As a part of my New Years Resolution, I’m reading The Bible this year. And, each Sunday, I’m reflecting on what I’ve read, which often coincides — funny how The Bible works like that — with something happening in my life. This isn’t meant to proselytize or to thump The Bible. Writing just helps me understand what I’ve read, so that’s what I’m doing.
I’m nearly finished with Second Kings in my reading of The Bible this year. Yet that’s not what this writing will be about. This writing is not about Second Kings not because it’s not interesting – it’s kind of insane, actually, as is much of The Bible – but because my brain has alas turned the keys to sort of, kind of, maybe comprehending an incredible story in Joshua.
I’ve written about Joshua before. He’s whom I’ll refer to as the master of fear, the guy who filled in the (roughly) 42,509-sized shoes of Moses, who was commanded, over and over and over again, to “not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Remarkably, he wasn’t afraid. And because of that unwavering faith in God, he became one of the finest leaders in The Bible, a book populated with leaders comprised of an adamantine type of faith.
One story in particular illustrates just how inspiring a leader he was. It’s the story of Joshua taking Jericho (if you’d like to read it for yourself, it’s Joshua, Chapter 6).
“March around the city once with all the armed men,” the Lord tells Joshua. “Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear the sound of a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.”
When reading this in a Biblical sense, this sounds great. Just march around a city seven times, shout really loud, and it’s ours. God told us so. Heck yeah. Thanks, Big Man.
But imagine, for a minute, if your boss, or coach, or CEO, or doctor, or dentist – whoever is in a position to command you – told you to do something similar.
“Walk around the office seven days, give a shout, and that enormous project you’ve been working on will be finished in award-winning fashion!”
“Walk around the football field seven times, have the band play the fight song, and on the seventh time, give a loud hooyah and you win the Super Bowl!”
“Walk around my operating table seven times, and on the seventh time, give a shout and you’re cured of cancer!”
It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense because it’s a bit insane, when you think about it. But that’s the thing: Joshua didn’t pause to think about it. His men didn’t pause to think about it. The priests with the trumpets didn’t pause to think about it.
They didn’t pause because they knew this was a direct order from God, as easy to follow as a cooking recipe. And sure enough, on the seventh day, “when the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapses; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city.”
I’m not going to say it was easy for Joshua, or the priests, or the men, to do this, to follow those bizarre instructions so faithfully, without question. I’m sure Joshua gave God a little side-eye, an “Are you sure this is going to work?” type look.
But here’s the difference between Joshua and, in my limited human experience, every human being I know: We tend not to have direct, back and forth conversations with God. Our directions aren’t nearly so explicit and easy to read. If they were, the oft-recited motif among those of the faith – “God works in mysterious ways” – wouldn’t be so oft-recited, because his ways wouldn’t be mysterious at all.
In my experience with God – or what I think to be experiences with God, though truth be told, I don’t know for sure what it is, hence the meaning of the word “faith” – conversations are a bit of a one-way experience. I say one thing, I see possible but very ambiguous signs pointing me a certain direction. Or maybe it’s another direction.
I never really know.
The question that’s been nagging me since reading Joshua is this: How do we know when it’s God speaking to us, or our brains tricking us into thinking it’s God, when really it’s our own, human, selfish motivations?
Brooke Sweat felt a little nudge from God compelling her to move from Florida, her beloved home state, to California to pursue her beach volleyball career.
“Are you sure?” she asked God. Then she moved. Then she became an Olympian.
But how do we know it’s a nudge from God? I’ve never met anyone who had the direct experience with God that Joshua did. I’ve never met anyone get such explicit instructions. All I’ve seen is nudges, small signs here and there that, when taken and compiled in an inventory and examined, all point to a certain direction.
I’ve also seen people give up on those nudges, either because they were wrong about them or gave up on them too early.
So how do we know? How do we know when it’s God nudging us, communicating with us, or when it’s just our own stupid monkey brains saying ‘THIS IS WHAT WE’RE MEANT TO DO!!’ and then we completely miss the boat.
What if we circle our metaphorical Jerichos seven times, shout, and then…nothing.
I ask these questions rhetorically. I ask them because I don’t know the answers. I’m genuinely curious what other people feel when they feel as if God’s nudging them, communicating with them, giving them instructions.
I know what it feels like for me. It’s often referred to as a gut instinct. I’ve relied on it for every major decision I’ve made in my life. Most of those decisions – pursuing journalism, moving to Florida, moving to California, chasing beach volleyball – have been the riskiest, scariest of my life. Yet every single one of them has proven successful beyond my wildest dreams.
I can’t explain where that gut instinct comes from. God didn’t come down to me and have a face to face conversation, as he did with Joshua and many leaders of The Bible. But I just…know. Or at least I think I do. That’s part of the fun of faith. We never really know.
Perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps humans are at a point in our Earthly existence where God is requiring faith from us. We’ve adopted – understandably so – a “see and I’ll believe it” culture. Pics or it didn’t happen.
Perhaps God is chuckling, flipping that culture on its head. Perhaps his communication is a little indirect on purpose – in fact, I’m quite sure it is – and he’s simply telling us: Have a little faith. March around your proverbial Jericho. Give a shout.
See what happens.