I am facilitating an adult Bible study class that is exploring the biblical material on “Hearing God.” We started by making a list of some of the ways God has spoken to his people. As Hebrews 1:1 points out, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways…” One of those ways is dreams and visions. We have spent the last two weeks exploring the role of dreams in the life of Joseph, the son of Israel (Genesis 37, 40 & 41).
We found that others may become jealous of dreamers. Joseph’s ten brothers heard the dreams about bowing before him from the context of Israel’s favoritism toward Rachel’s son. The idea that this brother with the brightly colored cloak would rule over them riled them and they plotted to kill him. Some people naively assume that knowledge of the future will be such a great blessing.
In chapter 40 Joseph is not the dreamer, but gets to be the interpreter. As we discovered God through the narrative of Joseph, the chief cupbearer and baker we arrived at a question raised by a counselor in the class, “Do you see God as setting up and arranging these events to get Joseph to accomplish his purposes, or do you see God as becoming involved in the free choices of the people involved, when needed to channel them to accomplish his purpose?”
Sounds like a great place to get lost in the Calvin/Arminius debate.
Not trying to be a smart-aleck, I left the class with a different question—“So what?” No, I did not raise this as a way of implying this is an irrelevant question. Thinking about God’s sovereignty and exploring the ways he accomplishes his purpose in the affairs of individuals, people groups and even nations is a very appropriate aspect of the Joseph, Israel and Egypt narrative. The way I want the class (and you) to grapple with the “So what?” question is much more personal. I am not too concerned with whether you come out nearer either of the aforementioned theologians. The point I want you to ponder is how does your understanding of God’s nature affect your daily walk?
“What do you learn about God from this passage?” is the most important question we can ask of a text, in my studied opinion. If we approach Scriptures like a new yearbook (“Where is my picture in here?”), rather than as the record of God’s self-revelation, we are misusing them. Is God the puppeteer who only creates the appearance that his puppets have a life of their own, or does he really call them to join him in what he is seeking to accomplish and grant them some level of freedom to accept/reject that call, and then adapt based on those choices to make sure his purpose comes to pass?
For some, their answer to “So what?” is they arrive at some level of fatalism. God controls everything so it is futile to will to do anything, including responding in obedience to any calling he has placed on our lives (intentionally overstated)! At the opposite extreme there is the potential that one assumes, “I must grab the wheel and steer this vehicle!—it is all up to me.”
Does my understanding of God lead to either extreme? Is there a better understanding? Where I come out on this matters. It impacts how I hear God. It does not alter his intended meaning, but it greatly shapes my hearing. Remember that Jesus calls those with ears to hear. Grasping God’s nature greatly impacts how we hear, thus how we respond.
What are you hearing from God? How are you responding?