Bible Roulette (Willard)

Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God by [Dallas Willard]

Although I’m a Christian who is Reformed by conviction, I’ve been very blessed in many ways by Christian resources that are not Reformed. From C.S. Lewis to Blaise Pascal to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (and others!), I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated books from other Christian perspectives. I certainly don’t (and won’t!) limit my reading to “Reformed-only” books.

One such book I’ve been reading is Hearing God by Dallas Willard. I just finished the third chapter called “Never Alone” and I came away with a lot of good stuff to think about. I don’t agree with everything in it, but everything in it has made me think, contemplate, and reflect on various biblical truths and teachings. Here’s a section from this chapter that I thought was very helpful. It has to do with one wrong way of trying to hear God speak or discern his will:

A misguided expectation of the Bible’s ability to speak specifically to an individual or a situation leads some people to play the Bible roulette mentioned earlier. They allow the Bible to fall open where it will and then stab their finger at random on the page to see which verse it lands on. Then they read the selected verse to see what they should do. This is trying to force God to give you a message.

Despite the fact that some great Christians have used this technique, it is certainly not a procedure recommended by the Bible, and there is no biblical reason why one might not just as well use a dictionary, the Encyclopedia Britannica or the newspaper the same way or simply open the Bible and wait for a fly to land on a verse.

A novel approach was recently suggested by a minister who stated in all seriousness that we should look up the year of our birth to cast light on what we should do. Unless you were born in the first half of the twentieth century (the earlier the better), this method will do you no good, since there are few verses numbered beyond 20 or 30. I was born in 1935, so I thought I would see what direction I could get from Genesis 19:35. I will leave it to your curiosity to see what that verse says, but I shudder to think what instruction might be derived from this method.

…You hear people tell of opening the Bible at random and reading a verse to decide whether to undertake some enterprise or move or to marry a certain person. Many devout people will do such things to hear God because their need and anxiety to hear God is so great—though they may later try to hide it or laugh at it when revealed. Worse still, many actually act on the fruit of this “guidance” to the great harm of themselves and others. They are the losers at Bible roulette. What a stark contrast to this unhappy condition is the simple word of Jesus: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27). We have problems when we try to force God to tell us something. We don’t force a conversation. We respect and wait and listen.

Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2012).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015