One of the most common things people identify with God is that He isn’t deaf. That’s why people pray at all. We love the idea that God listens – even the sceptic might give it a try occasionally. God’s ability and willingness to listen is one of the most endearing facets of His character as revealed in the Bible. But it’s also one of the most confronting at times. That’s because God listens to everybody’s prayers to Him, even those we don’t want Him to.
I once heard a missionary from Ethiopia say that poverty actually had very little to do with money – it had to do with nobody listening to you. Money is just one mechanism among many we have for getting people to listen to us. In some cultures, certain people who don’t have money at all are certainly not poor. If you have the cash, a gun, or the presidential seal, people might disagree, but they’ll listen. But without them, your voice is worthless. And then, you’re poor.
The thing is, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that God does listen to the poor, and especially because nobody else will listen to them. God actually said that the central Old Testament redemption story, the Israelites’ rescue from Egyptian slavery, occurred because “I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers.”(Exo 3:7) Some quasi-historians ridicule the Exodus story, because there is no evidence of the Israelites ever being in Egypt. Real historians know there wouldn’t be any evidence – the slaves were too worthless for everybody to listen to them. Everybody was too busy listening to the Egyptians. But God listened. And soon the Egyptians had to listen.
God even listens to dead people, who we usually don’t think say much at all. When Cain killed his brother, then tried to deny it, God said, “Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”(Gen 4:10) Cain had tried to shut his brother up, permanently. But God listened. And then Cain had to listen.
This is one of those things we admire about God, that He listens to all those poor ol’ poor… until we realise that there are actually poor in our midst. We didn’t notice, of course, because well, we weren’t listening. We figure they’re not worth listening to. They’re worthless. But God listens – precisely because nobody else hears, He listens. And then we’ll have to listen.
I think this is an aspect lost on both sides of the abortion debate, for example. Some people argue so much about what God says with His mouth, they forget what He’s doing with His ears. In the debate, one major demographic involved in it doesn’t really get to have a say. They can’t speak, you see. They never make a sound. They are, undoubtedly, poor. Sometimes we tell ourselves they’re not actually human, anyway, and so wouldn’t have anything constructive to add to the conversation. They’re worthless. But despite the fact we think they can’t speak – no, precisely because of the fact we think they can’t speak – maybe, just maybe, God listens. He’s heard the dead before. And then the living had to listen.
Mind you, on the other hand, sometimes the protesters’ shrill screams at a 15 year-old girl walking into clinics drowns out her voice, too. I wonder what she’d say? We can’t ask her parents, since she’s too terrified to tell them. We can’t ask her boyfriend, since he’s too busy making jokes about her with his friends. We can’t ask her school, because the PTA got her expelled because of her “bad influence” (the boy can stay). She is, undoubtedly, poor. In fact, she feels worthless.
What about her church? I guess if they’d listened – not lectured, just listened, the way God listens – she might not feel the need to be going to the clinic anyway. I suspect that the other teenage mum, who still stayed at the church down the road, found people there listened to her. In fact, I suspect she’d be able to tell us that when they listened, it was the first step to her realising God listened too… and that listening was priceless.