triquetra symbolJohn 8:47: "He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."

Deuteronomy 31:13: "Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land . . . ."

Matthew 11:15: "He who has ears, let him hear."

Romans 10:17: "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ."

The Unique Qualities of Sound

What is interesting about these passages is that they each make a vital assumption; namely, that "to hear" a matter is to be convinced of it, even to obedience. Sound is intriguing, because unlike the other senses, it has an immediateness to it. Sound is more present than perhaps even sight. All it takes to block out a picture is to close your eyes. To stop hearing a symphony takes more than simply shutting your ears. You'll need earplugs or a sound-chamber. To hear a matter is to be more accountable to it, because it is more fully alive to us. Perhaps this is why Jesus says that "the one who belongs to God hears what God says." Faith requires a full awareness, an involvement, a rapt attention to the nuances of a matter. Obedience is a result of being fully grasped by the immediateness of the command.

Most of us learn as children how to speak fluidly and effortlessly, yet most of us have to work hard to learn to read and write. And even then, what we can easily pick up from hearing a voice, takes practice "to hear" as we read. To really understand a work of literature, we have to learn to hear the voice captured in the print before us, and when we read aloud, we discover new things about a work we might otherwise have missed reading silently.

The Oral Nature of Literature

The oral nature of literature reminds us that texts are about more than expressing themselves; they are about making claims on us. Hearing a human, artistic voice asks us to faithfully consider what we have encountered. Unlike God's voice that we hear and follow, we should not automatically obey the voice we hear in a literary text, but neither should we at first blush shut our ears to it, refusing to give it a reception. Rather we should practice an open discernment.

Central Insight: The oral nature of literature reminds us that texts seek to make claims on us and that those claims must be encountered in a spirit of relative openness.

Suggestions for Application: Show how a specific passage is better understood orally. Or recount your struggle to discern the meaning and intent of a passage.