ll the three Abrahamic religions believe that God can talk to people even though the evidence that underpin this belief cannot stand scientific scrutiny. It is impossible to believe in God and not accept that he can talk to people. After all, what is the point of believing in a God who cannot speak to one? The question that begs answer is how to differentiate the voice of God, a Devine experience, from auditory hallucination, a sign of mental illness. How can people ascertain that a man who claims God talked to him is telling the truth and not showing early signs of mental illness?
The Bible is full of stories of people who claim that God talked to them. I suppose those who are familiar with the Quran will be conversant with claims of people who claimed God instructed them. In recent times, some of these claims have been subjected to scrutiny and the evidence would suggest that some of those who claimed they heard the voice of God actually satisfy criteria for mental illness. In the British journal of psychiatry (2010) 196,101.1192/bjp.196.2.101 George stein examined the voices that prophet Ezekiel heard and concluded that indeed, Ezekiel satisfied criteria for the diagnosis of schizophrenia. He noted that Ezekiel claimed to have heard the voice of God 93 times, more than any other prophet and that God addressed him as son of man. Ezekiel experienced varieties of auditory phenomena including command hallucinations which are not described in any other prophet. In Ezekiel 3:3 ‘he said to me, son of man eat that I give to you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and my mouth was as sweet as honey .Below is part of Stein’s argument:
‘Even the rabbis thought it was strange that Ezekiel actually ate the scroll and they explained it by saying he was ingesting the wisdom of the Torah (law). Other examples of command hallucinations which are carried out are the shaving of Ezekiel’s head (5:1) which would have gone against priestly prohibitions to shave. He is also commanded to dig a hole in a wall in his escape from the city of Jerusalem during the siege, 12:1. ‘The word of the Lord came to me ...12:5 Dig a hole through the wall in their sight and carry the baggage through it...12:7 I did just as I was commanded brought out my baggage by day as baggage for exile and in the evening I dug through the hole with my own hands’ Ezekiel also heard people gossiping about him by the walls 33:30 ‘As for you mortal you people who talk about you by the wall’....Most Christians would be horrified by this conclusion, but the evidence is persuasive and it raises question about the understanding of the writing of the Bible.
One of the most intractable conflicts in the world today, the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, owns its origin to a man who claimed God spoke to him. In the book of Genesis, there is a story about a nomadic Iraqi family migrating to the land of Canaan. While on their way to Canaan, the patriarch died and his son Abraham suddenly claimed that God promised him the land of Canaan. This promise of a land came to dominate the history of his descendants.
Unfortunately, the understanding of mental illness was at its very infancy at the time of Abraham and the prophets and there was no test to distinguish auditory hallucination from the true voice of God. In the Middle East, especially in Jerusalem, we watch the long-term consequences of not validating such claims played out between Israelites and Palestinians, and among Jews, Arabs, Moslems, and Christians. They have turned the city of peace into a city of war, blood and suffering, all in the name of God.
One day during a prayer meeting, while in the university, a girl told a boy that God has told her that she will be the boy’s wife. However, as it later became obvious, the boy was already in love with another girl, but had not made his intention known. The boy told the girl that he would pray and ask God if she is His will for him. Few days later, the boy told the girl that he had asked God and that God told him she is not the one he has prepared for him. The girl stopped attending prayer meeting and gave up religion. During the same period a couple were very sure they were God’s will for each other. They lived virtually as husband and wife throughout the university period. When we graduated, the boy dumped the girl because he found another God’s will for him. It became obvious to me that the born again Christians were as susceptible as sinners to instinctual libidinal forces and no one ceases to be human because he or she claims to be born again and my scepticism about the miracles of belief grew.
I can also recall a case where a young man who was studying for the ministry was engaged to a young girl and suddenly broke off the engagement. He claimed God had revealed to him that the girl was not His choice for him. I saw how devastating listening to God in this way could be, I watched the heart broken girl literally die. I saw how painful and damaging breaking a promise could be, especially in issues of the heart. The girl’s self-esteem was shattered. I wondered why those who use God to break up relationships do not bother consulting him before they start, so that they can spare others the pain of their obedience to God’s will.
The man of God went on to marry a girl who he thought represented a better economic prospect, but turned out to suffer from schizophrenia. He suffered until his God’s will for him died some years later. The girl whose heart he broke got married to not so holy man and had children. She spends most of her time in America where some of her married daughters live. From this personal life experiences, I learnt from early age to treat any claim of God talking to people with scepticism.
I am not trying to undermine the generally accepted belief among religious people that God talks to people in various ways. I am trying to do is to show the potential of such claims for abuse and the reasons why believers should subject them to accepted test of validity. After all Jesus did say “let no man deceive you, and Paul also did warn believers not to be deceived, that God is not mocked that whatever a man sows, he will reap. A lot of people are deceived today because someone claims God told him or revealed something to him when in reality, he is just deceiving people for selfish ends. They put on cassock and masquerade as men and women of God, when in reality they are wolf in sheep cloths, liars and thieves out to make merchandise of God’s word. They set up ministries and exploit the people in the name of God. In Nigeria, there are a lot of charlatans masquerading as men of God, using religion to exploit the people. These criminals who should have been in prison for fraud in developed countries, go about as men and women of God. It is perhaps time for us to gain understanding and free ourselves from beliefs that enable unscrupulous people take advantage of us in the name of religion.
The Bible states that God can talk to people through dreams and visions. The subjective nature of these experience calls for caution in their interpretation as it is possible for people to misinterpret normal dreams as God talking to them. This can also cause a distortion in one’s attribution system as one might imbue normal harmless experiences with spiritual significance. Therefore, I wish to make a case for subjecting spiritual experiences to a universally accepted test to ascertain their validity before characterizing them as of divine origin.
Taking the old testament of the bible for instance, some of the statements are quite grandiose and extraordinary. Deuteronomy 32:2 which states that ‘when the most high gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the people according to the number of sons of Israel’
The question that agitated my mind when I read this was, how did the writer know that this is what God did? How can any human being on earth know the reason why God did a particular thing? Was the writer carried away by his belief that God called Israel to be a special nation and was inspired to claim that God set boundaries for the people according to the number of the sons of Israel. When did God call Israel? Adam was not an Israelite. Noah and Enoch were not Israelites. Several men of God existed before Abraham. Their descendant did not develop over valued ideas that they are special people.
In one of the psalms, Asaph was inspired and he wrote’ God standeth in the congregation of the mighty, he judgeth among the gods. How can this statement be divine? How can God, who the same Bible claims, said ‘I am God there is no other,’ stand in the congregation of the gods if he had said that the gods do not exist? It would seem that writers of the bible were ordinary men who were inspired, to write poetry in the honour of God. The potential for statements like these to be misinterpreted makes it necessary for believers to agree on what God said, what somebody thinks God said, and what somebody wants others to believe as the word of God.
People who claim to have heard the voice of God or that God spoke to them should have their claim subjected to an acceptable test of validity. This is to verify whether in deed, it is God talking to the person and rule out mental illness. It is possible to develop such a test. It might involve the examination of the content of the hallucination, dream or vision to see if it contains instructions that are contrary to the already known and acceptable character and expressed will of God.
This is because the objective will of God is something very difficult to know. It is also humanly impossible to establish an objective will of God with evidence that can withstand scientific scrutiny. However, the will of God can be regarded as what the great majority of the people who believe in the existence of God accept as the will of God according to intelligent interpretation of their holy books.
If a hallucination contains instructions that are contrary to the expressed character of God, it should be considered abnormal, because it is illogical to accept that God would choose to contradict himself.
To be continued.