“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Jesus said that. At least ten times, in fact. This was his way of summarizing the parable of the soils, a metaphor he used to describe how some soil produces a crop while some doesn’t. When we speak the truth, some people “get it,” and some people… uh… don’t.
As a pastor, I can honestly say that this “ears to hear” verse is the story of my life. As in, I’m a perfect illustration of this truth. As in, I see this truth illustrated hundreds of times per week. Even when Jesus Christ—Truth incarnate—uttered the most profound and Spirit-charged words ever spoken, most people didn’t get it. Jesus speaks of Satan stealing aways seeds, rocky soil preventing growth, and weeds choking the tender shoots of truth trying to grow in our hearts. As I reflected on this reality, four additional factors—a formidable rabble of R’s—rumbled roughshod right through my rumination.
Ears to hear: The rebellion factor
Sometimes we don’t have ears to hear a truth because we don’t want to. The classic example would be the parent that doesn’t want to hear their little girl is anything but the heavenly angel they’ve concocted in their minds. Or consider the college freshman who doesn’t want to hear truth about purity when he’s bent on shacking up with his girlfriend. “I’m confused” can often be translated, “I know what’s right but I don’t like it.” This is nothing more than rebellion.
Ears to hear: the relevance factor
If I preach about heaven, who is more likely to be impacted—a husband who said goodbye to the love of his life at her memorial service this week, or a kid in the middle of midterms? What we’re living through shapes what we hear because our ears are always on the alert for what we need. This doesn’t mean heaven is irrelevant to Midterm Mike; it just means Hubby is far more likely to “have the ears to hear” that truth. I don’t think we should chastise Mike for not being as spiritually attuned to his need for heaven as devastated Hubby is. How could he be?
Ears to hear: the readiness factor
God spoke patiently to me about an issue for five long years without me grasping the big picture. This past week, I finally experienced a life-changing epiphany about it. Why did it take five years for me to connect all the dots and begin to truly “get it?” I desperately wanted to hear the truth; it wasn’t a rebellion issue. The context was right, so it wasn’t a relevance issue. So what was it? Partly, at least, I wasn’t ready to hear it. Sometimes God has to build up a framework for an epiphany. He has to grow the ears to hear before he speaks it to us so that the new truths have a place to land and grow when they arrive.
God may convince an atheist that there might be a god (agnosticism); then, that there is a god (theism), so he can introduce himself as the one, true God, and then finally reveal himself in Christ. Each stage is incomplete, but is part of a person’s overall readiness.
Ears to hear: the rut factor
In their landmark book, “Switch,” Chip and Dan Heath explore what it takes to change things when change is hard. They talk about what they’ve aptly dubbed “the curse of knowledge.” In their experience, what we already know (or think we know) is the most formidable barrier to learning something new. Paradigms must be adjusted. Theology must shift. Comfort zones must be breached. I have to admit I was wrong or misguided. I hold on to my current theory about “X,” knowing full well it’s not quite doing the trick but I don’t want to do the mental work it might take to reforge the idea. The more we think we know, the harder it is to dislodge us from our mental perch, even when it’s God that’s doing the dislodging.
And of course, all four R’s are friends, and play with each other. Every one of them influence whether or not we have ears to hear God on a particular issue.