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 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.