The most common complaint made to the Federal Communications Commission by consumers is about unwanted automated phone calls and texts. As a consequence the FCC is considering a ruling that would allow telephone companies to provide consumers with the option of blocking all computer generated phone calls and texts.
One would think it would be a simple thing to give consumers a choice about who calls or texts them, but a legal issue has prevented such decisions in the past. The FCC is required by federal law to assure that all phone calls reach their intended recipients. If a telephone company blocks messages intended for consumers, the company can be charged with a federal crime. The proposed ruling by the FCC would protect telephone service providers from prosecution for allowing consumers to “opt out” of robo-calls.
Interpersonal communication is fraught with ambiguity. Most of us would never consider leaving the house without our cellphone. We want to be able to speak to anyone we choose, at any time we choose. At the same time, we are often selective about the people who wish to speak with us. The FCC’s on-going issues with “robo-calls” are just one of the many ambiguities inherent in modern communication technologies. Is it any wonder, then, that so many people have so much suspicion about communication from God?
For some people, the idea that God communicates with people is laughable. Many people are willing to admit there might be a God, many fewer are willing to listen to the voice of God. The Scriptures represent God as constantly communicating with God’s People, but this notion seems old-fashioned, if not impossible, in a world ruled by technology.
The author of today’s first reading wrote, “Ask now of the days of old, before your time, ever since God created humankind upon the earth; ask from one end of the sky to the other: Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of?” (Deuteronomy 4:32) This is a “Norman Rockwell” image of human existence, an image of a simpler, more wholesome, time when neighbors knew one another and families happily attended church together on a weekly basis.
Those traditional, pre-technological values are gone forever. Most people today have a closer relationship with Facebook friends than they have with the folks who live next door to them. Sunday is a day of rest for many in our society, but that rest rarely includes communal worship of God. Is it outmoded to think that God communicates with us? Is it old-fashioned to think that God has something meaningful to say? Is it delusional to believe in a God whose power is constantly at work in our lives?
The Scriptures say that God continues to speak to God’s People, to reveal God’s self and to lead believers to a life of peace. (Deuteronomy 4:33-34) Is it possible to believe these words, or should we understand them as holdovers from a pre-scientific culture that was mired in superstition? There is only one way to make a decision about a very ambiguous claim. The easiest path out of ambiguity is personal experience.
Most people have adequate experience of life without God; consequently, I wouldn’t recommend trying that. I do, however, recommend trying the experience of listening to God’s Word. There is no mystery to it; no special knowledge or skill is necessary. The only thing necessary is to attend to the exhortation in the first reading, “Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of?” (Deuteronomy 4:32)
The easiest place to learn to hear God’s voice is in the good people in our lives and the good experiences we have. This reading from Deuteronomy was intended to remind God’s People of all the good that God had done for them while they sojourned in the desert. The author wrote, “fix in your heart, that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other.” (Deuteronomy 4:39) The author was drawing the People’s attention to God’s good works, and encouraging them never to forget the blessings of the life of faith.
If you would like to be free of some of the ambiguity associated with belief in a God who speaks to people of faith, try the following daily exercises. The Scriptures describe God as the creator of all that exists. (Deuteronomy 4:32) Take time each day to be grateful for the good people in your life; those good people are the primary way that God expresses love for you. The Scriptures also say that the loving God constantly offers us salvation. (Deuteronomy 4:34) Take time each day to give thanks to God for the ability to forgive and be forgiven. The Scriptures offer a further insight into God’s care for us; the Scriptures tell us that God is present in our lives constantly creating in us an appropriate response to God’s love. (Deuteronomy 4:40) Take time each day to notice the many ways in which God guides you away from evil and toward good.
Some of the ambiguity we face when trying to have faith in God is the result of the complicated, but shallow, society in which we live; some of it is the result of our personal limitations. We will never be entirely free from ambiguities in this life, but we can live with a sense of confidence about God’s presence and power in our lives. That confidence results from, and is strengthened by, our efforts to perceive the Trinity’s daily interactions with us, the People of God. Awareness of God’s presence and power develops only as the result of our conscious efforts to be grateful for the gifts of creation, redemption and sanctification that come only from God.