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We all know that prayer has always been considered the standard way in which people can communicate to God, but what about the different ways in which God can communicate back to people?

I'm interested in an overview of all the different ways in which Christians claim that God can and does communicate (either directly or indirectly) to people today.

Does the answer depend on the denomination? If so, if certain specific modes of communication are only believed by some denominations and not others, answers explicitly stating the denominations that believe in those modes of communication will be appreciated.


Closely related:

Somewhat related:

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  • It looks like some people's buttons are getting pushed by this question :-) Oct 11 at 3:53
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    I have not down-voted your question, and neither have I voted to have it closed, but I must confess that when people ask for overviews of all denominations, I despair. Could this insistence for denominational surveys and answers on comparative Christianity explain why people are not giving you the detailed information you seek? P.S. Came across this interesting article: gotquestions.org/dreams-visions-Bible.html
    – Lesley
    Oct 11 at 7:29
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    You received two interesting answers to this somewhat similar question you asked in July: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/84215/…
    – Lesley
    Oct 11 at 10:26
  • @Lesley - Good catch! I also added other possibly related questions I've asked in the past as well, see the bottom of the question. Oct 11 at 15:09
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Communication is a means of sending or receiving information. Humanly speaking the imparting or exchanging of information can be achieved by speaking, writing, or using some other medium, such as the telephone or email.

As far as God is concerned, the most effective way of getting a message through to Him is by heart-felt and sincere prayer. The answer to prayer might not come immediately, or even quickly, and sometimes the answer is "no".

In the past God communicated with humanity through his prophets (think Old Testament) but today he speaks to us through Christ Jesus [paraphrase of Hebrews 1:1-2]. Think New Testament.

Basically, God communicates with us through His writen word - the Bible - and through the spoken word - preaching/sharing the gospel.

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

And God communicates with us through the activity of the Holy Spirit.

That is my personal opinion based on observation and experience after 25 years as a Christian of the Protestant persuasion.

But you want an overview of all the different ways in which Christians claim that God can and does communicate (either directly or indirectly) to people today.

EDIT: Because the tag ‘Comparative Christianity’ seeks comparisons of two or more denominations, allow me to now comment on another denomination, Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are neither Catholic nor Protestant although they also believe that God uses the Bible to communicate with people today.

But there is one striking difference between them and Reformed Protestants. They claim that God speaks to people today through his earthly organization – Jehovah’s Witnesses. Here is a partial quote from a 1967 Watchtower article entitled ‘How God speaks to us today’:

Of course, not everyone listens to God by reading the Bible. But this does not muzzle God. No, because he sends his Christian witnesses to the homes of the people, to tell them about his kingdom... So, too, God uses men [overseers or elders] to speak to those within the congregation of believers... However, God is not speaking by means of everyone who takes up the Bible and uses the name of his Son.

The article goes on to say that their denomination is “the organization through which God is speaking to mankind today”. Source: https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1967081

Another article in the 15 December 2007 Watchtower magazine (page 14) goes further:

"But Jehovah’s servants already belong to the only organization that will survive the end of this wicked system of things."

That is not the view of Reformed Protestant denominations.

I am now going to delete some of my unhelpful comments and hope that I have now complied with the ‘Comparative Christianity’ tag.

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The Bible describes means employed by people to communicate with God. Some of those means are one-way (such as only from God to us) and some are two-way. Some we may initiate at any time, while others must be initiated by God. Some of those means God endorses and some he condemns, as evidenced by the Mosaic laws. A few clarifying questions come to mind.

  1. Are all the approved means listed in the Bible still available to believers or have some been discontinued by God? This touches on questions related to continuationist versus cessationist beliefs.

  2. Have rules been relaxed concerning any formerly forbidden means?

  3. Are new means of communication being attempted today about which the Bible is silent? How are we to judge them?

Now to a first attempt at a list. The Book of Job appears comprehensive. It gives the following means, all of which operated in Job's life, some under his control and some specially initiated by God. Some of these means are obvious to the casual reader, while others have to be teased from the text. For example, "fasting" is not identified directly, but Job speaks of loathing food. Likewise, "sabbath" observance is not overtly mentioned, but when the storm arrives, Elihu describes all the creatures hiding from the storm, unable to do any work, forced to marvel at the works of God. Spurgeon labeled this as a type of sabbath in one of his sermons on Job.

  • Praying
  • Fasting
  • Offering Sacrifices
  • Observing God in nature
  • Listening to Wise Elders
  • Learning from suffering
  • Reading God's written word
  • Pondering dreams
  • Seeing visions
  • Listening to God's prophets
  • Experiencing Miracles
  • Speaking with angels
  • Experiencing a Theophany (hearing God's audible voice)

Regarding miracles, some believe that the spiritual gifts spoken of by the Apostle Paul continue today. If they do, one can break "miracles" down into many subcategories, as well as expanding "Listening to Wise Elders" to include Christian friends who have gifts like word of wisdom, word of knowledge and interpreting dreams or tongues.

Setting aside the continuationist-cessationist controversy, you can see that all of the other listed means that are under our control are still commonly practiced, though with alteration. Sacrifice is no longer of animals, but of time, money, and love.

The categories from Job have meaningful subcategories, some restricted to certain denominations.

  • Christian Meditation is a combination of prayer with reflecting on the Word or nature
  • Eastern Orthodox Christians practice hesychasm, a distinct form of meditation
  • Roman Catholics speak of Marian apparitions, which are distinct from angel visits or theophany
  • Christophany (a vision of Jesus) is a special form of theophany
  • Intercession of the saints is something endorsed by non-Protestants
  • meditation mediated by icons is another practice of the Eastern Orthodox
  • baptism (not sure if that fits into one of Job's categories or if there was a foreshadowing of it in that book)
  • holy communion as a Christian reinterpretation of sacrifice

Now to the question. I have personally benefitted from all the listed non-miraculous, human-initiated means of communicating with God, and they are commonly practiced by Baptists, Catholics, and many other denominations.

Concerning Christophany, one friend of mine was in a hospital bed, having lost sight in one eye due to a severe infection and in risk of losing sight in the other eye. Christ appeared to him in the hospital, said not a word, but healed his eye and restored his sight.

Concerning miraculous healing, I have been healed of a knee injury and deafness in one ear through prayer and meditating on God's Word. I have met others who have received other miracles of healing.

Concerining listening to God's prophets, a woman in my church told me that God had revealed to her that I would soon meet someone that I would be in a relationship with. Two weeks later, I met the woman I would one day marry. Years later, a visiting preacher said something that I took to heart and it came to pass days later.

Concerining dreams, I have had dreams from the Lord that predicted events that came to pass, like a warning about my automobile breaks needing work or a lengthy series of hardships that my family would endure.

Concerning visions, I have had but one. I saw scenes of the Romanian revolution two months before it happened. God then answered many prayers which enabled me to travel to Romania on a mission trip.

Concerning theophany, I have never seen a miraculous projection of God, but I once heard five audible words I believe came from God, giving me wise advice that I followed. I was on a Greyhound bus and full of anxiety over a decision I needed to make. The chatter on the bus was loud. All of a sudden, the volume of the chatter went way down, as though someone adjusted a volume knob. Everyone was still talking, but I could barely hear them. That was when I heard the voice.

New words from God? One special form of communication is that between God and man when words to be added to the Scriptures were communicated. Most Christians believe in a closed canon. Thus this form of communication is no longer open to us.

Concerning angels, I have never seen an angel nor met anyone who has. I have read accounts by missionaries who were under attack, only for their attackers to stop and retreat. In one case, a missionary asked one of the attackers after he became a Christian why they gave up the attack. He was told it was because of all the men with spears who stood around their house, guarding it. But there had been nobody there...

Concerning icons, I am not an Eastern Orthodox believer, so icons are not a part of my religious practice. They believe that icons open a window into heaven. However, one day I had an idea about a certain passage in Job being a prophecy of Jesus walking on water. Not sure of my interpretation, I looked it up on the internet from my phone and found that Saint John Chrysostom made the same observation. I was still doubtful. I got off the bus and walked through Harvard University on my way to work. As I was pondering things, I looked up at the sculptures on the building I was passing, Memorial Hall. As I passed the last corner of the building, I read the inscription under one relief. It read, "John Chrysostom". That was my window into heaven and an answer to my prayer. I will never again argue about the propriety of icons in worship.

So I would say that most means of communicating with God found in Scripture are still operational today. In most cases I can say that from personal experience or the experience of a trusted friend. Some denominations would strike a few from the list or add unique refinements to them, as mentioned above.

I do not know of any new means of communication being authorized since the Bible was completed.

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How does God communicate to people today?

God communicates to us in many mysterious ways!

In general, all Christian denominations believe that God can and does communicate with us in various manners.

God can speak to us in many manners, but we have to keep our ears attentive at all times! This makes me recall the story of the Prophet Elijah in the Book of Kings.

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” - 1 Kings 19:11-13

God can speak to us though the Scriptures, in prayer (meditation), through others individuals and through nature. The list can go on...

The Bible Speaks of Six Ways that God Can Speak to Us:

  1. God Speaks to us though Scripture

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

  1. God Speaks Though Gifted Teachers whose Source is the Bible

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:6-8).

  1. God Speaks to us though Difficulties

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees” (Psalm 119:67-68).

  1. God Speaks through the Holy Spirit

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).

  1. God Speaks though His Creation

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2).

  1. God Speaks through whomever He chooses, But Never in in Disagreement with the Bible

“For God does speak — now one way, now another — though no one perceives it” (Job 33:14).

Obviously the Holy Angels can communicate with us. Both church history and the Scriptures can bare this out. Take for example the story of St. Peter being released from prison in Acts 12.

An Angel Frees Peter from Prison

12 About that time King Herod devoted his attention to mistreating certain members of the church. 2 He had James, the brother of John, executed. 3 When he saw how this pleased the Jews, he arrested Peter too. This happened during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 After capturing Peter, Herod had him thrown into prison with sixteen soldiers in squads of four to guard him. Herod wanted to bring Peter to trial in front of the people after Passover. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was praying very hard to God for him.

6 The night before Herod was going to bring Peter to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers. His hands were bound with two chains, and guards were in front of the door. They were watching the prison.

7 Suddenly, an angel from the Lord stood near Peter, and his cell was filled with light. The angel nudged Peter’s side, woke him up, and said, “Hurry! Get up!” At that moment the chains fell from Peter’s hands.

8 The angel told him, “Put your shoes on, and get ready to go!” Peter did this. Then the angel told him, “Put your coat on, and follow me.”

9 Peter followed the angel out of the cell. He didn’t realize that what the angel was doing was actually happening. He thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guardposts and came to the iron gate that led into the city. This gate opened by itself for them, so they went outside and up the street. The angel suddenly left Peter.

11 When Peter came to his senses, he said, “Now I’m sure that the Lord sent his angel to rescue me from Herod and from everything the Jewish people are expecting to happen to me.”

12 When Peter realized what had happened, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark. Many people had gathered at her home and were praying. 13 Peter knocked on the door of the entryway, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so happy that instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and reported, “Peter is standing at the door!”

15 The people told her, “You’re crazy!” But she insisted that Peter was at the door. They said, “It has to be his angel.”

16 But Peter kept knocking. When they opened the door, they were shocked to see him. 17 Peter motioned with his hand to quiet them down and told them how the Lord had taken him out of prison. He added, “Tell James and the other believers about this.” Then he left and went somewhere else.

18 In the morning the soldiers were in an uproar over what had happened to Peter. 19 Herod searched for Peter but couldn’t find him. So he questioned the guards and gave orders to have them executed.

God can communicate to us through His creation (nature). In fact, I enjoy taking tong hikes for this very reason. Besides it Clare’s my mind greatly when I am perplexed about something. I have yet to be enlightened or guided by God in the ways the Ancient Hebrews were in the Book of Exodus.

21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. - Exodus 13:21

In Catholic theology, God may speak to us through visions:

Three types of visions

Since St. Augustine (De gen. ad litt., 1. XII, vii, n. 16) mystical writers have agreed in dividing visions into corporeal, imaginative, and intellectual.

Corporeal vision

Corporeal vision is a supernatural manifestation of an object to the eyes of the body. It may take place in two ways: either a figure really present strikes the retina and there determines the physical phenomenon of the vision, or an agent superior to man directly modifies the visual organ and produces in the composite a sensation equivalent to that which an external object would produce. According to the authorities the first is the usual manner; it corresponds to the invincible belief of the seer, e.g. Bernadette at Lourdes; it implies a minimum of miraculous intervention if the vision is prolonged or if it is common to several persons. But the presence of an external figure may be understood in two ways. Sometimes the very substance of the being or the person will be presented; sometimes it will be merely an appearance consisting in a certain arrangement of luminous rays. The first may be true of living persons and even, it would seem, of the now glorious bodies of Christ and the Blessed Virgin, which by the eminently probable supernatural phenomenon of multilocation may become present to men without leaving the abode of glory. The second is realized in the corporeal apparition of the unresurrected dead or of pure spirits.

Imaginative vision

Imaginative vision is the sensible representation of an object by the act of imagination alone, without the aid of the visual organ. Sometimes the subject is aware that the object exists only in his imagination, that it is a purely reproduced or composite image. Sometimes he projects it invincibly without, which is the case in supernatural hallucination. In natural imaginative vision the imagination is stirred to action solely by a natural agent, the will of the subject, an internal or an external force, but in supernatural imaginative vision an agent superior to man acts directly either on the imagination itself or on certain forces calculated to stir the imagination. The sign that these images come from God lies, apart from their particular vividness, in the lights and graces of sincere sanctity which accompany them, and in the fact that the subject is powerless to define or fix the elements of the vision. Such efforts most frequently result in the cessation or the abridgement of the vision. Imaginative apparitions are ordinarily of short duration, either because the human organism is unable to endure for a long time the violence done to it, or imaginative visions soon give place to intellectual visions. This kind of vision occurs most frequently during sleep; such were the dreams of Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar (Genesis 41; Daniel 2). Cardinal Bona gives several reasons of expediency for this frequency: during sleep the soul is less divided by multiplicity of thoughts, it is more passive, more inclined to accept, and less inclined to dispute; in the silence of the senses the images make a more vivid impression.

It is often difficult to decide whether the vision is corporeal or imaginative. It is certainly corporeal (or extrinsic) if it produces external effects, such as the burnt marks left on an object by the passing of the Devil. It is imaginative if, for example, the image persists after one has closed one's eyes, or if there are no traces of the external effects which ought to have been produced, such as when a ball of fire appears above a person's head without injuring it. The time most conducive to these visions is a state of ecstasy, when the exercise of the external senses is suspended. However, although the question has been discussed among mystics, it seems that they may also be produced outside of this state. This is the opinion of Alvarez de Paz (De grad. contemp., 1., V, pt. III, cii, t. 6) and of Benedict XIV (De servorum Dei beatif., 1. III, c. i, n. 1). Imaginative vision may be either representative or symbolic. It is representative when it presents an image of the very object to be made known: such may have been the apparition to Bl. Joan of Arc of St. Catherine and St. Margaret, if it was not (which is more probable) a luminous vision. It is symbolic when it indicates the object by means of a sign: such as the apparition of a ladder to Jacob, the apparition of the Sun, Moon, and stars to the patriarch Joseph, as were also numerous prophetic visions.

Intellectual visions

Intellectual visions perceive the object without a sensible image. Intellectual visions in the natural order may apparently be admitted. Even when we hold with the Scholastics that every idea is derived form some image, it does not follow that the image cannot at a given time abandon the idea to itself. The intellectual vision is of the supernatural order when the object known exceeds the natural range of the understanding, e.g. the essence of the soul, certain existence of the state of grace in the subject of another, the intimate nature of God and the Trinity; when it is prolonged for a considerable time (St. Teresa says that it may last for more than a year). The intervention of God will be recognized especially by its effects, persistent light, Divine love, peace of soul, inclination towards the things of God, the constant fruits of sanctity.

The intellectual vision takes place in the pure understanding, and not in the reasoning faculty. If the object perceived lies within the sphere of reason, intellectual vision of the supernatural order takes place, according to the Scholastics by means of species acquired by the intellect but applied by God himself or illuminated especially by God. If it is not within the range of reason it takes place by the miraculous infusion into the mind of new species. It is an open question whether in intellectual visions of a superior order the understanding does not perceive Divine things without the aid of species. In this kind of operation the object or fact is perceived as truth and reality, and this with an assurance and certainty far exceeding that which accompanies the most manifest corporeal vision. According to St. Teresa

"We see nothing, either interiorly or exteriorly. . . But without seeing anything the soul conceives the object and feels whence it is more clearly than if it saw it, save that nothing in particular is shown to it. It is like feeling someone near one in a dark place" (first letter to Father Rodrigo Alvarez).

This is the sense of the presence, to use the expression of modern writers. And again:

"I have rarely beheld the Devil in any form, but he has often appeared to me without one, as is the case in intellectual visions, when as I have said, the soul clearly perceives someone present, although it does not perceive it in any form" (Life, 31).

The vision is sometimes distinct, sometimes indistinct. The former attests the presence of the object without defining any element. "on the feast of the glorious St. Peter," writes St. Teresa, "being at prayer, I saw, or rather (for I saw nothing, either with the eyes of the body or with those of the soul) I felt my Savior near me and I saw that it was he who spoke to me" (Life, 27).

At a certain degree of height or depth, the vision becomes indescribable, inexpressible in human language. St. Paul, rapt to the third heaven, was instructed in mysteries which it is not in the power of the soul to relate (2 Corinthians 12:4). There is no occasion, however, to accuse the mystics of agnosticism. Their agnosticism, if we may so speak, is merely verbal. The inexpressible is not the incomprehensible. Since Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagitica mystics have been in the habit of designating the profundity of Divine realities by negative terms. The avowal of the powerlessness of human speech does not prevent them from saying, as did St. Ignatius, for example, that what they have seen of the Trinity would be sufficient to establish their faith, even though the Gospels were to disappear. It is impossible to establish a parallel between the degree of spirituality of the vision and the degree of the mystic state or the sanctity of the subject. Imaginative or even corporeal visions may continue in the most advanced state of union, as seems to have been the case with St. Teresa. However, intellectual visions of the supernatural order, as of the mystery of the Trinity, point indisputably to a very high degree of mystical union.

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