Preparing Oneself to Hear God’s Word in Scriptures

This blog continues the series dealing with the Bible and scriptural issues.  It began with the 1st blog:  Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury.  The immediately preceding blog is Reading the Bible: A Christocentric Approach.

In this blog we consider the reading of Scriptures, not as an evangelical tool to convert others to the faith, but how a believer prepares to receive God’s revelation through His Word.

Habakkuk vigilantly listening

“The primary organ for receiving God’s revelation is not the eye that sees but the ear that hears—which means that ll of our reading of Scripture must develop into a hearing of the word of God.” (Eugene Peterson, EAT THIS BOOK, p 92)

We who live in literary cultures tend to ignore the close connection those in biblical times (and the ancient world as a whole) made between listening/hearing and the Word of God.   The Word of God was something proclaimed in the communal assemblies.  In the ancient world when one read a text, one recited the words aloud.  We read reports from the ancients of those who are very disquieted when they first see someone reading silently to themselves.  The Word was meant to be read aloud and that is how it was to be apprehended by hearing it.  We continue in Orthodoxy to say in the liturgy, “Let us listen to the Holy Gospel” not “Let each reach the bible to and for himself or herself.”

Keep in mind the image of the Virgin Mary who became pregnant with the Word by listening to the voice of the Archangel. 

To hear, she first had to be humble enough to listen to God’s Word.

“When reading the Holy Scriptures, he who is humble and engaged in spiritual work will apply everything to himself and not to someone else.” ( St. Mark the Ascetic, THE PHILOKALIA  Vol 1, p 110)

The humble believer is ever looking to understand what God wants of them.  The believer is not listening to the Word of God in order to attack the beliefs of others or to accuse others of sin, but to first allow his or her own life to be shaped by God’s teachings.  Again, think of Mary’s response to the Good News; it was to agree to be God’s instrument of salvation, not His voice of condemnation.

“What are the requirements for the searching of the Scriptures, and for true knowledge of them?  An honorable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is of Christ.  For the intellect must apply this to guide its path and then it shall be able to attain to what it desires, and to comprehend it, insofar as it is possible for a human nature to learn of things concerning the Word of God.  But, without a pure mind and the modeling of one’s life after the saints, a person could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints. “  (St. Athanasius in SACRED TEXT AND INTERPRETATION, pp 309-310)

The reading of Scripture is closely aligned with the seeing of those who are good examples of believers: the Saints.  The saint is an icon of one who allows God’s Word to dwell in his/her heart and who bears the fruit of this indwelling of God within oneself.   We hear the Word in order to obey, to bear fruit, to be an example to others who can then themselves listen to God and know how to obey by observing the behavior of the saints who model holiness to the world.

“Reading the Scriptures is not an activity discrete from living the gospel but one integral to it.  It means letting Another have a say in everything we are saying and doing.  It is as easy as that.  And as hard.” (Eugene Peterson, EAT THIS BOOK, p XII)

Hearing God’s Word in Scriptures is accomplished when we allow the One Who Speaks (God!) to work in our hearts, minds and lives.  We begin to enact what the God of love is attempting to do for the salvation of the world.  We become agents of God’s love, and work for the salvation of the world, not just for the destruction of sinners.

“The Orthodox ascetic brings to light the relativity of our thinking in another way… He does not put his trust in his own feeble judgment but in Almighty God.  He believes that Christ’s commandments are the infallible touchstone, a canon of truth … This belief stands him on perpetual trial before the Judgment Seat of God, the only true bar of justice.  Every deed, every word, every thought or feeling, though given no outward expression, is submitted to the crucible of Christ’s word.”  (SILOUAN THE ANTHONITE, pp 164-165)

Rather than God’s work making us judgmental of others, we come to realize that it is exactly when we hear God’s Word that we ourselves are put on trial by God.  Being a Christian in this life consists not in judging unbelievers and sinners but in allowing Christ who is crucified to rule in our hearts.  It means we are to let Christ live in us: and in this union we join Christ on the cross for the salvation of the world.

Next:  Reading the Scriptures: Practical Ideas