As a communication teacher, I know that one of the most basic lessons has to do with receiving messages. To keep this simple, hearing is the mechanical reception of sound waves. I used to tell my students that if you have ears that work without any impediment [plugs, loud environmental sound], then you are hearing. The internal working of your ears begins to vibrate.
Listening is another matter. Listening depends upon hearing. You certainly can’t listen without the mechanics of hearing but listening means that mental processes get engaged. You hear a message and mentally begin to decode what it means. You make meaning out of messages [listening].
Pastor Labberton talks about our response to suffering in others’ lives. He says we hear but we do not listen.
Let’s take an example from our television viewing. From time to time we all see videos of refugee children who are in bad living conditions. They look hungry, they are dirty and their everyday living environment appears to be a garbage heap. I am sure that some see those ads and call the number and sign up for the monthly credit card payment [it only takes 80 cents a day to save a child’s life].
The rest of us, don’t do anything. We hear but we don’t listen.
Labberton writes about our mental defense mechanisms.
We are momentarily aware of the needs of the children but we get busy with our lives and simply forget.
We think about the dire living conditions and we hope that something can be done but it is just too much to ponder; it is beyond us so we don’t act.
Some may have a much harder response, a “social Darwinistic” response; some of us have fortunate circumstances and benefits in life and others do not. We are glad we are among the ones who are thriving and it is a shame that others are not.
Others may think “I did not put those kids in that situation; I am not responsible, so why should I feel guilty?”
The list can go on and on.
We find ourselves in a stalemate. There are obvious problems but we choose to do nothing to help.
Jesus says in Matthew 15:19 “For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.” Certainly I am not trying to equate murder, adultery and fornication with inaction in the face of horrible circumstances of our neighbors, but our heart is also where inaction starts. Cornel West states “injustice is what shows up when love is absent from the heart.” Edmund Burke said “the only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good [people] to do nothing.” As human beings we are not perpetrating criminal acts by inaction but we are not trying to do our part to help people in need. Instead, we use self-defense, self-justification, blame and rationalization.
Our hearts are not stirred.
Labberton says “God’s heart passionately desires justice, starting with the most vulnerable.” If we hear but not listen, sadly our heart remains unengaged.
I don’t often quote a large amount of Scripture in this blog but one of my favorite books in the Bible has Scripture that fits this topic so well: Isaiah 58: 6-9.
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the throngs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and He will say, here I am.”
When those who are less fortunate will cry out to you and me, will we listen and not hear?
Or will we say “here I am.”