There is a story told a hundred different ways but with the same punch line: A man falls off a cliff, and just before plunging to his death, grabs hold of the skinniest of tree branches. For the moment he is alive, but hanging thousands of feet above the ground. Stuck as he is, and with no one else to call upon, he looks heavenward and prays: “Dear God! Please help me!”
A thunderous but calming voice answers from heaven: “Okay, my son, let go and I will catch you.” The man thinks about this offer for a moment and answers: “Thanks…but is there anyone else up there who can help me?”
Sometimes – on rare and unusual occasions – God intervenes. He speaks. He acts. And when he does, it often results in more trepidation than if he had remained silent. Think of Moses, barefoot at the burning bush; Jacob in a surprise wrestling match with God’s Angel; Saul, blind and blathering on the Damascus road.
Advent, which begins this week, is no exception. God speaks – God arrives – and the world is shattered. Shepherds quake. Angels sing. Awe-inspired Magi bow. Mary trembles. Joseph, a stunned carpenter, probably wonders if someone “else up there” could deliver him from the delivery of this child.
What was it all about? All of these characters were asked to “leap” from their perches and believe that the swaddling-wrapped-manger-for-a-crib baby is indeed the Promised One of God. Are we not asked to believe the same; that God has spoken and is speaking? Yes, when one speaks of “hearing God’s voice,” it might be time to call the paddy wagon. Great lunacies have been committed by individuals convinced that they were on a divine mission. Some of these insanities have crossed over into atrocity.
But to hear God speak, deep within our hearts, is not necessarily a sign of mental illness. It can be (like finding Jesus’s image in a bag of cheese puffs or an icon of the Virgin Mary on the back of a piece of raisin toast at the Waffle House). It can also be a manipulative way to dupe the spiritually naïve (or sell a pile of books during the holiday season).
Yet, on rare and unusual occasions, God intervenes with a voice booming in our hearts, and we are called to exercise ruthless trust. But, he is trustworthy, and will never leave us hanging.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.