“A God Who Speaks#”
by Jacques Guillet
If God really speaks to us, we must learn to listen to Him. What does “listening to God speak to us” mean?.
First of all, it means a basic attitude of receptivity, of attention — in other words, a constant readiness to set aside our viewpoints, our pet ideas and our personal convictions. Just as we learn to know others only by watching them act, listening to them talk and empathising with their joys and sufferings, so we hear God speak only when we are willing to forget our own habits.
Listening to God speak does not mean waiting for extraordinary signs, hoping to be brusquely seized by some impulsion or illuminated by a sudden revelation. God has endless ways of speaking to the human heart. Most often, He speaks to us through the events in our life, through the people we meet — provided we do not undergo these experiences passively. God speaks to us through our reactions: he gradually shows us in what respect they are limited or inadequate and in what respect they can have positive value. God speaks to us if we are alive; but living is not merely budging and manipulating people and things: it is also keeping still, listening, preparing ourselves.
Listening to God speak means also — and always — listening to Him speak in Scripture, especially in the gospels. And it means perpetually going through the word offered us in the Bible* and Christian tradition to the word received personally in the secret of our heart and the banality of daily life.
The Word of God presented in the Bible comes first — because it is the experience, not of an individual, but of a people forever watched over by God; and because, ultimately, it is the very experience of Jesus Christ, the one He inherited when He became man among the Israelites, the one He lived in the presence of His disciples and thus communicated to His Church.
Today, when all traditions , even the most ancient and solid, are severely shaken and called into question as people inquire into their destiny, their past and their future — today, more than ever, listening to the Word of God becomes a requisite for the Christian life, an indispensable basis for any kind of spiritual life. Not that we want to overlook human events by substituting the Word of God, but that on the contrary, The Word of God is never more human than in the Bible. Nowhere else is the wealth, the weight and the depth of human experience so densely concentrated. To deepen our knowledge of the Bible, to let ourselves be taught by the Scriptures, is both to learn the art of listening to God and to discover what humanity is.
Listening to God speak in the Scriptures means taking Him utterly seriously. If God speaks, it is because he has something to say , and woe to anyone who would disregard His Word! But listening to God attentively implies trying to understand what He wants to tell us through these books written by people. Understanding Scripture is not a matter of memorising every page of the Bible word for word, but of learning to move with ease through this vast world and explore this garden of wonders. That includes the ability to spot the large trees, the dominant features, as opposed to secondary planting and common vegetation. For there is no garden without all these things. On the other hand, we must not falsify the proportions.
Hearing God speak in Scripture means taking our own place in the Church. The Scriptures are addressed to the Church first, and it is in listening in to God speak to her that she has gathered and consecrated the Scriptures. To hear them within the Church is both to heed a voice which is not ours and comes from elsewhere, and to discover that, by listening within the Church, we train our ear and catch the Word of God more distinctly. The Church does not deliver the secret of the Scriptures to us by dint of explanations and elucidations. She listens and teaches us to hear. She looks and teaches us to see.
Learning to listen to God in Scripture means liberating ourselves from false conflicts, from pseudo fidelity to the letter-as-idol. But it also means tirelessly digging ever deeper, realising that even our closest attention will never have finished exploring this treasure. Just so, love keeps discovering the features of a face which is always new, always inexhaustible – the face of the Lord Jesus.
# First published 1979: Gill and Macmillan Ltd. This book is a very valuable treatment of how God speaks to humanity. The passage which follows is Part C of the Appendix to the above named book, and is subtitled “How All This Changes Our Life Today”. It deals particularly with the need for us to LISTEN if we are to hear what God is saying. This book is highly recommended.
* In this brilliant snippet from Jacques Guillet, the author alludes to our Jewish heritage in several mentions of “the Bible”, meaning of course, the Old Testament (as it is usually referred to) together with the New. Quite correctly he writes about — listening to God speak “especially in the gospels”. For it is there we encounter “Christ the Word” as He fulfills all prophecy pointing to His coming as Messiah.