Monday, October 04, 2004

A Vision from the Lord...

What did your kid do this summer? Recently, in church, we had a presentation on what had occurred at their annual Kid's Camp. Besides stories about the typical frolicking with nature, there was a serious story of one youngster who was, evidently, the epitomy of rebellion. He was a non-Christian and a last minute addition to the camp roster. Despite the best efforts of the camp counselors, they seemed to just not be getting through to this rebellious kid. To conclude the story a ten year old kid from church was asked to speak. The ten year old promptly announced that, while at camp, he had "had a vision" regarding the non-Christian kid. In his vision he saw an individual that was badly injured and in need of assistance, to which he loving provided. He admitted that, at that time, he was unsure of what the vision was about. As he recounted the story he told how other counselors, when told of his experience, concluded that the injured individual he was seeing was this other non-Christian, rebellious kid. The meaning was now obvious... he was there to help this other kid! The kids were returning home from camp on Friday. To the delight of the congregation the youth pastor described how this ten year old, and others, huddled in prayer around the kid in need on Thursday night. The night ended with the rebellious kid making a decision to follow Christ. Now, while I'm certainly in no position to dispute the sincerity of those involved, I was a bit concerned by the almost flippant manner in which a vision from the Lord was addressed. I looked up "vision" and "dream" in the NIV and found these references (NT only): Matthew 1:20; 2:12, 13, 22; Luke 1:22; Acts 9:10, 12; 10:3, 17, 19; 11:5; 16:9, 10; 18:9; 26:19; and 2 Corinthians 12:1. In virtually every case of a vision occurring, the one who delivered the message, whether it be the Spirit or an angel, insures that the meaning is clear and precise. The recipient is not left wondering what the vision could possibly mean. An apparent exception to this is Acts 10:17 in which Peter momentarily wonders what the vision of unclean animals is about. But a reading of the full account shows that he was immediately presented (supernaturally) with the answer. God is certainly capable of speaking to us through visions. But the Biblical evidence shows that when He does, He is clear and precise as to the meaning of the vision. We are not to go about discovering what it is that God has mystically told us.


welcometotheplanet said...

I know you may think this odd, coming from me, but it reminds me of when people come and proclaim that "the Lord told me" often followed by "we should do, or we should go, or whatever". I always want to say back "the Lord just told me you were mistaken." I agree that these types of things can be misguided at best and dangerous at worst. I mean who can argue with a vision or somehting the Lord said?

Matt Powell said...

Good point, Rusty. My dad (a pastor) used to say, the most dangerous person to have in your church is someone who thinks God talks to them (apart from Scripture, of course).

Anonymous said...

Has the ten-year-old apologized for his heresy yet? Perhaps we should burn the heretic at the stake! I’m joking, I think you guys are being too hard on this child.

Soften your hearts…a bit. Did he screw up and use the word vision when he should have said dream, impression, or feeling? Or was it a vision?

This is the way I see it: Christian child of ten sees a “vision;” rebel kid comes to camp; youth group rallies in prayer; lost child comes home; Rejoice!

Judge the poor child on his fruits. If he begins to charge for his newsletter, starts wearing fancy jewelry, demands a better parking spot for his bike and claims that HE and HE alone can hear from God – then you need to get worried. Until that time be glad you have a kid in your youth group that desires someone comes to the Lord on a retreat rather than – the usual – scoring with a girl on retreat.


Rusty said...

I don't think your comments odd at all. Despite some differences in how you and I view applying the Word of God, I believe you to be a very strong Christian with a solid foundation in what ultimately matters. And yes, you've hit the nail on the head with the "God told me" lingo. I've taken to reminding people that prophets in the OT had to stake their lives on whether or not God told them something.

Yes, it can be a chore to disagree with someone who speaks with God's authority. ;^)

Yes, it may just be a case of someone using the wrong word... if so, then all the more reason for solid Christian education in theological terms and concepts. While the results were positive, the potential problems inherent with bad theology certainly need to be addressed.

I was actually going to remark that, on the positive side, the ten year old has a heart for the lost (really... I was). I see this as more of an example about how the ten year old's personality works rather than God imparting on him a Vision. Of course, that could be because I just finished reading Kevin Leman's The New Birth Order Book.

BTW, the stake burning will happen Friday at sunset.

welcometotheplanet said...

Friday at sunset, I'll be there. I hope everyone likes steak, cause that's what I am bringing. (sorry that was tasteless)

Matt Powell said...

It's not that it's at all surprising or concerning that a ten year old would have bad theology. It's that he's being encouraged in this theology by those who should know better, including a youth pastor.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that this position is a little too reductionist: "If God ever communicates to His people in a vision, he will immediately explain the precise meaning of the vision in a supernatural way." In other words, God never whispers, he only shouts. I think this severely limits the options God has for communicating to his people, the result being that God seems to be hardly speaking at all.

So did this kid *not* have a vision, simply because he didn't know what it meant? How were the leaders supposed to teach him? --by telling him that he had not received a vision, or by telling him that his vision wasn't from God because he didn't have a supernatural revelation about what it meant?

Rusty said...


Could God speak to someone through a vision without that person knowing what the vision meant? Sure. But I'm not claiming otherwise... I'm simply stating that there is no Biblical basis for God acting in that manner.

Greg Koukl likes to say, "I exegete scripture, not experiences."

Russ said...

I think you are dead on Rusty. Is The Definite Word of God enough for us, or do we need more input? You hit the nail on the head. This is mysticism, not Biblical wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the anonymous. I hate signing up for programs I don't plan to use. I'll sign this one.

I still don't quite get your experience. You still seem to be saying that God in theory could do X, since he's sovereign like that, but he won't because it doesn't fit within your interpretation of the Scripture.

I'm not sure what your "I exegete the scriptures" comment is supposed to mean, except to imply that there is some divorce between scripture and experience. I've never been able to qualify what this divorce is supposed to be.

The argument from absense seems to be a particularly shaky one. The fact that the bible doesn't describe a particular kind of event doesn't negate the possibility that that kind of event has a place. You can get into all kinds of weird positions that way.

But there are plenty of arguments that would allow for a 10 year old having a vision and not knowing how to interpret it. His age may be considered; his inexperience/immaturity may be considered; the obviousness of the interpretation may be considered, and the relative insignificance of the vision may be considered.

For instance, Samuel was around 10 when he had his first prophetic "experience." God spoke to him with an audible voice and he needed an interpreter to know that it was God speaking. There are frequent examples of dreams and visions occurring where the recipient is outside the covenant, and therefore unable to interpret. The most obvious interpretation for this would be that they couldn't interpret because they had no covenant with God, but an argument could be made for the interpretation that they were unable to interpret simply because of their lack of experience with the living God. Joseph's dreams before he was shipped to Egypt had no official interpretation simply because the interpretation was obvious to anyone who heard the dream. Lastly, there are lots of occasions described in scripture where prophecy is mentioned, but where the actual details of the prophecy aren't mentioned because it is too insignificant ("is Saul also among the prophets" comes to mind). If there are insignificant propecies given by people who aren't normally prophets, how can you argue that everyone who has a vision must have an unequivocal interpretation?

It would be more effective to argue that God never communicates to his people without making the interpretation certain, but this is clearly not the case: God specifically tells Isaiah to prophesy in such a way that people won't understand the interpretation. Jesus does the exact same thing in the parables.

Anyway, apologies for the long comment.

Rusty said...


The "exegete scripture vs. experience" remark refers to situations in which people attempt to justify their action or decision making in terms of how their experiences play out. In teaching a class based on Greg Koukl's Decision Making and the Will of God series I had one person state that they were certain that a leading they received, regarding a tough decision in their life, was from God. It's at a point like that in which I will state that I must exegete what the Scriptures say and not what may or may not have happened in their lives. Their experience may be real, but it's not the Word of God.

God has spoken to us in His Word and the pattern exemplified, especially in the New Testament, is that while He is certainly capable, we are not to expect to get supernatural direction from Him. We are to make decisions using wisdom, within His Moral Will, with the understanding that all fits within His Sovreign Will. Whether He chooses to give us special direction is up to Him.

I wouldn't claim it as my interpretation of scriptures either. Read the book of Acts for yourself and note all the occurrences of decision making, which ones were supernaturally directed and which ones were simply the result of using the wisdom model.

Actually, I think that ignoring the patterns evident in the Bible is a more risky approach that can lead to weird positions. Consider, for a moment, these options: Why don't we require church members to surrender their personal property as the Jerusalem church did? Why don't we throw dice to select church leaders? Why don't we force women to cover their heads? While all of those practices are found in the New Testament, we understand that they are informative rather than prescriptive.

Regarding the Samuel account, take a closer look at the story. You will see that Samuel did not yet know the Lord and that all he heard, before Eli clued him in, was someone calling him. Once he responded to the Lord the Lord gave him a clear, precise, and distinct message. In fact, it was Samuel who relayed the contents of the message to Eli the next morning! Joseph's dreams were clear enough to get his brothers to sell him as a slave.

Keep in mind that while Isaiah spoke to the people with the intent of keeping them in the dark, he understood what the Lord told him. And the parables were specifically used to teach those already receptive to Christ's message.

The issue with this kid, though, revolves more around his use of the word "vision." If he meant a revelation from God - a vision from the Lord - that means it's serious stuff and should send up warning flags in the church. If he doesn't understand that yet (which, I suspect, is the case) then it behooves those of us with a bit more maturity to educate him.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the "don't put God in a box" type argument is that it could be used to apply to anything. Could God speak through a ouija board? Or tea leaves? Well of course He could. He is God after all.

But we don't expect Him to, because this is not normative according to scripture. The same with the vision described in Rusty's post.

In the example of Samuel, the voice he heard was perfectly clear. He just thought it was Eli instead of God. I don't quite see how this is same situation.

Also, just because the details of a prophecy aren't mentioned in scripture doesn't mean it wasn't clear. It just means it wasn't recorded.

Sorry if it seems like I'm picking on you Kyle. My wife says that I'm tact challenged :). Please correct me where I misunderstood.