Religions Have Rules on Divine Communications

The Salt Lake Tribune, Mar. 22, 2003

Catherine of Siena got instructions from God on how to advise the popes. Joan of Arc heard voices telling her to lead the French army against the English. Paul was struck dumb by a light-swathed Jesus on the road to Damascus.

For most believers, though, God’s words are but whispers, their meaning to be deciphered only through disciplined self-study. That often takes a long time, maybe even a life of looking back and adding up.

Every religious tradition tries to help its adherents distinguish the real from false divine messages.

Would God today ask believers to kill a child as an act of obedience, as the Bible says he asked of Abraham?

No, there could be no contemporary parallel to the “Abraham test of sacrifice,” says Rabbi Frederic Wenger of Salt Lake’s Congregation Kol Ami.

In Jewish tradition, prophecy ceased with the close of the biblical canon, he says. “It will not be supplemented or added to by new revelations.”

Protestant Christians, especially those who emerged out of the Reformation, stick to scripture.

“The 66 books of the Bible are God’s written revelation to us,” says Ken Mulholland, president of Salt Lake Theological Seminary. “This isn’t just a dead book. It’s continually alive and revelatory, God’s continuing voice to us today.”

Promptings of the Holy Spirit may give directions in personal lives and Christian ministry, but must conform with scripture, Mulholland says. “They never equal scripture and never trump it.”

For Catholics, divine communication must also be consistent with church teaching and traditions.

Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammad received heavenly instructions directly from the Angel Gabriel, which were recorded in Islam’s holy book, the Koran.

But, like the Bible, the Koran is open to individual interpretation, says Ghulam Hasnain, a Utah Muslim.

In the Shia tradition, believers need to follow a recognized, established religious authority, Hasnain says. But for Sunnis, each mosque has its own imam, or leader.

Would God ever tell someone to bomb a building in his name?

Never, says Hasnain.

“For an official proclamation to fight an enemy of any kind would have to be issued by a high authority,” he says. “But that has not come to pass yet.”

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