“Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God” (John 8:43,47).
Jesus delivered this hard-hitting rebuke to the Pharisees by using the metaphor of their physical sense of hearing to point to their lack of understanding. They were spiritually deaf to the word of Jesus because they were not in tune with God.
Jesus also used this metaphor earlier in his ministry during the Sermon on the Mount to encourage the multitudes to listen carefully in order to understand him. “And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand” (Mark 7:14).
The Apostle Paul spoke bluntly to the Hebrews, “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:11). His famous statement to the church in Corinth is actually a warning that their own words will not be understood unless they speak them in love. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).
Our human sense of hearing, like our sense of sight, is a wonderful and complicated physical system. Through metaphor, the scriptures link our physical sense of hearing with our spiritual sense of understanding. There are many beautiful lessons that we may learn from our physical sense of hearing. I especially know this to be true because I was born totally deaf in one ear.
Sounds are Vibrations
The sounds that we hear are actually vibrations that come to our ears through the air or water. When these sound vibrations reach our outer ear, they continue through our ear canal to our tympanic membrane also known as the eardrum. The micro-deformation of our tympanic membrane then sends the sound vibrations to our inner ear via three small linked bones where the cochlea (connected to the cochlea nerve) converts those sound vibrations into impulses. The cochlea nerve then sends those impulses to our brain. The tympanic membrane provides the physical separation between the outside environment and our middle and inner ear. It protects the inner ear and its delicate mechanism from infection.
The cochlea also adapts the sound vibrations to the pressure of the air or water through which they travel. This adaptation of sound is is completed by our Eustachian tube. Our brain then interprets the impulses that are transmitted and converts them into the data our brain understands. Thus, the process of hearing is completed when our brain understands the sound — a fitting end to the process, especially in light of the scriptural metaphor!
God’s Amazing Design
God has created an ingenious and complicated system for us to understand the beautiful sounds of our environment. If we are fortunate enough to have normal hearing, it is our gateway to understand and appreciate the human voice, musical harmony, singing, and the many beautiful noises of nature.
The sound of the human voice is the very basis of our relationships with others. The first voices we hear are the voices of our parents while we are yet in our mother’s womb. Even though our brain is still developing in the womb, our brain records the unique voiceprint of our mother and father’s voices.
After birth, when a baby hears the voice of his parents, he associates their voices with the safety and protection of the womb. In the womb, the baby associates his parent’s voices with a feeling of tenderness and love. A child recognizes and learns to love the voice of his parents before he can understand their words. This is a beautiful picture of how it is possible for all humanity to hear God’s voice in nature but actually not understand Him or His plan for mankind.
Solomon provided us with unique insight into our relationship with God’s voice when he said, “My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings” (Proverbs 4:20). The wise man indicates that we must make a concerted effort to reverence God and “tune in” to the direction of His voice. In fact, there is a subtle process to our hearing God’s word:
(1) What God says and what we hear,
(2) What we understand and remember,
(3) What we repeat.
What God Says and What We Hear
We must listen to God’s word by carefully reading the Bible if we want to understand it. Listening to God requires that we open both our ears to hear and our heart to understand. Today, we have been given an unprecedented array of high quality Bible translations and commentaries, as well as the opportunity to meet with fellow Christians to study and pray. On the flip side however, we also have an unprecedented media-saturated world. Due to these distractions, we must work very hard to “center” our hearing on God and God’s word.
Prayer is a vital but oft times forgotten component of our hearing the word of God. The activity of prayer focuses our human will and expresses our desires toward God. Prayer is the best way for our hearts to remain focused, centered, and actively listening to God’s word in order to receive spiritual understanding.
What we Understand and Remember
Understanding something requires considerably more effort than merely hearing it. To understand with our mind requires tight focus, meditation, and prayer. As King David said, “I will meditate on Your precepts and regard your ways” (Psalm 119:15 NASB).
Meditating and applying the truth is then the key to remembering it. King Solomon tells us that this takes our time and energy. “Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways” (Proverbs 23:23, 26).
Where does our mind go when it rests? Does it look for ways to actively apply the truth
in our life or does our mind busy itself with temporal matters or the passive pleasures oftoday’s
The world will endeavor to fill-up our brains with useless data that has no end. This data is certain to crowd out what we remember about God’s word. Jesus said, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:21-22 NASB).
The Apostle Paul admonishes us to “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). If we do not hear, understand, and then use the truth by applying it in our daily life, we will never realize God’s promise of its transforming power.
What We Repeat
Repeating what we understand through an active personal ministry is the best formula for remembering it. The angel’s message to the jailed apostles emphasizes the urgency of repeating the gospel: “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life” (Acts 5:20 NASB). The Apostles did not read their speeches. They spoke them from memory. Their minds were totally captivated by the Gospel. The Apostles were “all in” to the hearing and the understanding of the gospel and they lived their lives by it. The entire New Testament testifies that the holy Spirit guided their mouths with the simple, elegant words of the Gospel. We should do our part at the end of the Gospel Age to repeat the words of the truth too. If we do, we can be sure that God will multiply our efforts as well.
Hearing With Our Eyes and Ears
A grandmother said to a student; “I would rather hear your voice for two minutes than to read 20 of your emails.” For many, it is far more effective to hear the spoken word in person than to read thoughts on paper. This is because we hear with both our eyes and our ears.
In fact, the act of hearing face to face uses a much different process of communication than the act of reading. When we hear face to face, we receive two different messages. We hear the words as well as their tune, intonation, and speed. We hear the music of the words! When we communicate with others in person, we transmit a subtle combination of the mean hand, we choose our words in order to clearly communicate our thoughts. On the other hand, we use the music of our words to communicate our emotions: sympathy, anger, perplexity, hesitation, arrogance. These emotions help convey the intent of our words. The Apostle Paul gave us a warning about the negative effects of the music of our words in 1 Corinthians 13:1.
The US psychologist Albert Mehrabian calculated that during spoken conversation, 7% of communication results
from our words, 38% by the intonation of our words, and 55% by the expression of our faces. Therefore, we hear with both our eyes and our ears. It takes both our eyes and our ears to understand the entire meaning of another’s words.
We may now more clearly understand the subtle messages we receive from God through the music and intent of His words. For instance, when we consider God’s divine plan of redemption, we see that God developed it as a mystery with multiple clues throughout the Bible, thereby requiring our most earnest and concentrated efforts to uncover them.
At the beginning of the Bible God told the serpent, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). At the end of the Bible Jesus promises, “but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name [shall be] in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:3-5). Are we actively listening with our ears and our eyes to the music and intent of God’s unfinished mystery? Are we then seeking God’s help to understand it?
Just as our ears convert the sound vibrations into understandable data for our brain, God’s plan is a puzzle whose pieces we must put together in order to find its harmony. This requires our spiritual mind. We frequently use the word “harmony” in the musical world to denote something we hear that is beautiful. When we listen to God’s word from the scriptures, and see it acted out on the pages of history and today’s news, we are overcome by the incredible sense of harmony and beauty of a righteous plan for mankind by a just, powerful, loving, and wise Creator.
As important as the plan of redemption is to our faith, it is only a part of our faith and obedience. We must also focus our spiritual ears on hearing and understanding the more difficult things of God’s word. For example, Jesus admonishes us to be careful about our behavior. “And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand” (Matthew 15:10). The Apostle Paul admonished us to be careful to do the work of preaching the word of God. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). Our Christian growth and maturity is contingent on our hearing and understanding the whole counsel of God, not simply the sweetest music.
The scriptures speak about our understanding the love of God in two contexts: the love of God that we receive and the love of God that is reflected in us. In the first context, just as the baby can hear and feel the love of his parents before he understands them, mankind should be able to hear and to feel the love of God before understanding His divine plan.
While the majority of mankind have fallen short of this ideal, we have been privileged to not only hear and feel the
love of God, but to hear and understand a much greater message; the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. “Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39). We must closely guard our understanding of this truth and keep it safe from the temptations of our adversary. Jesus directed us to be vigilant, “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38).
In the second context, once the baby is born and learns the language of his parents, he makes real speedy progress and the family becomes unified in spirit and understanding. Even so, as we learn the language of God, we have the opportunity to become unified in spirit and understanding with God and Jesus by personally applying the language to ourselves. The Apostle John tells us, “But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him” (1 John 2:5). Perhaps the greatest opportunity we have for self-improvement is to perfect the love of God through our hearing, our understanding, and our keeping His word.
Improving Deficient Spiritual Hearing
It is possible for our physical sense of hearing to be damaged by loud noise. Some have damaged their hearing by exposing their unprotected ears to loud fans, airplane engines, jackhammers, power tools, etc. Noise that exceeds 90 decibels will destroy the hairs of our cochlea. Damage may be avoided by using ear protection.
Our spiritual hearing (understanding) is also in danger of being damaged by loud noise. It is difficult to hear the voice of God over the din of the doctrines of men and the vast earthly pleasures they promise. It is relatively easy for our hearing the word of God to be damaged by both the sinful lusts of our flesh and the more noble fleshly pursuits. Humanism and intellectualism are also great dangers since they deny the existence of God or claim that God is somehow within us. This type of worldly noise is subtle rather than loud and it undermines our faith by claiming the Bible to be full of myths and fanciful stories.
Then there are the competing social noises of violence and racism as some Christians seek to show that God and Jesus encourage us to fight in the world’s conflicts. Jesus simply tells us to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
We must be careful to listen to Jesus and to protect our spiritual hearing from other harmful noises. The Pharisees’ failure in this area shows us just how easy it is for us to stray from being in tune with God. “Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word” (John 8:43).
The Pharisees’ failure was rooted in their refusal to hear God’s word that was spoken to them through the lips of His Son Jesus Christ. The Pharisees simply let the competing noises of their age and their tradition to crowd out the words of Jesus Christ. We are in this same danger if we do not perform the proper maintenance on our Christian character. We must maintain close fellowship with our Lord, the truth, and our brethren in order to let the truth have its proper effect in our lives (Hebrews 4:12).
Perfect Spiritual Hearing in the Future
The promise of restitution during the reign of Christ includes the miraculous healing of the deaf. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped” (Isaiah 35:5). This wonderful healing will be for both the physically deaf and the spiritually deaf. To accomplish this, God promises to speak a language that the world of mankind will be able to understand without difficulty. “Then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9). What a beautiful and engaging prospect!
The miracle of a person’s sudden ability to hear is beautifully illustrated by the recent BBC video of a deaf baby being able to hear for the first time with the use of a hearing aid. In the near future, the whole world of mankind will hear the voice of God and will finally be able to understand its pure language! We trust in the promises of the blessings for the billions of mankind, “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9, Habakkuk 2:14).
To hear and understand God clearly is the fondest hope of all mankind. However, daily decisions to obey God will be required for all to obtain everlasting life (Isaiah 28:17).
As God’s children today, we have the advance opportunity to both hear and to understand the voice of God. Both of these require our earnest and thoughtful efforts. As taught in the parable of the Pearl of Great Price, we should divest ourselves of all earthly encumbrances (outside noises) and work toward this great opportunity with all of our time and energy.