Christ the ladder

The dual questions of where do we meet God and how do we hear from God are important. And they are also highly relevant in 21st century Christianity. These two questions run like yellow-brick roads throughout Scripture, weaving their way through the varied landscapes of the Bible. We first encounter these questions in the very beginning of Genesis, where we see God personally speaking to and communing with Adam and Eve. He met them in Eden and spoke to them face to face. After the fall and humanity was kicked out of Eden, there was no central meeting place of God and humanity, at least until He called Israel out of Egypt and met with Moses on Sinai. But He still spoke personally and audibly to Israel, or at least to His prophets who then relayed His message to the masses.

But perhaps these two questions are not more fully on display than in Genesis 28, in the account of Jacob’s dream at Bethel. You may remember the story, Jacob fleeing from Esau en route to his Uncle Laban. Along his journey he stops for a night’s rest and has a dream. In this dream, a ladder is set up on the earth, extending into heaven, where he sees the angels of God going up and down. God then speaks, in which He gives His covenant promises to Jacob as He had Jacob’s father and grandfather. Quite the experience no doubt. Jacob wakes up and says in 28:16 “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” He even names the place house of God (Bethel) in light of his experience. He truly heard from the Lord and met Him there. It would be easy to think that Jacob got something wrong here, that He misinterpreted the dream. However, God seems to affirm Jacob’s impression in 31:13, when He calls Himself “the God of Bethel,” reminding Jacob of all that he had heard and experienced at that moment. Later, when Israel has taken the promised land, Bethel seems to be again a place to meet with God (see Judges 20). So Jacob must have been right! Maybe Bethel is where God meets with humanity in a special way.

For the Christian, who knows and loves the Bible, it may be easy to see this account in Genesis 28 as normative, especially since God Himself seems to confirm Jacob’s understanding. Yea, the idea that God speaks to people in visions and dreams, just like He did with Jacob, is an increasingly influential sentiment in the church worldwide. And even a cursory reading of the Old Testament would seem to support this viewpoint. Worship in the Old Testament, and especially within the covenant nation of Israel, was very much built around meeting with God in one very specific place, where the prophets and priests would meet with God and hear from Him (think of Isaiah in Isa 6). Though meeting with and hearing from God was slightly nuanced at different times and with different people, the fact seems clear that there was a face-to-face element to it. So are the modern proponents of prophecy[1], visions, and dreams correct?  Should the modern Christian expect to hear from God like Jacob did, to see Him in a dream or vision?

The question we must answer is this: where do these two yellow-brick roads lead?  For the Biblical-oriented Christian, we have to answer that they lead to the same Oz that all other roads in the Old Testament lead to: Christ! The New Testament believer mustn’t see as normative the experiences and interactions with God which Old Testament believers had. The writer of Hebrews makes this very clear right at the beginning of his letter: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” In fact, Christ Himself makes the direct assertion that He is the fulfillment of Jacob’s dream in His calling of Nathanael in John 1:51 – He is the ladder on which the angels of God traverse. But the question still remains: how do we, Christians living in a world separated by 2000 years from Christ walking around on this Earth, hear from God and meet with Him? We come to Christ. But how exactly does Christ mediate these two blessings of meeting with and hearing from God to us? We hear from Him in His Word, the Bible. Peter makes this abundantly clear in II Peter 1, that “He has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us.” Where do we get this knowledge?  Is it from a personal encounter with God?  Peter argues at the end of chapter 1 that it is only through the written and inspired Word of God, which is better than a personal experience of God, such as his own experience of seeing Christ transfigured on the mountain. So we hear from God by reading His Word, but how do we meet with Him? The writer to the Hebrews also makes this clear in chapter 10, verses 19-25. In short, he says that we “enter the Holy places by the blood of Jesus,” “we draw near” to God as we gather with His church. Thus the command in verse 25 to not neglect the gathering together emphasized this point. Christ is spiritually present when the church gathers together in His name.

So when someone asks how you can know God, hear from Him, or meet with Him, the answer for believers today is that God has spoken to us in the Bible, we meet with Him in the corporate gathering of the church, and that seeking any experience of God outside of those two things is counter to the entire storyline and arc of the Bible. It would certainly behoove Dorothy to stay on the yellow-brick road. 

Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as a elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.

[1] I mean this in the full sense of an individual hearing directly from God personally and verbally.


Keith Kauffman