One of the tenets that simultaneously baffled and comforted me in Evangelical Christianity was the idea that the Holy Spirit talks to people. Usually not audibly, but somehow you would feel an impulse and know that it was God communicating to you, helping you know which decision to make. I've experienced this! It's led me to make really good decisions, decisions I look back on and think, "Wow, God was really looking out for me." And it's also led me to make terrible decisions, ones that make me scratch my head and think that I must not have heard God right after all, because, of course, God is always looking out for me, right? (RIGHT?)
When I was a teenager I was certain God was calling me to be an actress. Reading scripts, I knew intuitively how words were meant. I easily entered into stories and understood the motivation of the characters involved. I had loved being onstage since my first role in a church play at age 5. (I played Jezebel) When I was onstage, everyone listened to me.
The trouble was, I wasn't very good at it. I was...OK, but in a profession where only 10% of people doing it actually make a living at it, OK was not enough. Even my personal brand of superhuman perseverance and German work ethic could not make me a spectacular actress. My failure in my chosen field hurt worse because I had thrown everything I had into it. There was no backup plan, because I was certain that if God called me to do this, He would surely provide a way for me to do it.
This weekend I started reading The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever (which is a great read BTW) and I've reached the part where Jamie arrives in a Costa Rican Spanish language school and she's surrounded by rando missionaries. How do you get to become a missionary? You just decide that God has called you to do this. And that's a problem, because a lot of those people should've really been doing something else. Anything else.
It's probably a problem we can chalk up to the Reformation. We now believe we all have a direct line to God and that God's going to tell us all these things. And we're wrong A LOT. But people rarely question these things, because we expect God to work miracles. And a lot of the time, that just does not happen.
It's likely enough that these instances of "God" speaking to people can be chalked up to things like confirmation bias. When you hear a similar message from several different sources, it can feel like synchronicity. So we could dismiss this phenomena entirely. But I don't.
I want to believe that there is a benign force of good in the universe that can help steer us toward a more just society. I want to believe in a loving God who looks out for all my stupid, insignificant problems and everyone's problems, big or small. I think, most of the time, this is harmless and perhaps even hope-giving. But I also think that taking these "whispers" or intuitions and running wild with them can lead to some pretty bad outcomes. Perhaps what we need most is to temper all this with humility and the knowledge that we could be wrong.