A fortune cookie… its tangible, its edible (that’s not to say it tastes good,) and most importantly, its easy! We like easy, and love knowing that if the fortune inside the cookie is undesirable, we can simply reach for another.
Just the other day, after a scrumptious though not so healthy meal at the local China Buffet a while back (the sad American version of a quality oriental dining,) I cracked open the fried dough shell that incased my destiny with great anticipation only to read, “Chinese food will make you sick.” You know, somewhere there is a sad little man who spends his days sitting at a computer printing off witty remarks, predictions, and proverbs such as that; and he is likely still giggling uncontrollably at his own cleverness.
There is some good advice to be had from the philosophical ponderings of minds like Confucius. For example, one-cookie advocates that we “not play leap frog with a unicorn,” while another declares, “He who eats too many prunes sits on toilet many moons.” Ever notice that most cookies don’t even tell fortunes, but that’s okay when uplifting messages such as “You are the crunchy noodle in the salad of life,” are awaiting inside to brighten up your day.
So the question of the day would be, “can God speak through a cookie?” After all, we are on a constant quest to find the true voice of God in our lives, but often confused as to where we go to find it?
How about the Bible? That seems logical enough with verses such as 2nd Timothy defining scripture as “breathed by God,” then further claiming it “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” How about Church? Well, you showed up here on a Sunday morning, so I’d hope so! However, with all the different churches, pastors, and the plethora of different Bible translations to meander through, how can it ALL be the word of God when using so many different words? Furthermore, what happens as we move away from the traditional? Can a friend speak God’s word? What about a nature walk, a movie, the aforementioned a cookie or even crystal ball as a means to reveal God’s truth?
Short answer, God has the ability to speak to us in an infinite many ways (it kinda goes along with being “all-knowing, all-powerful, and omnipotent”) and throughout the scriptures we see this statement periodically put into practice. God speaks to the prophets through dreams and visions, a burning bush provides God’s voice to Moses in Exodus 3, and my personal favorite, God’s speaking through an ass in the book of Numbers (note a donkey, not a rear end.)
That word ambiguity makes me think about the classic scene in Ace Ventura Pet Detective when Jim Carey bends over and starts speaking out of his rear side. Until that movie no actor would have ever thought to talk out there bum; until exodus, no man would have listened to a flaming bush; and until Numbers 22, few sane individuals would lend an ear to their donkey. So, as I read that passage, ponder what outlandish or unpredictable medians God has spoken through in your life.
Numb. 22:27-29 “When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick. And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.”
Scripture, as earlier stated, is one option when seeking the word of God; after all, that’s kind of how we define scripture. So with that in mind, scripture should unite us as Christian’s right? Last week we looked into the Reformation, a 16th century movement in Christianity fueled by Martin Luther, that bred what we know to as the Protestant Church. Interestingly, conflicting views of scripture were a main reason why what started as one unified Protestant Church has since divided into many individual denominations (Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, and a couple thousand others.) Though there were varying discrepancies fueling each split, much of the divergence can be traced back to conflicting understandings of two words; “inerrancy” and “infallibility.”
While attempting brevity, lets try to get a grasp on those two words. The more conservative churches, in describing Scripture, would use the word “inerrant,” simply meaning, “free of err,” when speaking of the Bible. This means that there are no errors; not just in God’s word, but in the written TRANSMISSION of God’s word. Thus all stories are 100% true in a literal sense.
A while back several groups recognized that there were a variety of translations, and started to question how each could be 100 percent God’s word, while using different words. These questions initiated a shift in the more progressive churches from the idea of “inerrancy” to “infallibility,” the understanding that it is not the words that are perfect (or without err,) but the message that they speak. In other words, the inspiration of God is not tied to the literality of the text, but in recognizing that the Bible is transmitted through human hands, one can see that the real truth lies in the unique message God speaks through the passage to the reader (seeker.)
Lets take my past week as an example. Leading up to Sunday’s sermon, I dive into the week’s passage on Monday morning so there’s plenty of time to read the text a variety of times using various translations before ever opening a computer to start writing. In doing this I often find that in each reading God speaks a slightly different message.
This past Monday WFPK was broadcasting from the humane society while I ate breakfast, so with thoughts of rescued pups and neglected cats fresh in my mind, I read that passage about the donkey as a call for humans to care for all creation. God spoke a simple message, which was good because I was in a simple, coffee craving, not overly coherent mood. “Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick,” it reads. Then God opens the mouth of the donkey asking, “What have I done to you?” Hmmm. Care for creation… I took that as a biblical truth.
Reading the same text on Monday evening (fully awake this time,) God spoke a different, but not conflicting truth. I was tired on Monday and trying hard to ignore the messages of fatigue that my body was sending so that I could get my work done. “When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down,” I read. The donkey had things to do, she was a donkey and supposed to carry Balaam; however, the donkey fell to the ground in humility recognizing God’s presence surrendering her. She disregarded her own earthly duties so she could honor her creator. This, like the previous, I took as Biblical truth. Surrender your plans to God, and stop trudging on with what isn’t fulfilling so that you can seek God’s will which is.
Finally, on Tuesday, I picked up the text once more and asked God “what it was he desired to speak through me, not simply what was being spoken to me.” And so I sat. I fidgeted. I looked around checking to see if any houseplants had caught fire (hoping for a burning bush.) I even took my dog Chewbacca out to pee, and stared at him waiting for him to open his mouth and speak God’s words in the voice of Morgan Freeman (that would have been notably freaky.) Then, without any crazy miraculous transformations, the scripture indeed spoke. God doesn’t function on our terms or timeline! God will speak through a Donkey and can offer wisdom through a fortune cookie, but not because we stare at an ass or go to the china buffet! The truth I received in my studies was that the word of God is not “found out” by us, but it is “revealed” to us! God needs us to trust that he will guide us, and trust the word of which he puts on our hearts. Its been said, “Man says show me and I’ll trust you, God says trust me and I’ll show you.”
So in seeking God’s word, it is indeed important to look to the source of wisdom, to not simply take things for granted as truth. More than important, it is our responsibility. With elections this past week, we all heard a great many different candidates say a great many different things (many “truths”) …and I am embarrassed to say that I did not vote. I did not vote because I neglected to take the time to seek the truth, to learn about the issues, and to study each candidate. Without taking the time to do so my voting would have meant blindly accepting human words on and to act without seeking the source is dangerous.
So where are the messages that speak to us coming from? I always thought that fortune cookies came from China (everything else is made in Taiwan, why wouldn’t an oriental tradition like the fortune cookie be) however; when I picked up the box of cookies we opened today it read, “Made in the USA.”
Last week we highlighted Luther’s “priesthood of the believer.” How do you know who/what is speaking God’s truth? You go to the source, to God, and trust that as a believer, you are indeed equipped with the wisdom and ability to discern truth. Trust that when you seek the truth, you will find that it is indeed alive within your soul.
Our ability to discern the truth is part of our inherent human nature. We all have a sense of right and wrong, far before we “declared” ourselves “Christians” or even learn what “Christianity” was. We know it’s wrong to lie and that it is better to be brave than to succumb to fear. Why? Because being born of God, God’s truth is very much alive in our souls.
C.S. Lewis suggests that, though our true human nature “may be perverted or even suppressed as we travel through this world,” our ability to “know” is always present; and when we seek God’s truth with a humble and whole heart, it will indeed be revealed.
In Jeremiah 29:10-14 God speaks truth to the “seeking” Babylonians. “I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to PROSPER you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”
When we seek the source with all of our heart, the truth will indeed be found and God’s message will indeed be infallible, perfect, and most importantly, personal. However, we must actively seek it, trust that we will find it, and when we do find it, we need to listen to it.
So as you go throughout your day today, ask yourself “where do I go to find truth and what medians has God used to speak to me… and how do I know they are real?”