The Peace of "Hearing" God
The Hebrew word shema is translated “listen” or “hear,” as in “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). As is often the case, this Hebrew word packs more punch than its English equivalent. Instead of merely referring to perceiving sound through our ears, it also means perceiving sound through our hearts. But what does that mean? Simply that the word shema contains within it the idea that we have to understand and respond appropriately to the words our ears perceive.
Long story short, what this passage from Deuteronomy and many others in the Bible are saying when they use the word hear is “listen and obey.”(1) This is the winning combination that will bring more peace to our lives, even if what God asks is difficult. By living out this deeper meaning of shema, we will remain in God’s will, which is always the safest place to be.
Interestingly, this connection between hearing and obeying is also borne out in Latin. Wayne Muller tells of learning about this from his friend Henri Nouwen. “Henri,” he says, “insisted that the noise of our lives made us deaf, unable to hear when we are called, or from which direction. Henri said our lives have become absurd—because in the word absurd we find the Latin word surdus, which means deaf. In our spiritual life we need to listen to the God who constantly speaks but whom we seldom hear in our hurried deafness.”
Muller goes on to say, “Henri was fond of reminding me that the word obedient comes from the Latin word audire, which means ‘to listen.’ Henri believed that a spiritual life was a pilgrimage from absurdity to obedience—from deafness to listening.”(2)
1. An excellent discussion of the meaning and significance of shema can be found in Lois Tverberg, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 31–41.
2. Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (New York: Bantam, 1999), 84.
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