Can you hear God’s voice?

“Pain is God’s microphone to a deaf world,” wrote C.S. Lewis. It seems that we often hear God’s voice in things that are painful to us rather than in things that bring joy and happiness. I often ponder why. It is not as if God is not speaking to us in all the events and circumstances of our lives. Mostly, I think, it is because we are not listening or open to hearing. It is only when things seem to go off the rails, when we have no place else to turn, that we attune our hearts to the voice of God.

Our Christian faith is that God speaks to us in all the events of our lives. The founder of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius Loyola, is associated with the phrase “finding God in all things”. For Ignatius – and many of the saints – there is no such thing as an experience in which God is not present. An event may be a secular one, but it always contains a message from God. It is our task to listen past the noise to hear what God is saying.

Jesus himself tells us that we are to “read the signs of the times” (Luke 12:56). Does this mean that we have to look at every event around us – social, economic, political and religious to understand the world we inhabit or hear what God is saying? When Jesus says we need to “read the signs of the times” the nuance is different: he is telling us to ask the question “What is God saying to me in this event?”

Many believers are asking “Where is God?” or “Why is God allowing this COVID pandemic among us?” Some people are suggesting that it is a punishment from God. These questions and claims say something about our understanding of the very nature of God. God does not cause COVID or AIDS or cancer or natural disasters or cyclones or any other such thing to teach us a lesson. However, God invites us to ask ourselves what God might be saying to us in these events – individually and corporately.

American poet, writer and theologian, Frederick Buechner says that God does not make events happen to move us in certain directions, like chess pieces. He says that events happen under their own steam as random as rain. “God is present in them not as their cause but as the one who even in the hardest and most hair-raising of them offers us the responsibility of that new life and healing which, I believe is what salvation is,” he says.

It is the work of the believer to seek God’s presence in joy and pain. We do this best when we cultivate a contemplative mind, a mind and heart that enters into deep thought and reflection, one that does not take things on face value and one that certainly does not allow social media to direct their ways of thinking.

The big challenge is to ask ourselves: What is God saying to me now, in this context? We might ask, together, what is God saying to us as a community of believers? If we choose to listen contemplatively, we might be pleasantly surprised by what we hear.

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church.

director@jesuitinstitute.org.za @rpollittsj
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