There is a story of a man, seeking guidance from God, who opened his Bible at random and stabbed his finger down on a verse. He read: “Judas went and hanged himself.”
This was not what he wanted to hear, so he tried again. This time he saw the words “Go and do likewise”.
Feeling slightly nervous, he had a third and final attempt to discern the will of God. The verse he found was: “What you have to do, do quickly.”
Well, hopefully we grasp the point that it is not helpful to use the Bible as a sort of spiritual lottery. However, before becoming too dismissive, we should consider Saint Augustine.
Augustine, who became one of the great figures of early church history, had a rather less saintly adolescence. His “confessions” reveal someone who would not be on most people’s list of “Top Ten Candidates for Beatification”.
Nonetheless, one day he heard a child’s voice saying over and over “Take up and read”.
He found a Bible and copied the actions of the man mentioned earlier. Opening it up, he read the words “Put on Christ”. And so, in this unlikely way, began a spiritual transformation that was to shape Christian belief to the present day.
I am convinced the Bible should never be treated as a pick-and-mix rag-bag of verses to be accepted or rejected as the mood takes us. But the story of Augustine reminds me that God is restricted neither by the ways in which he can speak to us nor in what he might want to say. Today God, I believe, will be speaking. It may be through the Bible, should we read it. He may also speak through our experiences, circumstances and meetings. Words on an advertising hoarding might speak to our souls as much as a shaft of sunlight breaking through clouds on a grey day. An overheard snippet of someone else’s conversation could be as significant as a letter arriving in the post.
The reality is that God is speaking. The question is, as ever, are we listening?
Malc’ Halliday is the centre manager of the Christian Resources Project Plymouth.