By Stephen W. Hiemstra
I sometimes joke that when we talk to God, secular people call that prayer, but when God talks to us, they call it psychosis. While Christians are accustomed to God answering prayer, one of the most astonishing attributes of God is that he listens. For example, in the Book of Judges we read:
“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand.” (Jdg 3:7-10)
Pattern in Judges
Brueggemann (2016, 59) records this pattern: “(1) doing evil, (2) angering YHWH enough to produce historical subjugation, (3) crying to the Lord in need, and (4) raising up a deliverer.” Crying out to the Lord may seem like a strange prayer, but the point is that God listens to people in their suffering, even when it is well-deserved. As the Apostle Paul writes: ”God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8)
Why does this hearing attribute of God astonish us? Well, if you do not believe that God exists or that he exists but is aloof (only transcendent), then God’s attentiveness comes as a complete surprise—why would an almighty God pay attention to an insignificant, little me? The short answer is that he loves you—enough to die for you—like a parent loves their child because you are created in his image.
God’s willingness to listen also denotes accountability, as we read:
“You shall not wrong a sojourner [immigrant] or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. If ever you take your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” (Exod 22:21-27)
Mistreating the immigrant, the widow, the orphan, or the poor can evoke the wrath of a listening and compassionate God. Note the penalty for mistreating widows and orphans—you will die by sword and your wives and children will suffer without you. Thus, we see that ignoring God does not imply that you can do anything that you want.
The pattern in the Book of Judges is especially interesting because we read: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jdg 17:6) This description might equally apply to our own times.
Modern Examples of Accountability?
Modern example of this accountability might be found in the life of Friedrich Nietzsche, who could described as the patron saint of postmodernism. Nietzche, the son of a pastor, philosophied that “God is dead,” which implied that the Christian foundations of Western morality no longer had any relevance (Hendricks 2018). His work served as the philosophical foundation of the Third Reiche in Germany and communism throughout the world. Both atheist regimes brought about enormous suffering particularly through the Second World War, but also through concentration camps and widespread starvation, even as we witness today in North Korea.1
Could the defeat of Nazi Germany (1945) and the collapse of communism with the fall fo the Berlin Wall (1989) be viewed as the wrath of God being poured out because of the suffering caused? Was Nietzche’s own insanity2 (1889) a random events?
Personally, I think that we serve a God who listens.
Brueggemann, Walter. 2016. Money and Possessions. Interpretation series. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Hendricks, Scotty. 2018. “God Is Dead: What Nietzsche Really Meant.” Online: http://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/what-nietzsche-really-meant-by-god-is-dead. Accessed: June 8.
McGrath, Alister. 2004. The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. New York: DoubleDay.
1 While some see atheism still on the march, Alister McGrath (2004, 1) dates the heyday of atheism from the fall of the Bastille (1789) to the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989).
A God Who Listens
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