What do you think the voice of God sounds like?
Is it scary, or calming? Reassuring, or unnerving? Is it peaceful or petrifying? Is it a man’s voice? A woman’s? A child’s?
When in doubt, look to Hollywood.
In The Ten Commandments, director Cecil B. DeMille gave the Almighty a booming, echoing, ridiculously deep voice, where He told Moses to ‘Take off thy sandals, because thou art standing on holy ground.’ (Thee and thou? Really? Why would God have used archaic and outdated forms of words to communicate with Moses? And what, in whatever ancient language Moses spoke at the time, would the equivalent of thee and thou have been? I guess DeMille thought we’d think the words were more holy and mysterious if they sounded old-fashioned. Artistic licence, and all that.)
That was 1956.
In 1998, Dreamworks Pictures released an animated version of the Moses story called The Prince of Egypt. In this film, when God speaks to Moses, He uses Moses’ own voice (played by Val Kilmer in this case) – speaking calmly and soothingly, but with no less authority.
I was a part-time film critic in 1998, and I remember being wowed by that choice – it was bang-on, in my opinion. If God is God, He doesn’t need to put on high-falutin’, uppity, boomy voices to gain our respect. True holiness doesn’t need cheap Wizard of Oz-ish parlour tricks to impress us, I reasoned.
But when I voiced that opinion a few years ago at a Bible study group when the topic-du-jour was our Image of God, the group leader offered another interpretation.
“In the ’50s, our culture was more accepting of authority, but these days, we’re much more individualistic. We prize ourselves above all, so the idea of God speaking to us in our own voices makes us much more comfortable.” (I’m paraphrasing, of course – I didn’t have my voice recorder on that night – but I think I got the gist of his point right.)
Point taken, Jason. The difference between the two films’ ideas on the Voice of God could have more to do with what we want God to be like than what we truly think He’s like.
Incidentally, there is some debate about who provided the Voice of God in The Ten Commandments. The role is uncredited in the film, but IMDB says DeMille did the voice when God gives Moses the Ten Commandments, while Heston himself handled the divine duty during the burning bush scene. In both cases, though, numerous vocal effects and filters were used to disguise and deepen the Almighty’s vocal resonance. Even if Heston did the Voice, the filmmaker’s intention was most decidedly not to make God sound like Moses.
But I digress …
I’m of the opinion that God didn’t stop speaking to His people once John put the finishing touches on the book of The Revelation. I think He continues to speak to us constantly – through other people, through sermons, books and films, through our own thoughts, prayers and dreams. Perhaps less often, I think He still speaks to us directly; I think I’ve heard him myself a few times (I wrote about the most profound of these experiences a few weeks ago in Moment.)
And when I’ve had these experiences, they haven’t been a fire-and-brimstone, sound-and-fury, thunder-and-lightning moments. They’ve been subtle and gentle – nudges to the heart, not punches to the gut. The term ‘still, small voice’ could easily have been coined to describe my encounters with the Holy Spirit.
And since the Voice is in my own mind, if it ‘sounds’ like anyone’s voice, it’s mine. It feels different, but it sounds like me.
A few years ago, when I was taking my first steps down the road of disciplehood, my dad and I had a rather involved e-bate on the subject of religion. He grew up in the church, but had a bit of a falling out with the concept of organized religion and now only attends church services grudgingly, at very occasional family reunions. Still, he considers himself a Christian and has a thorough knowledge of the Bible and a well-defined understanding of what it means for him.
Anyway, at one point in the e-bate, Dad wrote the following: ‘Do you know what the Holy Spirit is? It’s your intelligence.’
I doubt that he meant to say that the Holy Spirit fits neatly and completely into the box that is the Sum Total of Human Intelligence, but I think he was onto something there – that the Holy Spirit dwells in human intelligence and human conscience.
Therefore, if I interpret my dad’s assertion correctly, God’s voice doesn’t just sound like me, my voice is God’s voice, in a sense. (I’m not saying we should put all of our eggs into the basket of this line of thinking, but it’s probably worth pondering, from a perspective-challenging perspective.)
So maybe we shouldn’t feel like God is ignoring us if he’s not giving us Burning Bush experiences. The still, small voice might be You, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not God, too.
Peace be with you.