Vol. XVIII, No. 6
Tuning to the Right Frequency
by Donald DeMarco
According to Ignatius, the third Bishop of Antioch (born in Syria around the year 50 AD), God devised three speeches for our benefit: Creation, Scripture, and Incarnation. Hence, God is not silent. However, if we are to hear any of these divinely originated “speeches,” we must be silent ourselves. Therefore, in order to achieve this receptive silence, we must shut out the interfering noise of the world.
In God’s first speech, Creation, He is not speaking to us directly. He speaks indirectly to us through the “speech of things.” Plants and animals speak to us in their own variously restricted capacities as God silences Himself. Human beings can turn a deaf ear to this speech and hear not “speech” but the mere sounds of nature.
In the second speech of God, Scripture, God speaks to us in ways that we commonly understand as speech. This is speech in the verbal sense. For Ignatius of Antioch, the proper response to the first speech is “mystical silence.” Our proper response to the second speech is our “yes” that “echoes” and affirms the mind of God.
The Incarnation gives flesh to the Word. It is the fullness or culmination of God’s speaking. It answers man’s deepest hunger. As the Word of God, Jesus Christ personifies the fulfillment of Creation. In this way, the third speech is directed to the heart of man, not just to his senses or to his intellect.
Each of these three speeches are forms of communication, though in ascending order: the first elicits reverence; the second, obedience; the third, love. The lower prepare the way for the higher. It is as if God wants to speak to us in stages, with increasing clarity and with greater directness.
For many in the modern world, being deaf to the “speeches” of God results in no longer believing in His existence, and consequently directing our inherently religious capacity for belief to the world itself. We currently witness this phenomenon on all three levels.
Scientists begin their investigations by reducing “Creation” to “nature.” This reduction essentially removes the Creator from His own act of Creation. Those who want to uphold this separation of God from Creation are most outspoken and are warmly welcomed by the major media. Richard Dawkins, a best-selling author (The Blind Watchmaker; The God Delusion), has stated that the universe described by biology “has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
Daniel Dennett, an American philosopher, concludes: “Love it or hate it, phenomena like [DNA] exhibit the heart of the power of the Darwinian idea. An impersonal, unreflective, robotic, mindless scrap of molecular machinery is the ultimate basis of all agency, and hence meaning, and hence consciousness, in the universe” (Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon; Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life).
Scripture, in the eyes of the modern world, has been reduced to a collection of historical texts that are no longer relevant to man. Some of these texts are now widely regarded as offensive and discriminatory. In fact, preaching from or even citing certain passages in Scripture can result in heavy fines and being socially ostracized. For many scholars, Scripture must be re-interpreted, revised, dismissed, or de-constructed.
Finally, Christianity itself, which is based on the Incarnation, is attacked throughout the world. Many view Christians as intolerant, narrow, and attempting to impose their views on others. Christianity is reduced to just another religion, but one that is becoming more and more outmoded in an increasingly pluralistic world.
On the cover of Teresa Tomeo’s book Noise: How Our Media-Saturated Culture Dominates Lives and Dismantles Families, the author cites a most thought-provoking remark of Pope Benedict XVI: “We are no longer able to hear God. There are too many different frequencies filling our ears.”
We may associate “frequencies” with radio waves. A radio is able to pick up frequencies, but usually one at a time. “Jamming” occurs when more than one signal is transmitted at the same frequency (or wavelength) resulting in the inability to hear or discern whatever is being transmitted. Josef Piper remarks, in his book The Four Cardinal Virtues, that “Intemperance is enkindled above all by the seductive glamour of the stimuli provided in an artificial civilization, with which the dishonorable team of blind lust and calculated greed surround the province of sexuality.”
The frequencies or stimuli coming from our “artificial civilization” not only cause “jamming,” but also deafen our ears to the three levels of God’s speeches. This is a problem that is as old as humanity.
Saint Thomas Aquinas maintained that “There is not much sinning because of natural desires… But the stimuli of desire which man’s cunning has devised are something else, and for the sake of these one sins very much.”
Nonetheless, this perennial problem seems greatly exacerbated in today’s world by our artificial civilization in which people are bombarded on an hourly basis by commercial advertising, to offer but one example, an agency that stimulates lust and greed while directing its prey toward desirable consumer items. A myriad of worldly frequencies make it exceedingly difficult for people to clear their heads and be disposed to hear the Word of God.
Aquinas expressed his preference for studying Creation and Scripture because they are two sources of knowledge that cannot lie. We are well advised to turn our ears to God’s frequencies, which are Creation, Scripture, and the Incarnation. The messages conveyed through these frequencies or “speeches,” in the terminology of Ignatius of Antioch, calm rather than agitate, nourish rather than inflame, direct rather than mislead. And there can be no question of “jamming” since God speaks with one consistent voice.
Our world of deception need not prevent us from hearing God’s voice. But we must first turn away from the distracting frequencies that can fill our ears and close our hearts.
Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. He is a senior fellow of Human Life International, and some of his recent writings may be found at HLI America’s Truth and Charity Forum (www.hli america.org/truth-and-charity-forum/).