By Colin Blakely
Graham Turner set himself on a mission. After years as a journalist, there was one questionto which he was determined to find an answer. And that was: how can we hear the voice of God?
It was an unusual question for a reporter who was best known for his work in the world of finance. He had been appointed as the BBC’s first economics correspondent and he was also a senior reporter and feature writer for the Sunday Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, The Money Programme and Panorama.
However, he is self-deprecating about his financial expertise. “I am no economic expertand I knew precious little about economics when I was appointed to that role,” he said. His stature grew with the role and although he may play it down, for millions of listeners and readers, they took his expertise for granted.
Behind the professional demands of his work, there was something always in the back of his mind, and this dated back to his younger years.
“The fact is that when I was forced into having a quiet time at the age of 24 or 25, I was told to look at my life in the light of absolute moral standards. I was completely stunned by the fellow who asked to listen to God. I didn’t believe in God,” he confessed.
It was to be a profound experience. So much so, that he now believes a quiet time is essential for every person of faith, and that this is the key way we can hear God’s voice.
Although he was forced into the experience at first, he was skeptical. “I sat down expecting nothing.” But then some very clear thoughts poured into his mind.
As a child he had gone to a Baptist Sunday school and sang in the Anglican church choir (for tuppence a time – in old money), but in all those years with the exposure to church there was something rather important that was missing.
“I never, never connected religion with behaviour,” he tells me.“I was never bright enough to see that connection. That quiet time made that connection for me. Having to apologise to a cricket team with three Aussies was quite a challenge.”
That link between faith and behaviour was a turning point for him. And he believes it is true for everyone.
As an example, he tells me of the few times he has had to deliver a sermon. These were at a boarding school near Oxford.
“The boys were all talking, so I asked them one question: when did you last steal? Those boys listened intently to the rest of the sermon.
“The ethical side of Christianity is the way in for many people, and it certainly was for me.”
But is that the only way to hear God’s voice? To explore this idea, he set out to interview a range of people from all religions, and from all around the world. He has written about these in his new book, [i] That Other Voice (DLT).
It has been praised by Rowan Williams and the former Bishop of London, Richard (now Lord) Chartres, also hosted the book launch.
Many of those he talks to in the book talk about how they can hear the voice of God, but for one group there is no question: God has definitely stopped talking.
But why do Jewish people take a different view of the voice of God than other faiths?
“Their view is that God has said quite enough already. Rabbi Jonathan Romain was quite reasonable, it was as if God had said after the Old Testament: ‘Isn’t that enough mate?’.
“He said that if he suggested to his congregation that God had spoken to him, they would regard him as having gone slightly loopy.”
Judaism is the most rational and intellectual of all religions, the writer surmises. “If you see two trainee rabbis arguing over moral issues, there is a huge intellectual contribution they have to make.”
He says he is a great admirer of Judaism. And the view is that even if God is not speaking today, the orders God gave in the first books of the Bible are still there.
But not all Jews take that position: he found that former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks told him that he followed the Hasidic tradition ‘to give God the chance to speak’.
But for many he spoke to, the experience of God was real. I referred to Maimonides, who said that an experience of God is possible, but that most of them were self-induced. So, how can we tell if the voice we think is from God is not just an extension of ourselves?
“My experience is that from time to timethe Holy Spirit comes in: you can’t just call up the Holy Spirit. The thoughts come very clearly formed, and you have a strong sense that they are not from you. Quiet times are fine but from time to time there are these fully formed thoughts.”
And how can we test those thoughts to ensure they are from God?
“You come back to this issue: do these things match up to absolute moral standards, if not, they are not from God.
“If you are still doubtful, chat to friends. Otherwise you get into that awful thing of hearing voices. This is not about voices: it is a Voice. If it doesn’t match up to those standards, then forget it.”
In the book Martyn Percy talks about people who seek God’s help and voice but never receive anything. Why is that?
“Sometimes it is a block in the person, sometimes there is a moral block or they need to keep trying. I was lucky, people have to put themselves in a place of readiness to obey what comes to them. Sometimes the thoughts are very simple, and sometimes they don’t want to admit to it or to share with anyone else.”
He offers a personal example. “The first time was for me to confess to the Inland Revenue, and often people might not want to admit that something like that is from God!”
And he has another revelation to share from his series of interviews: God can speak to people who are not religious.
“My own view of the Holy Spirit is that he can speak to anybody. He can speak to anyone at any time, whether they are believers or not.”
But what part does faith play in hearing the voice of God?
“Faith is simply a belief in a loving presence that never lets you down. That helps you go on when things are difficult. Once the first act of obedience takes place, you are on the channel!
“The Church ofEngland is very big on belief and I sometimes wonder if it is a little heavier on belief than on behaviour.
“St Benedict called Christianity truth in behaviour –not in belief, but behaviour. The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of speaking to anybody.”
After 50 years in journalism, his hunger to hear God’s voice has not dimmed. “You gain new things all the time. The quiet time has been an absolute basic for me.
“This experience has made me want to go deeper. There may be people you don’t get on with: for me prayer has been largely listening. When dealing with people I find difficult, who I should love but didn’t, persistent prayer seems to do the trick.
“I have a short fuse. Meeting thepeopleI interviewed for the book has made my fuse a bit longer!”
Stressing yet again the importance of the quiet time as the key to hearing God’s voice, he adds: “The key thing is obedience.”
That other voice by Graham Turner is published by Darton, Longman and Todd