Friday, October 14, 2005

The Power of Crying Out, (Does God need to literally hear our voices?) part 6

There are basically two reasons Gothard gives for why he thinks audible prayer is more effective than silent prayer. First, God can hear audible prayer, and second, spoken words have power.

In chapter 2, Gothard developes his case that "God actually hears us" (p. 22) and he apparently means that in the most wooden literal sense. He cites scripture after scripture showing that when people used their voices, God heard them. The implication is that God literally heard them because they literally made sounds with their voices. On page 18, he asks, "Do you ever wonder why some of your prayers don't seem to reach 'the ears of God'?" The implication is that our prayers don't reach the 'ears of God' because we aren't praying audibly. Notice the use of italics to emphasize his points when he quotes Daniel 9:17-19:
Now therefore, our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications....O my God, incline your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name....O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name.
Another example is Psalm 18:6, which says, "In my distress I called upon the LORD and cried to my God for help; he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry for help before him came into his ears."

Since God doesn't literally have ears, it's obvious that this passage is figurative. To hear somebody doesn't mean to literally perceive audible sounds. Since God is all-knowing, he knows everything everybody is saying, and yet the Bible tells us there are occasions when God does not hear prayers (Isaiah 59:2). Obviously, then "to hear" means to respond or to be moved to action, not to perceive sounds. This same sense of "hearing" is used in John 8:45,47 where Jesus said, "But because I speak the truth, you do not believe me....He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God." In this context, the crowd had no problem literally hearing what Jesus was saying. But they could not accept what he was saying as true. It is in that sense that Jesus said they do not hear the words of God. Jesus also uses this same sense of "hearing" in John 10:27 when he says, "My sheep hear my voice." Obviously, everybody can literally hear Jesus' voice during his ministry, but only his sheep are able to believe and respond to it. That includes you and me. We never even literally hear the voice of Jesus, and yet because we are his sheep, we hear his voice in the sense that we recognize that Jesus is our Lord, and we follow him.

to be continued...
Part 7


At 10/14/2005 7:55 AM , Blogger Jeff said...

You only mentioned it quickly, but it seems to me to be an absolute defeater of this concept: God is not physical and has no ears. He cannot physically experience sound waves.

I suppose it could be that God equally perceives both spoken and non-spoken prayers, yet has prescribed the spoken form for some reason unknown to us. But then it should be demonstrable via Scripture that He has explicitly prescribed verbal prayer. (which he hasn't, and I think you've previously established).

Next on tap should be the question of whether verbal words have their own spiritual power?

At 10/14/2005 9:36 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Jeff, you bring up something I've always wondered. I think I mentioned this on a previous blog, but I don't remember where. We all have instruments with which we perceive the world around us. We have eyes to see and ears to hear, etc. These instruments work by picking up physical stuff in the world and converting it to a signal that gets sent to the brain, and then the brain presents it to the mind. What I've always wondered is whether a disembodies soul is able to perceive the external world at all. Without an ear, is it possible to hear sounds? Without eyes, is it possible to see things? If we do perceive physical things when we are disembodied, what is it like to perceive them? Do we perceive them the same way we would if we had bodies? How does God perceive them? This, I don't know about. But even if God doesn't experience sound waves the same way we do with ears, that doesn't necessarily mean that he doesn't perceive sound waves in some other way. Surely he at least knows about the sound waves, even if he doesn't literally hear them the way we do.

At 10/14/2005 11:29 AM , Blogger Jeff said...

Yes, perhaps I rushed to judgement. He does not physically perceive them, yet he may still perceive physical phenomena (otherwise how could He be omniscient?)
Simply because there is a distinction between the physical and spiritual does not mean they don't affect each other.

Your example of disembodied souls is an important one. I think there is very strong anecdotal evidence that disembodied souls perceive the physical world. (near death experiences).

It's not necessary, but possible that God perceives/experiences absolutely nothing but simply has perfect and eternal brute knowledge of it...well maybe it is necessary, not just possible. Otherwise God would be, in some sense, mutable. This would give the process theologians a hand-hold.

Maybe God senses nothing about this physical world, but rather everything that ever is, first originated in His mind, and that perfect foreknowledge is all that's needed for Him to keep tabs on absolutely everything, apart from any sensory input.

The more I think about this, the more I think it's mandated by the doctrine of immutability. Consider 2 states: the state of having perceived an event (state B), and the state of not having perceived the event (state A). Moving from state A to state B constitutes a change, even if only a cognitive one. If God ever moved from state A to state B, that would be a change in God.

At 10/14/2005 12:23 PM , Blogger daleliop said...


I think you're talking about the Aug 25 post (What's it like being a disembodied spirit?)during your series on substance dualism.


That could constitute as a change in God, but I don't think that would make God essentially change. By that logic, every time we think, our minds change, and we cease being the same person. Also, I think that would mean God could do absolutely nothing, because by doing anything at all He would 'change' and not be God.

Some would argue that when a person (or God) thinks, their mind doesn't cease being the same mind in the same way that if I chew some gum and spit it out, the gum I spit out is the same piece of "gum", just in a different form.

Maybe when we say "God doesn't change" or is "immutable", we only mean God's identity never changes (God will always be God) but it doesn't mean He can't change states and interact with the Universe. Or else everytime God talks, ordains, or manipulates the world, God is "changing" and is no longer God.

At 10/14/2005 1:52 PM , Blogger Jeff said...

Dale, that's a great point. Immutability must be defined carefully and need not include every comprehendable change.
However, I do think that it can be argued that thoughts can be said to change us. Using a human analogy, if we change our thinking then we will often change our behavior since it is an expression of our thinking.
There's no physical change of course, in fact that's an argument for the immaterial. But I degress.

We can be certain that God exists outside of time and as such, any interaction he has with this universe can't be said to be temporal to Him. So I do support the idea that God interacts with the world, yet His immutability is maintained. But the fact that He's outside of time can be appealed to here rather than simply defining immutability to include less attributes of being.

In God's experience, it may be that there is only one eternal moment and no passage of time, hence immutability is ensured.

yet, that line of reasoning doesn't support my thesis that audible hearing would constitute immutability does it?

So now I've gone in a big circle.

At 10/14/2005 6:43 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

I'm not sure what I think about God being in our out of time. Jeff, what do you think about this post?

At 10/14/2005 8:33 PM , Blogger Steve said...

interesting post.

I dont think a thing or person or god can have the same kind of linear consciousness we have if they exist outside of time.

what does the world or existence look like outside of time? I dont think there's an absolute answer to that because its beyond our capability to test.

At 10/17/2005 7:37 AM , Blogger Jeff said...

Sam, I can't say that I've worked it out entirely but I do have a few points to throw out. I placed this here, rather than on that other post because this one is more timely (for the benefit of other readers).

1) Many great theologians from way back have postulated the timelessness of God as being necessary philosophically. (I think). Are you familiar with the historical context on this?

2) It seems mandated by the immutability doctrine.

3) Are you saying that God did not create time itself? That idea seems refuted by physics which tells us that time was created when the universe was created.

4) Your linked blog entry seems to make a false dichotomy. You seem to be saying that if God is outside of time, and by extension that all 'time' always existed in God's frame of reference that we end up with a logical contradiction.

I don't think this would necessarily follow. For one thing, if you are talking about a type of problem such as the infinite regress then you'd have to make your case on that one. Just to say that in God's timelessness that the universe always exists..I don't see how that is a problem. In fact it actually answers a lot of questions of omniscience and immutability.

On the other hand, there is the possibility that God can experience time, but his time is 1, 2, or 3 dimensional rather than 1/2 dimensional like it is for us.

I mean, doesn't this actually answer the tough question: why, after eternity past, did God finally decide to create the Universe when He did? Now that question gives us an infinite regress, so it's obviously erroneous reasoning. If God never didn't create us, never 'decided' to 'finally' create, then we don't have to postulate that God either 'changed' in some way, thereby triggering creation, nor that there was a past infinite regress.

At 10/17/2005 8:39 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


Good morning.

1. I know that a lot of theologians (maybe the majority) have thought of God is existing outside of time, but I don't know the history of the idea.

2. I can see how you could infer it from the immutability doctrine, but not everybody sees a conflict. When the Bible says that God is changeless, it doesn't have to mean that God never does anything in time. It could simply be referring to his character and his divine nature.

3. I'm not saying anything, because I don't know what I ought to say. But there are some people who say God entered time simultaneously with his creation of it. So "prior" to time, God existed timelessly. William Lane Craig takes this position, I think. Have you read his book, God, Time, and Eternity?

4. I don't think I was asserting a logical contradiction. I was just puzzling over what it meant for God to have created the universe if, from his point of view, there was never a time when the universe didn't exist. If the universe has always existed from his point of view, then I would agree that answers a lot of questions about his omniscience and immutability, but it still leaves the question of "creation" unanswered, which is the question I raised.

On the other hand, there is the possibility that God can experience time, but his time is 1, 2, or 3 dimensional rather than 1/2 dimensional like it is for us.

I don't know what you mean here.

I agree that your idea does answer the question of why God "decided" to create the universe when he did rather than sooner. But that's not the question I raised. Besides, that isn't the only possible way to answer the question of why God decided to create the universe when he did. If God created time simultaneously with the universe, then there was never any waiting at all, since there was no time prior to time. God simply purposed timelessly to create the universe in time.


At 10/18/2005 10:19 PM , Blogger cellisangel said...

Sam, going back to your original post -- you make an interesting point regarding the connotation of the word "hear" in the Old and New Testaments, but you should tread carefully there. What we now read as "hear" in English were actually two different words in two different languages, and although many argue that "shema" - the Hebrew word for "hear" - implies "hear and obey" - I don't think there's really conclusive evidence that this was consistently the case, although it's convenient for certain communities' purposes to interpret it as such. In the Shema, for example ("Hear, O Israel, the LOrd your God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength..."), it is useful to interpret hear as "hear and obey." But when the scripture speaks of people asking God to hear them, as in the examples you quoted, well, then, we don't interpret hear as "hear and obey," even though the same word is usually being used. I'm sure that there are similar inconsistencies in the translation and interpretation of the Greek of the New Testament.

At 10/18/2005 11:22 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I think "hear" captures the meaning in both cases, because in English, when we tell somebody to "hear" us, we mean "listen to me" and "Please do what I'm telling (or asking) you." It means the same thing when God says it to the Israelites as it does when the Israelites say it to God. Now of course it carries more authority when God says it to the Israelites than when the Israelites say it to God, but in both cases, it's a plea to act. That's my only point. In neither case does it mean to literally hear sounds. That would make no sense in either case. Why would you ask somebody to literally hear sounds? They couldn't comply unless they already DID literally hear sounds. They'd have to literally hear you say "hear." If Gothard is right about God needing to literally hear their voices, then it makes no sense for them to plea with God to encline his ear and hear. He'd have to already have his ear enclined to hear before he could even apprehend that request.


At 10/19/2005 2:04 AM , Blogger Jeff Travis Henderson said...

I was actually planning on doing a podcast on the same topic (God and Time). I'll probably have that up by Friday.

Basically I think referring to something as being "in" or "outside" of time kind of leads us astray because that makes it seem like time is something that has some sort of existence. Really I think it is safe to say that in reality there is always a certain state of affairs and if that state of affairs changes in any way, then we say time has passed. Not because time is something itself, but because it a useful way to describe the change in reality. If this is the case, I don't even know what it would mean for God to exist outside of time.

At 10/20/2005 9:03 PM , Blogger cellisangel said...

Well said, Sam. I guess I can't disagree with that.

At 10/21/2005 2:37 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

I wish you had a blog, Angie. I'd haunt your blog all the time.

At 10/21/2005 2:45 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I think I would have to agree that time isn't something that exists in the same sense that a pencil exists. It's not some substance out there. But on the other hand, it is very real, so it exists in some sense.

There are some people who say that time could not have existed before there were events, because time is defined as the changing of states of affairs. I don't agree with that. Change may be how we know about time, but it isn't what time is. In fact, instead of saying change is necessary for time, I would say time is necessary for change. So I'm not completely comfortable with the idea that time is a created thing at all.

Of course William Lane Craig, in his kalam cosmological argument, makes some pretty strong arguments that time could not have always existed--that it did have a beginning. I suppose my problem is really conceptual. I just have a hard time conceptualizing the absense of time, especially in regard to a personal being. But I guess whether I can conceptualize it or not has little relevance. There's nothing logically incoherent about it, so I must grant that timelessness is possible.



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