Yesterday, Fresh Air’s Terry Gross interviewed anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann, who wrote a book called, When God Talks Back. The book explores how people claim to have a personal
relationship with God.
Listen to the interview here.
The interview is fascinating, and Luhrmann’s perspective is valuable.
One thing that stuck out was Luhrmann’s apparent disbelief, but fear of admitting it. I think she needs to keep a certain distance from her subjects, while maintaining a closeness.
Tina and I sat listening to the interview while editing yesterday, and we both wanted to listen closer.
Luhrmann discussed how people devote time and even “dates” with God. They go on walks together. Have coffee or tea time. Time spent with God is like having an affair.
The first time I ran into Julie Ferwerda, I found a editorial in which she talked about dating Jesus and posted it here. She wrote (don’t kill me, Julie):
So how do you date Jesus? Here are some ways that work for me, but the sky is the limit for creativity—just like any true dating relationship. The key is to make it spontaneous, personal and a major priority. And then you’ll find that he begins showing up for dates—sometimes with flowers, love notes, and rainbows!
This is the stuff of Luhrmann’s book.
At one point, Terry Gross asked Luhrmann whether the language should be “imagined” God’s voice or “heard it.”
Luhrmann’s answer was surprising. She didn’t say “imagined” was wrong, because there is some evidence that old church leadership agreed that imagining God’s voice is okay. But the negative connotation that surrounds the word makes it hard for Christians to use.
Another interesting part was when Luhrmann told Terry Gross that parents telling kids to give up their invisible friends is not sound advice.
I grew up in an evangelical community, aka The Yeshua Fog. Like many, I thought I heard God’s voice. And when the voice in my head was negative, or sinful, namely with sexual sins, I decided that was Satan’s voice.
Looking back, I know I was sure about it. It was so crystal clear to me. But the more I looked into it, the more I hammered down that there’s NOOO way that God was talking to me. And if he were, how come he didn’t use a powerful voice and how come Satan didn’t use a voice conversion machine that made his sound evil?
I mean, why did the voice always resemble my own? Why did the voice always want what I secretly wanted?
The conversations I had with God, Jesus and Satan were incessant. We’d banter back and forth for hours. My imagination was — and still is — a difficult, fast-paced world of non-stop banter.
All that’s to say, go listen to real people talk about whether God’s voice is real or not. It’s amazing that this is even a valid conversation to have. But it’s worth getting into the mind of your friends to figure out what makes them tick.