4.) How can you tell the voice of God from a voice in your head?
This is an odd question for someone like myself who holds to the classic doctrines of the Protestant Reformation, particularly Sola Scriptura – in Scripture Alone. That is, that it is in the Scriptures alone that God reveals his person and work and plans for redemptive history. And that the Scriptures are the one and only authority over our life and practice. This means that when a Christian prays, they are no looking to hear an audible voice from God, but rather that we will be equipped with wisdom by the Spirit to live in accordance with the Scriptures and the gospel message contained therein.
So how can I tell the voice of God from the voice in my head? One is in black and white on the page in front of me and has led God’s people throughout the ages, and the other is in my head.
I don’t believe that hearing an audible voice from God is impossible in this day and time although probably far more unlikely than most church goers would suggest. However, I think God does “speak” to individuals in a number of ways. God orchestrates things in a way that make His “personal messages” just as clear as they need to be. Ever have a moment where probability and sheer coincidence just don’t support the way things played out? That is the closest I think most of us come to hearing the “voice” of God. God works in ways that speak to the individual needs of those who seek and listen.
In the interest of ecumenism, it is important to note that a significant number of Christians neither hear "voices in their head," nor do they believe that God communicates in that way. At least, in the church age.
It is generally held that one may pray to God and study scripture – prayer being the method by which humans communicate with God, and scripture being the method by which God communicates to humans.
One must allow for the possibility of a conviction from the Holy Spirit, but if this is the case, it is going to manifest not as a voice, but more as an urge or strong feeling. Of course, the same question might be asked about urges and feelings: how is one to know whether or not these come from God?
Whether voices or feelings, there is a mandate in scripture for determining the source of these communications, this being the way in which they align with the scriptures.
Moses tells his followers in Deuteronomy 13 that if someone comes claiming to be a prophet and speaks in a way contrary to what God has revealed to them in the law – he is not a prophet. This same standard is echoed in the New Testament in Paul's letter to the Galatians, that if anyone – even an angel of heaven – were to deliver a Gospel other than what he and the apostles had taught – to disbelieve the false instructor who was not from God.
If a Christian is informed enough in scripture, it should be fairly easy to discern whether or not a voice was from God, or simply some internal illusion.
Put simply … God doesn’t sound like me.
But more importantly, does the message that I THINK is from God agree or disagree with what God has already revealed in Scripture? If you’re getting conflicting messages, that’s a giant red-flag.
5.) How can you tell the voice of God from the voice of the Devil?
Again, see above. Swan here seems to think that all Christians are of the Anabapstistic or radical Pentecostal variety.
The devil rarely needs to speak. A little cheerleading in some form or another is more than enough to push what Christians call “the flesh” in the way it already wants to go. There is no better way to explore this question than reading “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis. Lewis adds depth and entertainment to this question in ways I couldn’t even hope to duplicate.
The answer to this will be much the same as the answer to question 4. The thrust of these questions is "how do you know that the voice is God's?" If there exists some test by which one may discern the voice of God from any other voice, it is not so much important that one knows where outside of God the voice is coming from – only is it or isn't it God's voice?
Once again, if a person is hearing some kind of voice audibly or in their head, it is more likely that it isn't God than that it is. But should one want to know, the test – again – is does the message align with the will of God as revealed in scripture? Swan spends a number of questions asking "if God were to tell you to do X, would you do X?" If he is willing to allow that things one hears could be from some source besides God, then he has built an automatic escape hatch from these following questions. If God tells someone to do something bad – then it probably wasn't God.
God won’t disagree with Himself. If you think you are hearing from God but it contradicts other messages which you’re confident are from God (ie. The Bible), then put the brakes on. That’s a good indication it is not from God. And also, familiarity. Just like I can know from the other room which of my children are talking, you get a familiarity with God and know His voice.
6.) Would you find it easier to kill someone if you believed God supported you in the act?
This question is rather vague and thus problematic to answer. From his questions above I am thinking he means something like those horrific stories where people think God was telling them to murder someone to kill the devil inside them or something like that. This again would be the difference between rightly applying the Scriptures and being a sociopath with severe mental disorders. Here his image that reads, “welcome to the lunatic asylum” shows how he really feels about Christians – we are all one voice in our heads away from being the next Son of Sam murderer.
The question itself has issues, it could easily be rephrased in a number of ways. Such as would you find it easier to kill someone if you believed that society(authority, friends, commanders, leaders, etc.) supported you in the act. No matter how people would answer this history shows that it is the case that it would be easier. Take Stanley Milgram's shock/learner experiments for example. So the answer is an obvious “yes” that it would be easier in any of these situations. With the God version of the question though the insinuation is it is immoral to kill based on a command from God. However, if God is the high moral authority then there is no reason why His commands would be immoral. With that said we often see people claim the voice of God has led them to commit violent acts. We have no reason to suspect God would command individuals in this day and time to kill other individuals not just because of the lack of modern day prophets but also because this kind of order is not Biblical. God’s commands were almost always directed through prophets towards people groups rather than individuals. Abraham and Isaac is an obvious exception but it also had an extraordinary outcome.
In this question, Swan appears to be appealing to a universal moral impulse. The gist of the question appears to be that – we all acknowledge that killing is wrong, but could we suppress that impulse if we thought that God supported us? Of course, one wonders: under what circumstances are we killing the person in the first place? Also: where does this universal moral impulse come from?
Swan seems to be driving at the idea that, if the Christian could imagine a circumstance under which God's will was different than it is, how would that effect the Christian's behavior? Obviously this is a setup on the same scale as asking the atheist, "What would you do if God spoke directly to you?"
And while the Atheist could reasonably answer, "I'd get my head checked," The Christian could give the same answer to Swan's question.
7.) If God told you to kill an atheist, would you?
See above. Since I am not a magistrate who bears the sword of justice so to speak, I hold no right to harm anyone save in extreme circumstances of protecting someone else from immanent harm.
Again the question features a level of absurdity. If you were commanded to kill a Christian (or Jew) by the government would you? Stanley MIlgram has already shown the statistical answer to this, 65% of people would.
At a glance, this question seems to be asking the same thing as previous question. Swan is clearly baiting the Christian by using an Atheist as the intended victim.
Of course, it may be supposed that – beginning at the belief that Christians are deluded – it is a real concern to an atheist that a theist might go off the rails and start killing people because they think God told them to. Swan has already made it clear that he believes that Christians hear voices in their heads.
This question cleverly flirts with the so-called Euthyphro dilemma, wherein one is asked "Are things moral because God commands them, or does God command them because they are moral?" Obviously, the cold-blooded murder of an otherwise innocent atheist is immoral. This is something upon which both the Christian and the Atheist can agree. If God then commanded the deed, does God command suddenly make the previously immoral action moral?
If one answers Swan's question "yes," this gives Swan permission to condemn religion on the grounds that people will blindly do whatever their religion tells them – even if the action is clearly evil. If the Christian answers "no," they have just joined Swan in obviating God as the source of morality.
A more appropriate approach to this question is to ponder along with the questioner as to why both parties agree that murder is wrong? From where does this shared moral impulse arise? In fact, what gives human life value in the first place?
To the Christian, human life is valuable because it is valued. Just as in the economy, one assigns more value to a smartphone than to a calculator – it is the consumer, not the item, which assigns value to the object.
In reality, what makes human life valuable and what makes murder wrong is the Creator who assigns value to that life in the first place. To suggest that the Creator would suddenly contradict himself is similar to asking "if a rabbit wasn't a rabbit, would it still be a rabbit?" It's logical nonsense.
God doesn’t just command murder. “Hey, go kill that guy!”
When we do see God commanding the death of someone, it is *without exception* a matter of judgment. Either in the case of Israel in battle against a wicked nation, or as capital punishment for a heinous crime. As I am neither an Israelite soldier, nor a duly appointed government agent in a judicial role … this hypothetical command is a logical impossibility.