“How Do You Hear the Voice of God?”
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Dr. Robert J. Anderson
March 22, 2015


The setting into which the prophet Jeremiah speaks God’s word is one of utter chaos and despair for the people of Israel.  All around them the covenant lays in ruins!  There were two great, visible signs of the covenant between the people of Israel and God.  One was the Temple and the other was the king.  The Babylonians destroyed the Temple and they carried off King Zedekiah in chains.  These were the two symbols of God’s covenantal fidelity.  The “people of God” lost their freedom prestige, power and security.  The “people of God” also lost God!  Or, at the very least they lost the assurance of his faithfulness.  This is where the people were!


The prophet comes into this reality and says that God’s covenantal integrity is intact.  God’s covenantal integrity is intact even in the midst of the disorder all around them and the desolation at every hand.  It isn’t God’s covenantal integrity in question, it is the people’s!  In spite of it all: the corrupt kings and priests, the injustice and exploitation, the idolatry, and all the ways the people have broken faith with God.  In spite of it all, God will not break with them!


When the people have every expectation of hearing another word of judgment, they hear an unbelievable promise!  God will bring newness out of destruction.  God will bring hope where there is no hope.  God will bring life out of death.  God will make a way where there is no way.


The law will no longer be engraved in stone and displayed; instead it will be written on hearts.  The law won’t be engraved on stone.  It will not be displayed on courthouse walls or in rotundas where everyone can see but none follow.  It will be written on the hearts of the people and they will not know about God--all the right words to say; all the right theology to believe.  They will not know about God, but they will know God in all the intimacy that word means.  There will be no more hierarchy with someone knowing more than another, no more classes of those who are uneducated and those who are; for everyone will know God.


This new covenant will be radically different from the old one, because God will help, God will help from within, to keep the covenant faithfully.  We simply don’t have the capacity keep the covenant.  We don’t have the tools in our toolbox to keep the covenant.  Cognition, volition, and temperament are not enough to keep the covenant.  We need help.  Sin which is the great moral problem for humankind isn’t cognitive it is the sinful will.  It is our will that needs motivated; not our mind.  We know the difference between right and wrong; we need motivated to do it.  The will of humanity will be because of what God does.  God will write the capacity for keeping the covenant on the people’s hearts.  The hope for this transformation lies in what God does in our hearts, rather than on our strength or hope of human perfection.


God now puts his law into our hearts.  Direction is no longer outside the people of God in the form of tablets to be read and not followed; to learn and not understand.  God puts his word in each of us.


So, how do we hear the voice of God?  What does God’s voice sound like? How does God sound? How does God speak to us?  Does God sound like thunder to some and to others like the voice of an angel?  The movies are full of people who we think sound like God (Morgan Freeman, George Burns).  But how does God really sound?  The very interesting thing about the verses in Luke is the two different ways people heard God’s voice.  The way these folks heard God was a cross between a quiet angel’s voice and a peal of thunder.  God’s voice was not what anyone expected. The consistent thing was how unexpected God sounds.


We know that Jesus actually heard God’s voice.  Others heard things differently.  Some of the people heard a noise.  Some thought the noise was thunder.  The other guess of the folks that were there was that it was an angel. To many this meant God’s voice was a distinct quiet voice.


What you and I know is that we really can hear God’s voice in the words of Jesus.  It may not be like thunder, but God is really trying to tell us something; for he is the Word of God.  There is a hunger to hear God’s voice in our lives.  However there are many of us who stand waiting by the telephone with our ears at the ready and never hear the voice of God or only hear God’s voice once.


What kind of voice does God have?  Well the answer is more than one. Some hear God’s voice all the time; others hear God’s voice rarely.  Many have been converted to belief in God by the still small voice whom no wind, though it rose to a hurricane, no earthquake, though it rent the world to its center, and no fire, though it licked up the forests, could ever move. A gentle word has done it as in the case of Elijah.  Sometimes that still small voice has come to us by apparently very, very inadequate means.  It is astonishing what little things God will use when he pleases to do so.  He wanted to soften the heart of that rough prophet Jonah, and he sent a worm and a gourd, and they did it.  He would bring Peter to repentance, and he bade a cock to crow. It was a strange preacher, but it was as good as a dean of a cathedral to the Apostle.  Means may seem to be absolutely ridiculous, yet God makes use of the things that are not, as though they were.


There is the story of a man, a blasphemer, profane, an atheist, who was converted singularly by a sinful action of his.  He had written on a piece of paper, "God is nowhere," and bade his child read it, for he would make his child an atheist too.  And the child spelled it, "God is n-o-w h-e-r-e--God is now here."  It was a truth, instead of a lie, and the arrow pierced the man's own heart.


There is another story of one who had lived a life of gross iniquity who stepped into worship and found Christ there.  It was not the sermon that God blessed.  It was that the hymn, "Jesus, lover of my soul” was read.  Just those words touched his heart. "Jesus, lover of my soul," he said to himself. "Did Jesus love my soul? Then how is it that I could have lived as I have done?” and that word broke him down.


God works great results by little things.  A little hymn learned at the Sunday School is sung at home by a little child, and the heart of the father is softened by it.  One little sentence uttered by a friendly visitor reaches a mother's conscience and impresses her heart.  God can use the quiet of the evening, or the stillness of the night, or a flash of lightning, or a peal of thunder, or a dewdrop, or a little flower. God can use anything he wills to speak to anyone of us.


God will speak to you in many ways: the voice of a friend, a song or a hymn, a book or a movie, as you pray, when you read the scriptures in a quiet place.  When you read it reflectively and more that once thinking about what you read, when you open your heart for God to write his law upon it, you will know the voice of God when you hear it.  You will feel it deep within you that the direction you are given is from God.


Lent is a good time to listen to God.