What Is a Sign From God?


What is a sign (from God)? What “signs” might appear to us today, and how is God still speaking?

There are many events, supernatural or otherwise, that happen in the Bible, which can loosely be termed “signs from God.” Some appear in dreams, like the image of Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:11-22). Others happen during waking hours, as when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-15). Some, like those in the Gospel of John (One example — Jesus changing the water into wine at the wedding at Cana), are more often thought of as miracles, although the gospel writer used the term “signs.” What they all have in common is that they were unexpected or extraordinary events that made someone stop and take notice of God’s presence and work in the world.

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They may have served to remind the people of a promise God had made (as in Jacob’s dream). They may have served to offer hope and anticipation of the liberating work that God was about to do — as when God told Moses from the burning bush that he was preparing to liberate the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. Or they may have called the people’s attention to the miraculous power of God in their midst in the person of Jesus.

Today, it is more often ordinary events that we interpret with extraordinary meaning that we take as signs from God. For example, we feel an unexplained nudging to attend one school over another, only to realize years later that we were “meant to be” at that particular college because that is where we met our future spouse. Or a friend’s mother dies unexpectedly and we understand it as a sign that we should give attention to a painful relationship with one of our own parents. We miss a bus, which leads to an unexpected reunion with a long-lost friend.

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The ways in which God is still speaking today are manifold. It takes ears to hear, openness to discern what God might be inviting us to, and the willingness to look for meaning in what might seem like random events in our lives. Just as in the Bible it sometimes took more than one person to discern the meaning of God’s signs, having conversations with good friends and trusted spiritual mentors helps as well.