I recently watched the movie Hacksaw Ridge because I enjoy the occasional war movie—especially when it has some meaningful storytelling attached to it. This story is about a man named Desmond Doss, who was a conscientious objector to killing, but who still enlisted in the army as a medic during WWII. Two scenes in particular struck me concerning the idea of listening to God.
First, the army does its best to get Doss to quit after he enlists. They don’t want an unarmed, unwilling-to-kill man going into battle alongside them. At one point, he’s made to go through a psychiatric evaluation to see if he’s crazy. “Do you think God speaks to you?” the psychiatrist asks (or something like that). Doss answers that he doesn’t “have conversations” with God, but that he does pray. Though the movie is based on the true story of Doss, the dialogue of the movie is undoubtedly the writer’s creation. To suggest that God speaks to you is the equivalent of being crazy.
However, when Doss is in battle on the literal “hacksaw ridge”, he has a moment of prayer when he asks God, as he’s witnessing death and retreat all around him, “What am I supposed to do? He then hears a voice crying for help in the direction of his enemies and loads of explosions. That’s his answer. He spends the remainder of the battle rescuing injured men, even though the rest of his company has retreated. Doss saved 75 men during that battle, including his own captain who’d given him such a hard time during training. The movie clearly portrays that initial cry for help as God’s answer to Doss’s prayer.
How Does God Speak?
What does it mean for God to speak to us? What does it mean for us to hear from God? I think it does us good to be open-minded to the many ways God can and will speak to us. In the Gospel of John, chapter 10, Jesus calls himself the good shepherd and his followers he calls sheep. The shepherd “walks on ahead of [his sheep], and they follow him because they know his voice… They will hear My voice, and the flock will be united.”
To hear Jesus’ voice, or the voice of his Spirit, does not mean that one (normally) hears audible words that no one else does. But the shepherd speaks all the same for those that are listening. His voice is heard through the guidance of our thoughts, our conscience, our convictions. His voice is heard in inner promptings, in ideas that pop into our heads, in pictures or visions or ideas that come fresh to us. His voice is heard through our study or memory of Scripture (or songs we know by heart). His voice is heard, like in the example of Doss, through the words or cries of others.
The Role of Faith
I once heard of a man who was praying to God as he walked into a store and was asking for some affirmation as to how God saw him. He walked past a mother and child. As he passed them, the mother spoke soothingly to the child saying, “I love you, dear.” The praying man smiled, and inwardly thanked God for speaking to him as well through the words of that mother.
“Even when God’s voice may be thundering around us, it is possible that we miss it.”
What does that story teach us? It requires a degree of faith to hear God’s voice. We can always explain away the voice of God in our lives, because very rarely does God act in a way that does not require our faith. In another story from John’s Gospel, Jesus is praying to the Father and says, “’Father, bring glory to you name.’ Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, ‘I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.’ When the crowd heard the voice, some thought it was thunder, while others declared an angel had spoken to him.”
Even when God’s voice may be “thundering” around us, it is possible that we miss it.
The questions for us then become: are we listening? And, if so, do we trust God that he does wish to speak to us? As we come to believe, and as we open our hearts and minds to the many ways God might speak, I believe we may find His voice all around us.
Another recent movie with the same sort of dialogue about hearing God is Evan Almighty, starring Steve Carrell. I think the real Doss would have given a more nuanced answer to the question, “Does God speak to you?”
John 10:4, 16; The Voice.
I believe this is from one of Nikki Gumbel’s talks on the original Alpha Course videos.
John 12:28-29, NLT.
Paul, you have courageously taken on a touchy topic that most pastors avoid.
You make some very good points in your brief tour of this fuzzy subject.
You wrote, I think it does us good to be open-minded to the many ways God can and will speak to us. And I say, may we all be more open-minded concerning all matters related to our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
You list the many ways that God speaks to us. Let me again underscore the top priority of Scripture memory for parents to use in training each child. Surely every child will have many challenges. They will experience all kinds of pressures and temptations. Yet when the Word of God is hidden in their heart then the Holy Spirit can quicken it. That has happened in my life too many times to count.
You wrote, It requires a degree of faith to hear God’s voice. We can always explain away the voice of God in our lives, because very rarely does God act in a way that does not require our faith. And I agree that it takes faith to hear the voice of God. Plus there are times we do not want to hear because we instinctively know God will lead us outside our comfort zones.
Years ago I heard a pastor say that it is wise to first tell God that you are willing to obey Him before asking for His guidance. I have found that to be useful.
This reminds me of the Seven Realities from Experiening God by Henry Blackaby http://media.lifeway.com/download/lifeway/crd/expgod/docs/intro.pdf What has helped me about this topic is number 4.
God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes, and His ways.
Here are more links to understand the story behind the man and the movie.
There are several clips on Youtube. It is far too violent for me.
Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge – The True Story Behind The Movie / Trailer
Mel Gibson’s New Christian Film Receives 10 Minute Standing Ovation
Hacksaw Ridge (2016) Official Trailer – “Believe” – Andrew Garfield
Here is more about Desmond Doss
This Is Your Life – Desmond Doss
Desmond Doss featured at 2003 Florida Camp Meeting