[Taken from the Monthly Notes, February 2012]
In six separate contexts, the New Testament records Jesus as saying: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” No doubt he spoke it on other occasions too. It is a pithy little saying, but what was his point? The context helps us, and it is clear that Jesus was simultaneously warning against ignorance of the great saving acts of God [in terms of Ezekiel 12:1-2ff] and commending the great God-given privilege of being able to comprehend the deeper instruction in his words. In this he called his hearers back to Moses’ words in Deut 29:2-6, and so presented evidence that he should be considered the “prophet like Moses” who was to come. [Deut 18:18ff].
Jesus was concerned with both eye and ear because both provide input to the mind. He highlighted the importance of the eye when he reminded all that the 7th commandment extends to looking as well as doing. If the eye causes one to fall, put it out! [Mark 9:47] His words resonate in our highly visual culture. So much of our day to day information depends on the eye, and in our internet age, the eye can be the door-way for much that is unhelpful, and spiritually deadly. There ought to be a sign saying “Guard your eyes, all who enter here” above every internet portal. For all this, we might expect that Jesus would speak of the eyes as much a the ear, but Scripture tells us that he gave his emphasis to the ear. Why is this?
“Faith comes by hearing” we are told and God calls us to live by faith and not by sight. Thomas wanted to see before he would believe the resurrection. The Saviour graciously obliged, not because seeing was essential, but so that all the disciples would have an occasion to be instructed regarding the blessedness of all who would believe in Christ because of their preaching, and not their art. [John 20:29].
The eye cannot see the past except as someone else has already imagined it, and the eye cannot give us a picture of the future. It is fixed to the present, and is limited in what it can bring into the soul. Three disciples saw the Transfiguration of Jesus and all misunderstood it until the Father spoke; subsequently billions have heard of it and been overwhelmed by the majestic voice of the Father coming down from heaven: “This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him.” The eye cannot deal with abstracts or intangible things without tying them to individual examples, which will always be reductionist. The eye may see an event caused by love but cannot see the actual love itself. The ear is freed from this limitation and the mind can hear about things like sin, righteousness, judgment & mercy, and by the grace of God begin to comprehend them. This is how we are made, and we must be thankful that it is so.
In its own way, hearing the word of God, [which includes what we call ‘reading’] allows for an awareness of the holy majesty of God that is properly suited to the limitations of our humanity. Seeing God as He is would kill us! Making pictures of Him as He is not, is idolatry! What can we do? Thankfully it is by hearing that the Spirit brings divine truth to mind directly, in ways that go beyond all that we could know by sight. We can learn of God and without falling into idolatry!
One day, we shall most surely see Jesus as he is. Until then, we must be content to hear [and know] him as he speaks in the Bible, and as he is opened to our minds by the work of his Holy Spirit. This is an unquantifiable privilege and one which through our own words and resources we have the honour of sharing. If God has condescended to speak to you concerning His Son, do not despise Him.