I have never experienced an undeniable encounter with God. I was raised in the church and always believed, yet do not remember the moment when I accepted God’s call to faith in Jesus Christ. I did not formally state my faith until seventh grade confirmation when I wrote a simple belief statement and read it to the congregation during Sunday worship. There was never a sudden flash of light, a warming of the heart, or a Godly voice asking me to follow Christ. My faith journey somehow started early in life and continues today.
When non-believers tell me that God does not exist, I wonder if they are waiting for an undeniable encounter with God. The New Testament writers tell about the disciples encountering Jesus and how it changed their lives. These common men went from pre-crucifixion unbelievers to post-crucifixion martyrs. I cannot fathom why anyone would preach the gospel and die horrible deaths while broadcasting lies about the risen Lord. The truth is that their calls were real, and they answered a resounding YES!
The Apostle Paul was first a Christian persecutor named Saul before an undeniable encounter on the road to Damascus with the risen Jesus. Why would Paul endure so much suffering and eventually die preaching and writing about his belief in Christ if it never happened? His ‘in-your-face’ encounter with God was so dramatic that he quickly reversed his Christian persecutions and fervently embraced the persecuted. Why would a well-educated conservative Jew make such a radical reversal? Because he experienced undeniable proof that Jesus is the Christ.
Dr. Howard Clark Kee (1920–2017), the former William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of Biblical Studies Emeritus at Boston University School of Theology, and Rev. Montgomery J. Shroyer (1888–1981), a former United Methodist minister, wrote The Bible and God’s Call: A Study of the Biblical Foundation of Vocation (Cokesbury, Nashville, TN, 1962). In chapter nine, titled Every Christian Called of God (pages 55–63), they discuss Christian callings:
“We tend to think that such a call does not really apply to us. It may apply to those who have had some sort of religious experience through which they heard God’s call to them to enter the ministry. But only a few receive such a direct call, we are convinced, and only those entering ‘the full-time ministry’ could ever be thus called. … The call of God is extended to all men, [and women, all through prevenient grace] whether they heed it or not. It comes to different men in quite different forms. For some, the words of the Bible become the call of God. Others hear the call of God through the words of a minister or teacher, or the counsel of a pastor or friend. Others may feel themselves called by a need which they see or by a challenge which confronts them.”
Although I never experienced a direct, undeniable call from God like Moses, Jesus’ disciples, or the Apostle Paul, I have experienced indirect calls from reading Scripture, hearing a sermon, listening to music, witnessing God’s creation, and conversations with friends. The authors described what I witnessed during my spiritual journey.
When others tell me that God said something to them or that they witnessed God perform some miraculous event, I don’t challenge them, but sometimes question whether God was truly involved as stated. “It cannot be assumed automatically that everyone who claims to have seen a vision or to have heard a voice through which a definite call came, has in fact been called of God. Although no one could say that God does not any longer work this way, or that He could not disclose Himself in such a direct manner, it must be recognized that claims like these may at times be unwarranted. Accordingly, while it would be foolish to state that everyone who claims to have had a vision is deluded, God’s call can come by other means than visions and heavenly voices.”
God works in mysterious ways. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8, NRSV) In this verse, the English words ‘wind’ and ‘Spirit’ are the same Greek word (pneuma, πνεῦμα). The true miracle is that God’s eternal call has been there in the past, is here today, and will be there in the future.
“God is summoning us. He has created us with a purpose; His call is the summons to obey Him, in order that that purpose might be achieved. There is no single way in which He addresses us, calling us to do His bidding. But all men are in this sense called.”
Our response is either to accept or deny the call. We can deny the historical calls of God as written in Scripture, deny the post-Scripture historical calls of millions of the faithful, and deny the calls witnessed by our contemporary Christians. Some may even state that they are not the predestinated elect and will never be called by God. My belief is that God gives us choices and we must decide. “Direct or indirect as the call my be, however it may have been communicated to us, we all have been commissioned by Him to fulfill some function in His creation.” God works through all, whether the call was accepted or denied.