The sound of God’s voice

In the readings for this Sunday’s liturgy, we see the power of God’s word. Psalm 95 is coupled with the response, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” In the recitation of the Divine Office, Psalm 95 is the usual invitatory prayer, that is, the opening to the day.  It invites us to listen for God’s word in our day, and to respond to it: through words (“Come let us sing to the Lord”), through action, and through relationship. It lays out a context for actively seeking to hear God in our everyday lives so that we can know and love God, and be responsively in loving relationship with others.

How do we know when we have heard the voice of God?

In the first reading, Moses says that a prophet will come who will speak for God in a mediated way, just as Moses has been doing. Moses reminded the people that they asked for a prophet, because the divine presence itself was too intense and terrifying to encounter directly. So God willingly sends prophets, human beings who speak for God. But how we do we know when a voice is of God, as opposed to merely human, or even opposed to God? For example, when we pray and wait for God’s response, we might experience a variety of thoughts, feelings, and interior movements.

The different readings for today each give a kind of a clue as to how to distinguish when we are hearing something that is ultimately from God and when what we hear is not. Moses says that those who speak on behalf of other gods will die. Perhaps in its original context this was to be understood more literally, but we can also understand it metaphorically: God’s word gives life whereas the words of false gods do not. God’s word encourages. God’s word enlivens and renews.

Psalm 95 describes a variety of responses to God’s word. When we hear God’s voice, we are not to harden our hearts. But this might also be flipped the other direction: the voice of God is that which naturally softens our hearts, making them more supple. When we hear God’s voice, we let down our defenses, and perhaps feel less anxious, whereas when we are especially “defended” or anxious, we know it is not God but our own psychodynamics that are the cause.

When we sense God’s presence, we also want to kneel before it (“bending the knee before the Lord our maker”); that is, we feel a sense of reverence. Many of us, when we feel close to God, often feel led to pray on our knees, out of a sense of loving reverence. Kneeling communicates a sense of adoration, receptivity, and a willingness to be obedient to whatever God has to say.

Psalm 95 also describes the joy that God’s word engenders, a joy that can even lead us to want to sing, whether aloud or in our hearts.

In the Gospel passage, we also see that Jesus’ words cast out “demons”: that is, Jesus heals. He brings peace and quiet where there has been disturbance or turmoil. In any situation that was once fraught with difficulty, but now settles down into a sense of peace and relief, God’s action has been present.

We also see through Jesus’ words that God’s word is effective: it has power, but that power is used not to build up Jesus himself, or even the Church. Rather, Jesus’ words heal ordinary people, ending illness and bringing an end to a variety of evils.

With these passages, we are encouraged to ask ourselves: where in the past week have we have heard the voice of God? Where have we felt healing, peace, or renewal? What words or experiences have led us to feel humbler, or even to want to get down on our knees out of a sense of reverence or wonder for God’s creative action? What brings us the kind of joy that might even make us want to sing?