Theological questions are often personal questions in disguise.
Many times, when people pose questions about theology, about the nature of good and evil, about suffering and sovereignty, they are posed in an academic sense. Perhaps it’s in an actual classroom, or in the comments section of a blog post, or even over a cup of coffee. These questions are asked, theological fine points are parsed, nuance is argued. In environments like that, these questions are treated like they’re in a vacuum.
But life is not a vacuum, and theology is about life. Real life. Because that’s so, most of the time theological questions are really personal questions in disguise. Though we might ask the question in a purely academic way, there’s something else going on.
Something driving the question.
To take the point further, when there is a specific point of doctrine we feel especially passionate about, it does us well to look inside ourselves and understand what’s driving that passion. Say, for example, we are very passionate about defending the biblical truth that a person cannot lose their salvation. It might be we are passionate about it because that’s what the Bible teaches and we are an ardent defender of Scripture. But it might also be that we struggled for years with our own personal assurance, and having gained some measure of confidence in God’s ability and commitment to keep us in faith, we freely and liberally preach that doctrine to any and everyone.
Of course, the same principle works the other way. If we find ourselves struggling with a particular truth in Scripture, we would do well to ask ourselves what it is in either our past or our current lifestyle that is causing us to question its validity. Chances are, there’s something personal behind our difficulty. Some experience we’ve had, a relationship we’ve held dear, or even a lifestyle habit we are involved with.
In other words, we challenge that doctrine or Scripture because we don’t want it to be true. If it were true, it would mean something in our lives or our thinking would have to change.
So we explain it away. We even go so far as tricking ourselves into thinking that God is saying something different than what He has already said. But that’s not the voice of God we are hearing; it’s our own. It’s the voice born of our own preference, our own experience, and our own desires. In the end, it is the voice of an idol, and the idol is us.
Let us be careful, friends. Let us be careful to not mistake the voice of God for the voice of an idol.
But how can you tell the difference? The most basic way is to make sure the voice we are listening to is the same voice expressed in God’s Word. It’s to ask the question whether God is speaking now through what He has already spoken, for God is not going to contradict Himself.
But here’s another way – if the voice of God we are hearing always tells us exactly what we want to hear, then we should be very, very cautious. For these idols, whether they are physical idols, emotional idols, or some idol of false belief in the end are just pretend gods:
Their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk.
They cannot make a sound with their throats.
Those who make them are just like them,
as are all who trust in them (Ps. 115:5-8).
Be careful, friends, if you always hear exactly what you want. That’s very likely not the voice of God, but the voice of us soothing our consciences and affirming our desires.