Recently, I have been confronted with some rather significant decisions. As one who is committed to Christ as Lord and Savior, naturally these are things I have brought to God in prayer, looking for his will and guidance. At the same time, I have had to think through ramifications of varying options and scenarios and gauge what is the reasonable thing to do given what I believe is consistent with the witness of scripture and the place where God has me currently situated. In short, I have confronted these decisions prayerfully, with the voice of reason.
Now some might object and believe that we need to rely on what God tells us to do. That relying on reason and engaging our mental faculties is the same as relying on human wisdom and understanding apart from the spiritual understanding that comes from divine direction. After all, doesn’t Proverbs 3:5 indicate to not lean to our own understanding, but acknowledge the Lord in all our ways? Most certainly it does. But I don’t think that means that engaging in a thought process involving reason is not engaging spiritual guidance. In fact, I am convinced that God very much operates through reason, too.
As Christians, we are told in Romans 12:2 to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing our minds. Conformity to the world involves a mindset of identity. Prior to regeneration, the believer can only follow the mindset that does not set affections on God or his ways (Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 8:7). It relies on a philosophy of the pattern of this world, which is keeping with human understanding and that which is sourced in self-interest. The renewed mind understands that life decisions must be filtered through a new lens. We are subject to a different standard that is keeping with who we are as citizens of heaven, indwelt with the Holy Spirit who provides illumination on how to bring life into alignment with God’s will and ways. So as we think about life and all of its decisions, we should be in touch with that identity and what is in its best interest.
It does raise the question of how the Holy Spirit works in the faculties of the believer. Does the Holy Spirit provide guidance by bypassing our thought process and just mechanically gives us answers and directives? Or does the Holy Spirit invade the mind and influence our thoughts so that they align with the will of God? I suppose that answer will rest on where one stands on the composition of our humanity, whether dichotomist (body and soul/spirit) or trichotomist (body, soul and spirit). I also wonder that if we take the position that the Holy Spirit speaks to us separate from our mental faculties, if that means we are responsible for some decisions but God is responsible for others. That does present some difficulties that I can’t even wrap my mind around at the moment.
I honestly believe that adopting the mentality that divine guidance must come through that ‘small still voice’ or some other form of receiving a direct answer can be counter-productive to an authentic Christian life that must confront decisions on a daily basis – big and small. I am not saying that God does not operate that way or there aren’t ‘impressions’ that are convictions of a direction that God would have us take. But he did give us mental faculties to use that should be used to honor him. If he just gave us the answer, how then would we grow and make choices that demonstrate our love for him? Moreover, the fact that convictions come in the form of thoughts, I believe makes for a compelling case that the Holy Spirit very much works through out mental faculties, which we then should use for the glory of God in the decisions that we make. In fact, I am of the opinion that the voice we ascribe to God speaking can actually be the Holy Spirit bearing on our own thoughts, which is what we may possibly hear.
If we are just listening to the voice separate from any type of mental engagement, then what is to prevent someone who is mentally challenged with proclivities towards distorted thought processes from declaring some divine directive that is nothing more than a product of that distortion? I do believe that God can work through mental illness but that doesn’t prevent the impact that misunderstood and misapplied guidance can have those who are subject to that decision. In fact, I have encountered ministries that I believe were either founded upon the spiritual leadership or run by someone who was mentally unstable. As one who is not trained in this area, I can only speculate but I would bet money that this is far more prevalent than we probably think.
If the Holy Spirit can operate through the voice of reason, I suspect that the conscience very much plays a role in this facilitation. The NT writers use the word conscience (συνειδησις) 29 times and is associated with an inward conviction that aligns with a mindset that our thoughts, words or actions are consistent with our identity as believers in Christ. The Greek-English lexicon (BDAG) renders the meaning of the word as “an inward faculty of distinguishing right and wrong”. A few examples are here
Romans 2:15 – in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.
1 Corinthians 8:10 – For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?
2 Corinthians 5:11 – Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.
Hebrews 9:14 – how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
It seems that everywhere conscience is used, it denotes that inward conviction that must bear on our decisions but nowhere denies the existence of decisions or having to think through what is the reasonable and God-honoring thing to do. But several of the verses where ‘conscience’ is used indicates the need to keep it clear (Acts 23:1; 24:9; 1 Timothy 1:5, 19; 3:9; 2 Timothy 1:3; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 3:16). It’s why I believe Paul warns that the spiritually wayward will have a seared conscience (1 Timothy 4:2) that prevents subjection to God and his ways and how it can distort decisions we make.
So the bottom line is that I don’t think we should fear the voice of reason or relegate to a product of non-spiritual human understanding. If our thoughts are filtered through the grid of prayer, scripture and an attitude of subjection to Christ, I believe the Holy Spirit can use them to align with the very direction that God would have us take as we think through what to do.