“LISTEN, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your might.” -Deuteronomy 6:4-5
“I’ll believe it when I see it.” These were the words spoken by countless Washington Nationals fans after their team lost game #5 of the World Series this past fall. Despite a strong start, they were now down 3-2 in the series to the Astros. Nobody thought a win was possible, especially since games 6 and 7 would be on the road. But then, with millions of fans watching, the away team broke all the records and batted their way to clinch games 6 and 7, winning the first baseball championship for DC since 1924. The next morning, many people tuned into ESPN, shocked to hear the final score. They had to watch the highlight reel for themselves. Then, they could believe.
After all, seeing is believing. Or is it?
One of the most important words in the Hebrew Scriptures is the word shema. It’s also one of the least understood. It appears in the opening section of the book of Deuteronomy, which is a collection of speeches thousands of years old, attributed to Moses before the next generation of Israel entered the Promised Land. Moses warns the Israelites because he doesn’t want them to repeat their parents’ mistakes, and he invites them to respond to God’s grace with obedience, love, and faithfulness. Shema takes on many meanings: to hear, to listen, to pay attention, to understand, to obey, to respond. Time and again, Moses tells the people, Shema: “listen, pay attention, hear what I am saying, hear what God is saying, listen to what he wants from us.” Following God has nothing to do with seeing and everything to do with listening.
Then why do we often emphasize seeing over listening? The twin foundations on which Western culture was built were ancient Greece and ancient Israel, which could not have been more different. Greece had a strongly visual culture, with its greatest achievements having to do with the eye, with seeing—such as art, sculpture, architecture, sports, and theater. To know was to see-- which remains the dominant metaphor in our Western culture today. We illustrate and illuminate, and when we understand something, we say, “I see.”
But Jewish thought offers a radical alternative: belief and understanding based on listening. Shema. We can have faith in a God we cannot see, but yet we can know, follow, and believe. We do this because it is words that link us. That’s how even if we live 2000 years after Jesus, we can still have a relationship with him. Listening, not seeing, lies at the very heart of relationship. It means that we are open to each other, even making ourselves vulnerable in doing so. To understand the depth of any relationship, between husband and wife, parent and child, or employer and employee, pay close attention to how they speak and listen to one another. Do they really know one another? Do they really care? It’s in their listening.
Your relationship is in your listening.
When you are unsure of God, unsure of what he is doing, rely less on your eyes and more on your ears. When a relationship is strained or needs care or repair, rely less on explaining and more on shema— and listen. Really listen.
Crowds may be moved by great speakers and actors, but lives are usually changed by great listeners.
Especially when God is speaking.
Are you listening?