One of the things we know about human communication is the fact that it does not occur in a vacuum.
When a person speaks to another person, “history” with the other person is involved.
Dr. Willard acknowledges that in the words “careful study of personal relationships shows that recognition of a certain voice is often the cue for someone to stop listening or even to distort the message in particular ways that are relevant to the specific nature of the relationship between the people involved.”
Let’s stop for a minute and break this down.
We can all relate I think.
I have been doing better since I have retired from full-time employment but there was a time in my life when my wife Susan would ask me to do something around the house. There was a certain tone to her voice as she made her request. Over the years I became an expert on detecting that tone. Let’s say, I often did not have the best attitude toward her requests and when I heard that tone, I was not happy to get that message. Yes, I would stop listening or I would distort her message instead of taking it at face value and prepare to get the requested work done. [Oh the things I do for this blog; many know that Susan is my editor].
Let’s give credit where credit is due; my wife never has requested extremely difficult things from me. She has never given me a jobs list requiring days of work or complex jobs that make me think long and hard about how to do the work. In short, she did not deserve my poor responses.
But she got them anyhow. The bottom line, her message was not the message I wanted to hear.
Dr. Willard says this relates to Divine-human communication. In other words, some people may hear from God and they are in rebellion against God’s Word [they don’t listen or they distort the message].
Why would this be?
Maybe it is like a message from my wife. I know what is coming when I hear the vocal tone. I know it will have a negative impact on my plans for the day; doing her work is not “on my list.”
I engage in covert rebellion against my wife.
You see, communication is an active process whereby the speaker forms an idea using words and submits that idea to the listener. Certain words are selected because they fit the intention of the speaker and they may be selected because there is a history with the listener. Some words work better than others. If you have a joking relationship with a listener, you will use less serious language. If you have a knowledge of their intellect and you know they are not that smart, ideas may be expressed in simple vocabulary. If you have a long relationship with the person, private words and expressions can be used because those private terms mean something to you and the listener.
Listeners hear those words and they may “select or omit from, as well as reshape, the message intended by the speaker….If we do not want to be converted from our chosen and habitual ways, if we really want to run our own lives without any interference from God, our very special perceptual mechanisms will filter out His voice or twist it to our own purposes” [Willard, 197].
God is ignored because what He is asking of us is inconvenient. We would rather not have to hear what He has to say.
If His message does not fit our plan for our lives, we will have to alter our lives to fit His request. If the Divine message requires some commitment on our part, that is too much for many people. Maybe the message will cause us to alter our strong habits and we can’t give them up.
Dr. Willard just makes a hard judgement against us all: “The doleful reality is that very few human beings do concretely desire to hear what God has to say to them.”
What happens when God makes His requests and we turn Him down? What happens when God tells us what to do and we don’t listen? What happens when God intends for us to alter our lives and we stay the same?
What will happen is God may begin to speak to us less.
Why does He do this?
Well, He knows our history.