The Agora
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How God acts in our lives

Does God ever act in the lives of believers... in any way apart from His written Word, and the providential arrangements of circumstances external to the individual? In other words, does He ever act -- directly -- upon the mind of a believer?

I have followed the give and take on this subject before, and of course I have thought about the various Bible passages, and the overall philosophical views expressed. I have come to the conclusion that the means by which God works on human minds is -- basically and fundamentally -- unknowable. Maybe that's why Jesus likens the Spirit to the wind in John 3 (besides which, we know that both the Hebrew and Greek words have these two more-or-less-interchangeable meanings):

"Jesus answered, 'I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit [Or "spirit"] gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, "You [plural] must be born again." The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit' " (John 3:5-8).

It's one of those cliches, practically, that we cannot "see" the wind; we can only "feel" its presence, and "see" the effect it has on other things. The leaves in the trees rustle, and the dust swirls along the ground, and we know the wind is blowing. But we don't SEE the wind -- we only see the effect of the wind; we see the leaves and the dust move! And we deduce the presence of the wind from their movements.

In like manner, a "spirit" being, a new creature in Christ, is controlled by unseen forces and considerations. Until a man is born of this unseen force, he cannot know its cause -- only its outward effect in the lives of others... which can always be explained by other factors.

So it seems to me that -- given our limitations here and now -- we can never "prove" that God is working by His Spirit in the lives of others around us, nor even -- to be absolutely certain -- in our own lives either. That's just the nature of things... now.

True, we pray (all of us?) prayers like this:

(1) "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law" (Psa 119:18),


(2) "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psa 51:10),

or a hundred other, Bible-based, prayers... which presume that God works, somehow and some way, in our lives along with His written word.

But we can't know (can we?) exactly how (or when, or where) He works. If we did know, then we would have the Holy Spirit, and the ability to discern such spirits -- in short, we'd be inspired prophets... and then we'd be talking about "a whole different ballgame".

But, just because we can NEVER "prove" that it is happening, does that in and of itself "prove" that it NEVER happens?

So we have the typical exchange -- typical, at least, of this sort of discussion -- between two people:

a. Al says, "Jesus 'opened their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures' (Luke 24)"... to which Bob responds: "Meaning, Jesus *explained* the scriptures to them."

And... Bob is right! Or, at least, if he were wrong -- or, perhaps, only half-right, or 3/4 right, or even 99% right -- the point is: How could we ever know?

How could we ever know, for sure, that Jesus "explained" something to the apostles by putting the thoughts which they ought to think directly into their minds, or even in the very least influencing their minds indirectly... when, of course, they had the Scriptures and were thinking about them already, and working on them already -- and when, IF Jesus did such a thing, it would appear for all the world as though it were the natural workings of the apostles' own minds? Well, IF he did, then -- here's my point! -- it would have been something other than an unseen, secret divine intervention into their minds -- it would have been visible, with real, recognizable, provable "power"... and then it would have been... something else! It would have been the "inspiration" of the Holy Spirit.

b. Then, as if to give the other side of the coin, just as we would expect: we have the second of Al's points: "The second occasion is in Acts 2:6-8. In this incident the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and everyone heard them speak in their own language." To which Bob replies: "This is referring SPECIFICALLY to the Holy Spirit gifts. The discussion is NOT about the Holy Spirit gifts -- it is specifically about whether the Holy Spirit ever literally 'indwells' the believer OTHER THAN THROUGH the Holy Spirit gifts..."

And... Bob's right again! Because if you can actually SEE the "power" and can PROVE -- by visible, tangible evidence -- that it is divine, then it CANNOT be anything but real Holy Spirit power. It can no longer be a secret, unseen, "indwelling" power -- because it simply can't be both things simultaneously.

If you SEE it, then it can't be an unseen or secret "indwelling".

And if it is an unseen "indwelling", then you can't see it. You can't even see the EFFECTS of it, for that matter, in such a way that its existence could not be explained by other means -- like "reading your Bibles".

Now, here's the deal: there are -- literally -- hundreds of passages in which righteous men and women pray for God to act in their lives... and we are not afraid to ask for such divine intervention or interaction in our own lives.

Etc, etc.

Why would we ever pray in the first place, what would we ever ask for... IF God never worked in the lives of men and women?

But of course He does!

We'll just never know exactly how He does it... now, in this age. And we'll never be able to prove that He does -- even in ourselves or to ourselves.

And we'll never be in a position to boast about such "power" in our lives, as though we "earned" it, or "deserve" it.

And [to me this is THE key point!] we'll never be able to depend on such "power", to the exclusion or the neglect of reading, and understanding, our Bibles. Because -- if and when it is "there", whatever that means, we won't be able to know it's "there" -- we'll just be doing our best, to understand what God has said, and to put it into practice in our lives. And that's the part we'll SEE -- the other, if it's there, will be silent and secret, even in our own minds.

And thus, we'll never be able to depend on such "power" to help us make a decision, or to give us strength to do the right thing... because these thoughts and actions are all things we can do for ourselves, and even if God is helping us to do them -- it'll be a secret, silent, "indwelling" kind of help -- not visible to others, and not provable even to ourselves...

Because, given the way all human minds work, the thoughts that seem to come unbidden into our minds could merely be the chemical processes of our own brains (which, left to themselves, are much more often wicked rather than righteous). And how am I to know the difference... between the thought I conjure up out of my subconscious (which, let's face it, may be good or ill) and the thought that -- maybe -- God actually put there... because it would look the same, even to me!

So, in the final analysis, the whole question -- it seems to me -- is a kind of delusion: God's Spirit MAY BE there, in my mind, helping me think right thoughts, and helping me summon up the will to do right things. But I can never know that for sure (because... then it would be something else!), and I can never depend on its being there. All I can do is read the Bible, try to understand it, tell others about it, and try to apply it in my life.

And pray that our Father will help me think and do right things. But if and when He does help me, I'll never know it for sure. I'll still have to be continuing to do my best, to read, think, understand, and apply... as though He isn't helping at all.

I can't "put it on automatic pilot". I have to keep flying the aircraft, and hope and pray that God steadies my hand, and sharpens my eye, and focuses my mind. But I can't consciously stop doing what I can do, and let Him take over! The plane would crash.

Bottom line: what practical difference does it make? If I can't see God's power working for sure, then I just have to do the best I can anyway -- and hope that, somehow, He is helping.

"For we are labourers together with God" (1Co 3:9).

"We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain" (2Co 6:1).

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