Sunday, May 22, 2016

The voice of God

My firstborn son left the safety of his mother's womb on April 26. After the initial euphoria of the birth, there is a certain let down as one realizes, this baby barely knows how to feed, much less communicate. Other than his (sometimes violent) cries, I have no way of hearing from him, no way of knowing that he needs something.

That doesn't keep me from speaking to him, of course. I have heard that babies like their parents' voices. I've seen first hand that it can be soothing. More importantly, I take it as self-evident that without hearing his parents' voice, he will never learn our language.

Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." The immediate application is of course humility, but I think there is a deeper corollary (which is not at all detached from humility).

I have often wondered why, if God truly speaks, I do not hear him. But I do hear him, all the time. If God governs all creation, then every single thing that exists is available as a symbol of communication between God and humans. It is just that I don't yet speak his language.

Life is essentially growth, a process of constantly advancing toward maturity. Unless we humble ourselves and realize that it is a long process to learn the language of God, we will never hear him.

In the meantime, what, then, are our prayers? "We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words." Our prayers are mere cries of anguish. We do not even understand what we need or what we are hungry for. "Your heavenly Father knows what you need even before you ask it." Thankfully, God is not a new father; he knows why we cry.

I realize all of this can sound very cruel, because life is very cruel. How can it be for our good that we watch the innocent die? How can it be for our good when we see oppression or are oppressed ourselves? We so often feel helpless, unable to get justice for ourselves or for others. It is as if "God is testing us to show that we are but animals." How, then, can we call God Father?

But there is no growth without suffering. Creation itself cannot exist without destruction. Existence is meaningless without non-existence.

When we hear the voice of God, we will not find that it says what our weak spirits want to hear. We wish that no harm would come to us. But what does he say to us instead? "Anyone who does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

There are many people who seem to listen for the voice of God in order to find some serenity in the midst of a world full of anxiety. But God is a refuge for the time of battle, not a retreat away from this world.

How do we go so quickly from children to soldiers? "When I was a child, I thought like a child, I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish things. ... Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known." I don't think the point of becoming a child is to enter the kingdom of heaven and remain a child. It is to grow up into a citizen of that kingdom, and if there's one thing the Bible makes clear, it's that every citizen in this kingdom must be prepared for war. Not literal war--"for our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh"--but a war against "the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

In this way the Christian life is a bit like a fairy tale, if I may say so. Chesterton was fond of fairy tales, and he thought they were much better education for children than any modern rationalism could ever be. I think probably he was right.

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