s book The Shack was being made into a movie. The book managed to wade through a minefield of theological themes with such literary skill and sensitivity, I feared putting characters like Sarayu the Holy Spirit, Jesus the carpenter and an African American woman as God on the screen might be a recipe for cliched, syrupy mess. The film however was a pleasant surprise. In The Shack, director Stuart Hazeldine has created a tasteful and thoughtful reflection on the toughest theological question of all.
How could a loving, powerful God stand by in the face of evil such that a 6-year old child is brutally murdered? This is the question of The Shack – and one that is not far from every one of us. The story takes us back to the scene of the crime – an abandoned shack in the bush – where the central character Mack wrestles with the pain and confusion of his daughter’s death. It’s here that he meets with the embodied members of the Trinity and asks the questions that have wrecked havoc on his life, finding peace and resolution in their answers.
Fans of Young’s work will be pleased to know the movie remains faithful to the book with only a few minor departures – notably in the opening scenes. These provide a more comprehensive version of 6-year-old Missy’s disappearance and sets up the emotional context to carry the intense exchanges that follow.