One of the most frustrating aspects of talking on the radio and posting articles on this blog is that I sometimes reach an insight (like understanding “man or other animals“) that strikes me as so profound that the insight should spread instantly “around the world”.
That never happens. I see an insight that I regard as profound. I try to express that insight as clearly as I can. I expect my expression of that insight to “go viral”. Nevertheless, only a handful of people seem to grasp that insight. It frustrates me. But it keeps me humble and I accept it.
For over 20 years, I’ve felt like Johnny Appleseed. I’ve felt “called” to scatter my various “apple seeds” (insights) around this country and even some remote parts of the world. It’s not my job to stick around to prune the young apple trees, or later harvest or even eat the new apples. My job is to collect, and then scatter, those “seeds”–that’s all.
I’m not alone in this (minor) frustration. I’d bet that everyone who reads blogs like mine on a regular basis is also frustrated by his (her) inability to communicate ideas and insights that he (she) believes to be important or even vital to friends, loved ones and even strangers. Mostly, when I try to communicate these purported “insights,” my listeners’ eyes glaze over in boredom or start to squint at me as if to say, “whut th’ hell is wrong with that guy?”
Over the years, I’ve come to believe that most people who don’t understand my alleged “insights” don’t fail to do so because they’re too ignorant to too unintelligent to understand. Instead, there’s something mysterious going on that prevents them from understanding.
I won’t flatter myself by claiming that my “insights” are necessarily true, valuable or definitely inspired by the Good LORD. Still, there are verses in the Bible that seem to parallel my (and your) frustration with trying to communicate “insights” to others. I’m particularly referring to Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15 which not only describe the “Parable of the Soils” but also explain the reason why some people didn’t understand what the Christ said: God didn’t want them to understand. They were prevented from understanding because they’d previously had opportunities to understand but chose to remain ignorant. Therefore, the Christ was going to make sure that they got what exactly they’d chosen (ignorance) and got it good n’ hard.
According to Matthew 13:3-8, the “Parable of the Soils” is:
“And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
• Matthew 13:9 tells us something strange:
“Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
At first glance, that text seems to include all of us because we all have ears. But, the having of “ears” is qualified by “to hear”. Sure, we all have “ears”–but apparently, not all of have “ears to hear” in the sense of “ears to understand“. Thus, some of us are blessed with an ability to “hear” and understand, while others are only able to “hear”.
One way to discern between those who merely “hear” and those who “hear” and understand may be seen in Matthew 13:8:
“But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.”
I.e., by planting one “apple seed,” you might produce a tree that produces 100, or 60 or 30 new “apples”.
Thus, by their fruit (or lack thereof) you shall know them. Those who hear, understand, and then (based on their understanding) cause even more “fruit” to come forth are seen to have “ears to hear”. Those, however, who have failed to bring forth more “fruit” are exposed as those who do not have “ears to hear”.
The “fruit” appears to be spreading the word of God and helping others to believe. If so, it may not be enough that you or I merely lead “godly” lifestyles. If we have “ears” to understand, we may be compelled by that understanding to “spread the Word”.
We can use this measure to not only judge whether others merely have “ears” or if they have the blessing of “ears to hear” and understand, but also to measure our own lives. It’s not only true that I can know others by their fruit, I can presumably even know myself by judging my “fruit”. Do I really hear (understand) or do I merely think I do? The answer might be found in discovering whether I have truly helped others to understand and then spread the Word.
More, the answer to whether I really do or don’t have “ears to hear” may be in an objective assessment of whether I have or have not “brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.”
In fact, I suspect that I might qualify as one “who has ears to hear” and understand, if I merely brought forth “twofold”. I.e., if I’m given ten “seeds” (insights) to plant and I succeed in merely causing those seeds to double in my own mind or perhaps in the minds of others, that may be sufficient to show that I am one who is blessed with “ears to hear”–and understand. My level of understanding might not be very large, but if I even brought forth a small increase, it might be enough to show (even to me) that I have “ears to hear” and understand.
But if I were given ten “seeds” and as a result of my “planting,” I only brought forth ten more seeds, it might be sufficient evidence to show that I do not have “ears to hear” and understand. There was no increase.
If I were given ten seeds (insights) and I only brought forth five “understandings,” that might be evidence that, try as I might, I’m only a pretender and am not blessed with “eyes to see” or “ears to hear”–and truly “understand”.
That principle might also apply to each of you. Does your level of understanding whatever you see or hear bring forth more fruit–more understanding–in yourself or others? Do you freely share the knowledge that you’ve been blessed to “hear,” receive and understand? Or do you retain your knowledge in a little locked box that’s not open to anyone else–unless they pay for whatever understanding you received freely and as a blessing?
Do you have eyes to see/understand and ears to hear/understand? If you try to answer that question Yes or No, you may be missing the point. The question can’t be answered Yes or No, but must be answered by showing evidence of the “fruit” that your (and my) understanding has brought forth in others.
It’s not enough to merely hear the Word and agree. It appears necessary to “do something” with the Word that brings forth “fruit” (understanding) in others. If you really “get it”. If you really hear, understand and receive the Word, then it appears possible that you can only demonstrate your understanding by helping to spread the Word.
• As to my frustration with my own limited ability to “spread the Word,” I’m somewhat comforted by Matthew 13:10-16:
“And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
“He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.”
Those who’ve refused to see/hear/understand in the past will be prevented from seeing/hearing/understanding the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” in the future. I don’t know that this prohibition is permanent. But it appears that if anyone who does not currently have ears to hear and understand, but nevertheless wants to understand in the future, must first expend much energy trying to see/hear/understand before he is blessed with a new capacity to “hear” and understand.
• Let’s assume that at least some of my articles on this blog (and some of the ideas you try to communicate to your friends and family) are conducive to spreading God’s word. If that were true, then the persistent inability to communicate our understanding to most people might be based less on our meager abilities to communicate and more on God’s limit on our readers’ or listeners’ ability to understand.
Do “they” not understand us because they have chosen to “close” their own eyes’ ability to “see”? Do “they” not understand us because “they” have chosen to “close” their own ears? Are they therefore prevented by God from understanding whatever you and I have to say?
It would sure be flattering if that were so. It might be seen as evidence that you and I are blessed by God with “eyes to see” and “ears to hear”. Based on that evidence, we might grow fairly vain in the conceit that we (the ones with “ears to hear”) were closer to God than them (the ones to whom it is “not given” to “know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”).
We’re the good ones who “understand,” right? They’re the bad ones who are prevented by God from understanding.
And, clearly, I understand a lot. I don’t understand diddly in comparison to God, of course, but in comparison to most other people, I understand a lot and I know it. According to the list of “Categories” on my blog, I’ve written close to 200 subjects. Anyone who can write on 200 subjects must be a real smarty-pants.
I’ve got a lot of understanding in my mind, but there’s still a problem.
“For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”
When the Christ talked about “understanding” he wasn’t talking about “book-larnin'” and being able to name all 50 state capitols. He wasn’t talking about all the “understanding” that you or I can cram into our minds. He was talking about whatever understanding you and I have in our hearts.
I have a lot of understanding in my mind. I can demonstrate that understanding. I can prove that understanding. I can make a long list of everything I understand. I even can use that list to convince myself and others that the understanding I have in my mind has brought forth some “fruit” (understanding) among those who read my articles or listen to my radio shows.
But I’m not at all sure that I can convince anyone (including me) that I have a lot “understanding” in my heart. Trying to make a list of all those things (if any) that I understand in my heart is challenging and extremely subjective.
I’m not sure that I or anyone else can really make a list of what we understand in our hearts. Even if that understanding is there in my or your “heart,” I’m not sure that it can be proven by a list. Such “heart-felt” understanding would seem to have more to do with our capacity for sympathy, empathy, and moral dedication to doing right rather than wrong than an objective statement of “known facts” retained in our minds.
More, at all times, our “heart-felt understanding” is subject to the temptation of doing wrong.
For example, Yes, I know in my heart that it’s wrong for me to sleep with my neighbor’s wife. . . but they already fight like cats and dogs . . . he’s a jerk . . . I know he’s out of town for the next week . . . and she’s lookin’ so damn hot! So maybe I could close my eyes and my ears to the knowledge of right and wrong that’s already in my heart and have some fun with wifey.
But if succumb to the temptation presented my neighbor’s hot wife, will I have closed my eyes and ears to the knowledge of right and wrong that’s already in my heart? By doing so, will I become one of “them” described in Matthew 13:15 whose “heart [not mind] is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them”?
Is the understanding that flows from “ears to hear” an understanding that can only you or I can “hear” in our own hearts? In our own consciences? In our “natural,” God-given awareness of right and wrong? Are the “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” not located on our heads, but in our hearts?
If so, Matthew 13 isn’t talking about an intellectual “understanding” that can reside in our minds. It’s talking about a moral understanding that we had from the beginning that was “written on our hearts”–but which, in many instances, we chose to ignore and not “see” or “hear”. Did we choose to ignore our consciences so that we might do wrong?
If we chose not to hear or see the moral understanding in our hearts (consciences) so that we could do wrong, did God remove whatever remaining capacity we might have had to “hear” and “see” our consciences? Were we thereby rendered conscienceless, morally blind and psychopathic? Once we’d lost our understanding of right and wrong, did we become terrifying in our efficiency, but also terrified by our own isolation and lack of consolation?
Is Matthew 13 less about the intellectual understanding in our minds and more about the moral understanding in our hearts?
I think the answer is yes.
If so, we’d best all drop the pretentious crap that we “understand” a lot of things in our minds and begin to explore whatever moral understanding we have in our hearts. It’s possible that the intellectual knowledge (even 200 categories’ worth) stored in our minds is meaningless while the moral knowledge we store in our hearts is invaluable.
If so, we should start to inventory whatever moral “fruits” we’ve produced in the hearts of others. Have we helped others to see into their own hearts and hear their own consciences? If so that may be the kind of “fruit” that the Christ declared in Matthew 13 to be evidence of those who truly have “eyes to see” and “ears to hear”.
The “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” referenced in Matthew 13 aren’t located on your head. They’re located in your heart.
The problem with the people who’ve closed their own eyes to knowledge is not that they dropped out of school in 8th grade or rejected an opportunity to go to college. The problem is that they’ve intentionally closed their eyes to the moral knowledge of right and wrong with which their were endowed by God. Because they closed their eyes and ears to their own consciences, God has closed their remaining ability to “see,” “hear” and understand the moral knowledge previously written in their hearts and left them with only the eyes and ears on their heads to “see” and “hear”.
I suspect that the result may be a sense of profound isolation.