In Greater Tuna, a two-person sketch comedy about "the third smallest town in Texas," a reporter interviews a crusading member of a book-burning committee. He asks her if she talks to God. "Well," she replies, "I pray." The reporter eyes her suspiciously. "I didn't ask you that, Mrs. Bumiller," he says. "Do you talk to God direct?"
We find nothing peculiar about religious types engaging in fervent one-way conversations with God, even though we otherwise avoid people who talk to themselves out loud. The few who claim to engage in two-way conversations with the Almighty are assumed to be religious nuts or just plain nuts. We certainly have no place in modern society for prophets who preface their remarks with the phrase, "Thus saith the Lord." The would-be prophets who stand on street corners and bring down God's judgment on passersby are no longer taken seriously enough to be stoned to death or driven into the wilderness.
Joan of Arc may have been the last true religious visionary who was able to sway the course of nations on the strength of her conviction alone. Granted, medieval France was more attuned to matters of faith than our own age. It is still astonishing that powerful men were persuaded to put an illiterate peasant girl in charge of an army because "voices from God" had told her it was her destiny to save France. More astonishing still, she was right. The Church eventually canonized her, but not before convicting her of heresy and having her burned at the stake. However, it was never clear which they found more objectionable: hearing voices or dressing up in men's clothes.
The religion of the Hebrews was unique in the ancient world, because their God was heard rather than seen. The Old Testament depicts an anthropomorphic God without anywhere describing what he looked like. In fact, the Hebrew people were strictly forbidden from worshiping anything they could see. Moses was given a tantalizing glimpse of the Lord's backside on Mt. Sinai, but that was about it. It was the voice of God that thundered from the mountaintop, and the voice of God that later whispered to Elijah on the same mountain. The voice of God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind and confronted Paul on the road to Damascus.
How can we be sure it is really God speaking to us in such circumstances? If it is God talking and not just me talking to myself, you would think the voice would come from someplace outside. But that is not how it happens. It is a voice that no ear ever heard. It does not come from afar but arises from a place deep within the stillness of oneself -- deeper, in fact, than the self we know, yet closer than our own breathing. There is never any shouting. This voice is clear, calm, never insistent, always quietly emphatic. This is the voice of God.
Greater Tuna by Joe Sears, Jaston Williams and Ed Howard