Intuition and Superstition: An Admonition
Impressions on the mind are like Rorschach tests: Make of them whatever you will, but if you treat them as "prophecy," that's just crazy.
Today we continue the discussion of cessationism vs. continuationism; true prophecy vs. fallible prognostication; and sola Scriptura vs. modern charrismatic prophets.
(First posted 31 March 2007)
veryone has unexplained thoughts that seem to leap from nowhere into the mind. (Note: When I say "everyone," I mean believers and unbelievers alike; I don't necessarily mean "every single individual." I've met a few less-than-completely sentient people who seem incapable of any original thought whatsoever. They prolly never get spontaneous notions of anything. Let's leave those folks out of this discussion.)
Most people likewise have a sense of intuition, where at times you just feel like you know a thing is true and you can't give an account for how you arrived at that knowledge rationally. It may even seem like you have ESP, or ESPN2, or whatever. It's a lot like deja vu, only backwards. I happen to think that sense of intuition is probably more rational than we can explain. In any case, I'm quite sure it's not really a supernatural spiritual gift from God, because it has such a poor track record. Besides, I had the same intuitive abilities before I was converted as I have now.
My sense of intuition is sort of like a stopped clock that was designed to measure time in months instead of hours. Once or twice a year (on average) it's right. And when it's right, it can seem quite impressive. I've had some moments of intuition that I could have parlayed into a fortune, if I were the type of charlatan who is willing to claim he has a prophetic gift even when he knows he really doesn't. I certainly have no such gift. For the most part, my intuition is grossly fallible and ordinarily wrong. I don't trust it at all, even though my experience is probably a lot like yours: there are times when I feel compelled to follow my intuition.
To be clear: I usually "feel compelled to follow" my intuition only when I don't have a better rational or sensible idea of what to do. Maturity has taught me to hold off on trusting intuition and try to understand facts and reasons and the potential results of my actions before I act. In fact, I'd say that's what maturity is all about, to a very large degree.
But, how do we understand that inner sense, especially when God seems to use it to prompt us to pray, or witness, or duck and run at precisely the right moment? Because let's be honest, here: that kind of thing does happen to most of us from time to time.
As I said in a comment-thread [once upon a time] (see below), we need to regard those occasions as remarkable Providences, not inspired prophecy. God might use a spontaneous thought in my head providentially. In fact, as a Calvinist, I don't hesitate to say that He ultimately controls and uses everything providentially. But that's as true of my sins as it is of the thoughts in my head. God can use them all for His own purposes. The fact that He uses an idea in my mind to achieve some good purpose doesn't make the idea itself inspired.
That's the point we are trying to make in all these various threads about prophecy and cessationism. It's an important point. We're not trying to step on the charismatic air-hose just because it's fun.
So please give these things some serious thought before you react this time.
- If intuition is fallible (and everyone except the out-and-out-charlatan seems to agree that it is), it cannot be considered "revelation," even when it happens to be uncannily right in an instance or two.
- Since intuition is so fallible—and most would agree that it is actually far more often wrong than right—we shouldn't make much of it.
- Those who think those moments of intuition are God speaking with a private message invariably become extremely superstitious; they foolishly order their lives by their feelings; they commit the sin of trusting too much in their own hearts; and they diminish the more sure Word of prophecy. No one who knows church history, and no one who truly understands the concept of spiritual maturity can deny that Christians who follow the voice in their heads fall into those errors all the time, and it can be (and often is) spiritually disastrous.
- Since our intuitive sense is so grossly fallible, and since every sane, biblical Christian would acknowledge that it's dangerous to pay much attention to it, we should not try to elevate it to the level of a supernatural "spiritual gift." It most certainly does not resemble any of the spiritual gifts—much less the gift of "prophecy"—as we see those gifts functioning in the New Testament.