There was a certain man from Zorah, of the clan of the Danites,
whose name was Manoah.
His wife was barren and had borne no children.
An angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her,
“Though you are barren and have had no children,
yet you will conceive and bear a son.
Now, then, be careful to take no wine or strong drink
and to eat nothing unclean.
As for the son you will conceive and bear,
no razor shall touch his head,
for this boy is to be consecrated to God from the womb.
It is he who will begin the deliverance of Israel
from the power of the Philistines.”
The woman went and told her husband,
“A man of God came to me;
he had the appearance of an angel of God, terrible indeed.
I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name.
But he said to me,
‘You will be with child and will bear a son.
So take neither wine nor strong drink, and eat nothing unclean.
For the boy shall be consecrated to God from the womb,
until the day of his death.'”
The woman bore a son and named him Samson.
The boy grew up and the LORD blessed him;
the Spirit of the LORD stirred him.
Whom do you listen to for advice? Take a moment and picture his or her face. Now, if you have another moment, think of a time when he or she gave you a piece of advice that you went on to follow. It doesn’t have to be good advice, or even advice about something serious, all it has to be is advice that you took seriously.
Now… if you have a third moment… Why did you trust that person?
Was she your mother? He your father? Your sibling? Tutor? Upperclassman mentor? Team captain? Pastor? Lawyer? Stock broker? Doctor with a practicing license? Professor with a PhD? Author with a published book? Pundit with lots of air time? Mckenzie consultant with a flashy powerpoint? Successful person in whatever the pertinent or impertinent area who looked put together and spoke really confidently and just generally seemed like they had everything figured out?
I don’t trust experts. Not since I read Philip Tetlock’s Expert Political Judgement, anyway. But I do like to know a little about a person before I stake whatever I’m staking on his advice. I like to know where he’s coming from, what my relationship to him is like, and what his name is.
Manoah’s wife knew none of those things. A man appeared and told her to stop drinking alcohol and eating unclean food because she would have a son after a lifetime of barrenness. I’m sorry, sir, where did you go to medical school? Do you have an “M.D.” at the end of your name? Uh… no. But Manoah’s wife took what he said seriously. Why? Because he had “the appearance of an angel of God.” Because however he appeared to her, he looked so “terrible,” or in other translations, so “very awesome,” that she would be foolish to think his advice didn’t come from some kind of divine epistemic authority.
If an angel of God flashed down from heaven, looking equally “terrible” and “awesome” in my dorm room as he did in the field with Manoah’s wife, and told me to drop out of Harvard and found a tech startup in Silicon Valley, you bet I would stop writing my Shakespeare essay and grab my gray sweatshirt from the closet.
But the trouble is that God doesn’t really advise (or really command) us that way anymore. I’ve never heard of my missionary friends risking their lives to share the gospel halfway around the world because an angel with an awesome and terrible appearance told them to.
So how does God talk to us? If we can’t recognize angels by their heavenly pomp and circumstance, how do we know whom to trust?
A “man of God” doesn’t have to look like an angel straight from the pages of Genesis. He could look like the guard at Lamont Library. She could look like that loopy old lady from church. He could look like the sharp-suited financier walking down Wall Street. He or she could look like anyone, and the only way we’ll know is if we pray. If we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us, to give us peace, to help us realize that whoever we’re going to for advice, he or she is a man of God.
God may not speak through flashes of lightning today as often as he used to, but he still speaks through his people. Why not forget the licenses–disregard the degrees and the other qualifications–and trust those people, and perhaps only those people, whom the Spirit reveals to be men and women of God? It sounds mystical, but it’s really not. We’ll know. It’s not so much a feeling as a peace–a surety unexplained by anything except the Lord.
In a world of inescapable uncertainty, there’s no better way to know that we’re following the Lord’s will, than to take advice only from those whom the Spirit reveals to be men and women of God.
Lauren Spohn ‘20 is an English concentrator in Currier.