I sit at the desk, Bible clasped in my hands. “So, Lord,” I pray, “I really need a word from you right now. And what I hope is that you’ll guide me to what it is I need to see, to a truth that will guide me and help me forward from here.”
I let the Bible fall open. I stab a verse with my finger and read it. Sometimes it applies, powerfully so, in a way that makes me gasp. Sometimes it’s from the long string of “begats” in the New Testament, and I shrug. Better luck next time?
I’m certain I am not the only believer who has done this, or engaged in some form of it. We set limits or constraints, little trials, and then wait for God to speak through them in a meaningful way. We open the Bible and ask for God to speak through a random verse to a particular circumstance. We tell ourselves that if x, y, or z happens, we’ll take it as a sign that we should do this or do that. We promise that if that person approaches us one more time, we’ll assume it’s confirmation of our plans.
Interestingly, doing these sorts of things is an old, old practice. And one not exclusive to Christians. Bibliomancy – the use of books (not necessarily the Bible) in divination – occurred even in the Middle Ages. And ancient Romans used to perform a rite called the Sortes Vergilianae, where they would – wait for it – pick up one of the poet Vergil’s works, allow it to fall open, and settle on a random passage as a guide, instruction, or oracle.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to pick out random Bible verses, or that God can’t speak through a random passage if your Bible just so happens to fall open to it – because it’s happened to me! And I believe that God speaks and can speak through specific signs and symbols. What interests me is that Christians can be tempted to rely on those things in an effort to dispel uncertainty and mystery from our lives.
Because that’s why we do them. We want to know if we should take the job, so we wait for a particular, specific confirmation. We need to know how we should respond to an agonizing situation, so we hope revelation will come in the form of a random Bible verse. We want a clear signpost, a guide. So did the ancients. And so we, like they did, turn to tools and symbols and signs in the hopes that a divine finger will descend and point us one way or another.
But the older I grow as a Christian, the more I am beginning to understand that part of being a believer means getting comfortable with uncertainty and mystery and confusion. More succinctly put, we need to focus more on how we do life than on what we do in life. Certainly God speaks to us clearly about where to go at certain times and moments, but sometimes I believe God is also purposefully vague, and depends on us to let our relationship with Him inform our way forward, whatever that way may be.
We must be careful never to prioritize the answers over the only Answer. We must be careful not to reduce God to a divination trick, to an answer key or a game guide. He is more and bigger than that and, though He speaks in all sorts of ways to His children through all sorts of means, we must recognize that His desire to do so comes from wanting a relationship with us, and wanting us to grow.
Remember: uncertainty and mystery is precisely what drives us to God. The fewer answers we have, the greater our reliance on Him will be. If we use the Bible as a divine 8-Ball to guide us, we’ve lost what matters most: the treasure of relationship and reliance that transforms who we are in Christ. Never let yourself forget to prioritize that relationship above all others, and above all other desires.