Our blog this week is written by John White, one of the members of the Accessible Prophecy team.
You know the scenario. You have just used your smartphone; you put it down; you walk out of the room to make a cup of tea; you walk back into the room; and you cannot remember where you put your phone. I’ve just used it a minute ago. Where is it? Ridiculous!
Another scenario; you are driving down to Cornwall. After the tediously long M5, you have reached Exeter and join the A30. A dual carriageway that goes all the way down to Penzance, bypassing Okehampton, Launceston and Bodmin. But what’s this! Just north of Bodmin, the A30 becomes a single carriageway, which results in a massive back up of traffic going north and south. Everything was going really well until this massive traffic jam. Why is there a six-mile single-carriageway bottleneck in a very busy arterial dual carriageway? Ridiculous!
Now you may be thinking that these scenarios, which were my experience over the summer, reflect more on my forgetfulness and impatience. Yes, sadly, there are times when I go upstairs and forget why I have gone up in the first place. And, yes, I am the world’s most impatient person. I enjoy playing patience; but to be patient for an hour, a day, a week or whatever, that is just asking for the impossible!
It is absurd that I can mislay something so quickly. It is absurd that on a major highway, taking holidaymakers into Cornwall, there should be a six-mile bottleneck. I am feeling distinctly grumpy! Absurd!
This has set me thinking. Why ‘absurd’? What does the word really mean? Where does it come from?
Some of you may be familiar with Samuel Beckett’s play, ‘Waiting for Godot’. There is a line in the play –
“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful” Samuel Beckett, ‘Waiting for Godot’.
Here we are introduced to the absurdity of human life, where human existence is portrayed as meaningless or ridiculous.
The word ‘absurd’ has an interesting root. It comes from a Latin word, ‘absurdus’, consisting of ‘ab’, meaning ‘from’, and ‘surdus’, meaning ‘deaf’ or ‘inaudible’ or ‘indistinct’
So, the root of absurdity is inaudibility or indistinctness.
In George Bernard Shaw’s play ‘St Joan’, one of the characters asks Joan of Arc why the voice of God never speaks to him as she claims it speaks constantly to her.
“The voice speaks to you all the time,” she says. “You just fail to listen.”
One of the reasons why I think that God’s voice is inaudible or indistinct is that we are not attentive. We fail to listen to God.
The Bible shows us that God speaks: to Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden; to Abraham; to Moses; to the judges, David & the kings, to the prophets; through Jesus Christ to the disciples; to the early church; and finally to John on the island of Patmos in Revelation. God does speak, but he does so in a number of ways
Job 33:14 – “For God does speak – now one way, now another – though man may not perceive it.”
Let me just highlight some verses from the Bible …
Dt.6:4,5 – “Hear, O Israel: ‘The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
Here, at the very heart of the covenant relationship between God and his people, there is a requirement to hear God and to love God. Our listening to the voice of God becomes a pathway to our loving God.
Lk.10:39 – “She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.”
I can imagine Martha thinking that it was ridiculous that Mary was not helping her when Jesus came round. How absurd to sit and listen to Jesus, when she should be giving me a hand! Well, we must never let our ‘busyness’ take priority over listening to God.
Mk.9:7 – “Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’”
Peter had great plans to build three monuments to the Transfiguration experience. But God knew better. Monuments can only ever look backwards. Peter needed to listen to, and follow, Jesus.
Jn.10:3,4,27: “The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. … My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
I find this verse really encouraging and challenging at the same time. On the one hand, it is encouraging, because I am no longer my own, but Jesus’. On the other hand, it is challenging, because Jesus expects me to hear his voice. It is obvious, because in any relationship there is a belonging to each other and hearing each other
(Jn.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.”).
Apart from our lack of attentiveness, there are also times when God’s voice is inaudible or indistinct. I am wondering whether this silence has to do with ‘absurdity’. We so crowd our lives out that we leave no space for God to speak into our lives. Materially purposeful lives, but spiritually purposeless lives.
“Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.”
Isaiah is not speaking of moral darkness, but of a time of great difficulty, hardship or need. It is in then that we experience the sound of God’s silence. We feel that God has abandoned us, or at the very least has stopped speaking to us. The absurdity of the inaudibility of God’s voice? Or should it be the absurdity of our ‘busyness’ and inattentiveness to hear the voice God?
When we are very busy and not spending time listening to God, we can be tempted to run ahead of God. As Isaiah puts it, we can create our own light, instead of waiting for God’s light.
When I am too busy for God, when I am inattentive to his voice, when I am spiritually dull, I know that I am deadly. Knives that are dull, or blunt, are deadly and dangerous to use. Knives need to be sharp to be effective. I am only ever truly sharp when I am alive to God’s voice. The answer to my spiritual dullness is to be attentive to the voice of God.
The danger of living a spiritually absurd life, inattentive to the voice of God, is that I begin to live in the ‘what was’, living out of memories, living off yesterday’s fruit. I don’t want to remain in the ‘what was’. I want to live in the ‘what will be’, because it means that I am moving forwards. Movements, by definition, move forwards. ‘What will be’ takes me forwards into a better future. Monuments, by definition, look back to a past season of ‘what was’, going nowhere and gathering dust.
If absurdity is all about the inaudibility of God’s voice, then my second word, ‘obedience’ is about listening. The Latin verb ‘obaudire’, “to listen”, is the origin of the English word ‘obedience’. Listening is a form of obedience. We can be very selective in our listening, in our obedience. But selective obedience is not obedience; it is convenience.
I am reminded of that strange incident in 2 Kings 13:14-19, when the king only struck the ground three times and then stopped. Elisha was angry with him, because he should have struck the ground five or six times for complete victory.
Is there a correlation between striking the ground and complete victory, or is this about the king’s disobedience? Perhaps, Elisha told him to strike the ground five or six times, but he decided to limit it to three strikes. Was he disobedient, or afraid of looking foolish, or did he think that he knew best?
Listening to God requires our obedience. It means letting go of what we think we know best. It means not being afraid of looking foolish. The more we know God, the more we will recognise his voice, the more we will listen to him, the more we will obey him.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
In my heart, I want to live a life where I can explore, dream and discover all of God’s plans and purposes for me. But to do that, I need to be spiritually alive, not living a dull or absurd life inaudible to the voice of God.
In closing, I am reminded of Song of Solomon 2:14-15 –
“O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.”
So when I am in absurd situations, or when I have made absurd choices, when I have failed to listen obediently to the voice of God, then I need to cry out to God to see his face, to hear his voice, and to repent of my sins (those little foxes) that spoil my relationship with him.
Hebrews 3:7 –
“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice”.
Today, I am saying yes to obedience and no to absurdity.
Now, where did I put my phone?