If you’re going duck hunting and you want to get the flock to come your way, you’ll have to use a “duck call”. If you want to call a buck in the forest, you rattle some antlers. If you want to get a baby’s attention, you’ll use soft round tones and say their name.
These different attempts at communication are shaped by the recipient’s ability to receive the message. St. Thomas Aquinas captured this nugget of human truth six hundred years ago when he said, “Nothing occurs in the intellect (you can’t know anything) if it doesn’t come first through the senses.” Animals respond to biofeedback (heat, cold, hunger, sound). Humans respond to these same things, but also having intellect they come to know things through sound—- think words.
This pre-condition for knowing has profound effects on our relationship with God. How can we hear the “Voice of God” who is pure infinite spirit? If you are an angel (pure “spirit person”) you have no body, no ears. There is no need to hear. Angels know things by “seeing” with their mind. In that sense they don’t have to learn; they get things immediately when their spirit “beholds” some- thing. They know God immediately.
As for humans, God has made us in such a way that what we can know must first come to us through our mode of receiving. Unless we see, hear, touch, taste or smell some- thing, we can’t know anything about it.
So how then does God communicate to us? He does so by obeying the laws of learning we humans were given to know things. He comes to us through our human senses; primarily through seeing and hearing.
Abraham experienced a “vision” of God in which he and his wife Sarah “heard” of a promised child in their old age. What did he do? He believed.
Moses had a “vision” of God at the Burning Bush. He “heard” God say his name – “I Am”. And what did Moses do? He believed. (How you describe their seeing and hearing is a mystery – – no burning bush has ever spoken to me!)
In each case there was given this strange ability to “believe” that God was addressing them. The giver of this gift is God’s Holy Spirit. And from that point on, whatever happened contains “God’s plan”. Theologians call it “Salvation History” and it includes the events of human history interpreted with eyes and ears now open to what was heard through Faith . . . the bible.
St. Paul makes this literal connection between hearing and faith in the Letter to the Romans (10:14ff).
“But how can they call on him (God) in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him if they have not heard? And how will they hear without someone to preach? . . . Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes from the word of Christ.”
And in Hebrews 1:1,2: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets (Abraham, Moses and Isaiah etc.). In these last days, he spoke to us through a son, through whom he created all things.”
Of this Son, John the Apostle writes: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes . . . and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life made visible to us . . . What we have seen and heard we now proclaim to you.” 1Jn. 1:1
And what is this word that God speaks? It is the “Word made flesh”, Jesus of Nazareth.
God continues to speak the word of Jesus in the scriptures, the teaching of the church, and the voice of God that is our conscience urging us to “do good and avoid evil”, and lastly God’s word comes at times from the Ho- ly Spirit speaking through the people around us. This is God calling out to us.
Lord give us the ears to hear.