I’ve watched the TV show The Voice a few times and the visual impact of the contestants singing to the backs of four large red chairs is quite powerful. In the Australian version of this franchised reality show, four judges are seated with their backs to aspiring singers, while they listen carefully to the performances of each contestant during a blind audition.
Throughout the auditions the judges must decide, simply on the sound of each voice, which contestants they will select to join their team and be coached by them for the duration of the contest. If the singer meets with their approval, the judges turn their chairs around to see the performer for the first time. If more than one judge turns their chair around it is then up to the performer to decide whose team they want to join.
The set for this show provides strong visual imagery and it caused me to think about how we listen to others. This set is a potent reminder of just how much our present culture is influenced by appearances. It is always interesting to watch the faces of the judges as they turn their chairs around and see just what the person they may be coaching looks like. The blind audition is also a powerful reminder to me of the way we judge the God who has revealed Himself to us from the beginning of time.
Many people sit in judgement with their backs to God, but they generally do not listen intently as these judges do. The Voice judges make it their business to listen carefully. However, more often than not, people pass judgement on God without ever taking the time to listen to Him. Instead, they listen to the audience’s opinion of God. Their attention is focused on what is in front of them, not on God.
Sadly, some people who actually do turn around and look at God don’t see what they want to see, so they give up and turn away again. They can’t make God into what they think He should be so they reject Him, without ever understanding His plan for humanity. Rather than taking the time to discover who God really is, they inform the God they claim they don’t believe exists that He doesn’t run His universe according to the way they believe it should be run. This attitude, although rather astounding when you really think about it, is becoming a very prominent part of our modern culture.
I could not count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “If there was a God how could he allow so much suffering?”
This is a fair question, but in reality the majority of the people who ask it are not really asking a question, they are telling us that the God they believe the Christian world is presenting is not someone they are interested in getting to know. The problem with this attitude is that the so-called “Christian world” is not God.
There have been many people throughout history who have presented themselves to the world as representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ, but they have quite clearly demonstrated by their actions that they are not in fact what they claim to be. John’s first letter (1 John) explains how Christians can discern true followers of Jesus Christ. We can know a person is a fellow believer by their ethics, by their declaration that Jesus is indeed God incarnate and by their love. Through the presence of these indicators we can clearly recognise a true believer.
The most famous of the great pretenders would have to be Adolf Hitler. Although at times he called himself a Christian, Hitler was actually anything but a Christian. In 1937 a number of Protestant churches issued a manifesto objecting to Nazi policies, and the Nazis retaliated by arresting 700 pastors. No matter what he claimed, the truth is that Hitler and his henchmen were actually set on destroying the Christian church.
Although history is littered with pretenders, it’s not difficult to make a list of people who have been remarkable Christians. Some have even changed the course of history. But these people are still simply that, they are people, and they had or have their faults and failings.
When Jesus walked the earth He gathered to Himself a small group of men and women who spent hours listening to Him. He then selected from amongst His apostles an even smaller group who would commit His teachings to writing. It was through the power of the Holy Spirit that this select group recorded God’s Word or personally passed on their knowledge to be recorded by a disciple. In due time the Father used another group of people to ensure these writings were preserved and collected together so that He can speak to us today and inform us of His plan for humanity. We will never understand why God has allowed suffering to be part of the human reality unless we learn to listen to Him through His Word.
God does not communicate to the people of the world with a loudspeaker. He tells us in His Word that He uses a calm, small voice or a gentle whisper to speak to us. When He was speaking with the prophet Elijah we find:
And God said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by and a great, strong wind tore the mountains and broke the rocks into pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. But after the fire there came a calm, small voice.
And when Elijah heard it he covered his face with his robe and went out and stood in the entrance to the cave. Now the voice came to him saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1Ki 19:11-13)
People have to listen intently to hear the voice of God speaking to them. Listening quietly is not something people do well these days. The world is filled with noise, but God is not to be found in all this noise. God has not been silent but people want Him to dance to their tune. However, God has chosen to communicate to us through His Word and we need the Holy Spirit to enable us to hear Him as we study His scriptures (2 Peter 1:20).
The viewing audience would not be impressed if the judges on The Voice simply listened to the audience and judged the aspiring competitors by what the audience thought. Nor would the judges be doing much of a job if they never actually listened to the competitors at all but just listened to what they were told about the performances. But this is often how people make up their minds about God.
When a person tells me they believe God is a masochistic, genocidal maniac, it is as though that person is sharing a degrading, slanderous story about someone they have never met, when the individual they are talking about is actually my best friend and I know the opinion of the gossip is all lies. It’s a sad situation that the majority of people who sit in judgment on the God of The Bible have never really taken the time to listen to Him, they simply listen to the audience’s opinion of God, and in reality, this opinion comes from other people who don’t know God.
Even people who know God can never know everything about Him. People will always be flawed and therefore there is no one who can truly reveal God apart from His Son. God had a reason for allowing people to become murders and terrorists, rapists and tyrants, but He has assured us that this situation will only endure for a season. He has revealed His program for change and His rescue plan for humanity and those who know Him also know He will bring pain and suffering to an end.
The incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ was the turning point in humanity’s sad history. Those of us who know Him know we will be with Him in eternity and this time of sorrows will be put into a new perspective. Jesus said this can be compared to how a new mother feels about her labour when her baby is in her arms (John 16:21). Our Father is birthing a whole new creation where the pain of this present world will pale into insignificance in the light of the glory ahead.
Without knowing Jesus we can never know God. This is the way God has chosen to reveal Himself to humanity. He sent His Son to show us His Way and make it possible for us to come into His presence. Through Jesus we have a mediator who can take us into the presence of our awesome Creator. Because He lived a human life Jesus understands our weaknesses and can help us through life’s difficulties. He is always knocking at our door asking to be allowed in. He says:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me. (Rev 3:20)
In this verse Jesus tells us that we must hear His voice; it is truly the only voice that will make any difference to us eternally. Our eternal destiny is dependent upon hearing this voice and it is virtually impossible to hear Him if we don’t take the time to listen to Him. From The Bible we know that Jesus is God’s Word or Logos (John1:1). This Greek word, Logos, means expression or communication and so we understand that Jesus is God’s expression in human form, it is through Him that we can hear God.
Many people who have refused to listen to God have a sort of twisted theology. In their view, the God of The Bible has done a terrible job by allowing pain and suffering into this present creation and they would rather not have anything to do with Him. This is a sort of negative theology. It’s the theology you have when you refuse to have a theology because you refuse to listen to the God you refuse to believe in.
I think of this as tantrum theology. I have an image of people standing before God on the Day of Judgment stamping their feet and yelling, “You did such a rotten job why should I have taken the time to listen to you?” And the Father will simply reply, “I died for you and constantly reached out to you, but you never ever took the time to listen to me. How could you possibly make such a judgment, you don’t know anything about me?”