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  • Writer's pictureRick LoPresti

The sounds of silence

In October of 1964, Simon and Garfunkel released a song entitled "The Sounds of Silence". Paul Simon wrote the lyrics while in the bathroom with the lights off to help him concentrate.

The lyrics are poetic and profound. There are different interpretations of them, usually involving a failure to communicate, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the shortcomings of government. A similar expression is words "falling on deaf ears". The lyrics start with the phrase, "Hello darkness my old friend. I've come to talk with you again." The song then speaks of a vision planted in the singer's brain. His dreams become restless as the silence continues and causes increasing tension in each verse until the silence becomes a cancer. Some interesting points in the lyrics are the correlations between sound and light (a streetlight, then a neon light), and the increasing tension caused by prolonged silence. Ironically, the song experienced its own sounds of silence and caused Simon and Garfunkel to break up. The song was not a hit when it first came out but became one later.

There are correlations between sound and sight which have implications in both the physical and spiritual worlds. Let us look first at the physical. Sound is actually air molecules pushing against each other forming waves. When they reach the ear, they cause vibrations which send signals to be interpreted by the brain so we can understand what they mean. There are the sound waves themselves, and there is also the interpretation of those waves which our brains make based in part on our past experiences with sound. Since there is no or very little atmosphere in outer space, there is nothing to make the waves for our ears to interpret. This reminds us of the famous question, "If a tree falls in the forest, and there is nobody there to hear it, does it still make a sound?". Of course, the answer is that the sound waves are still made. It is just that there is no person there with hearing ears to be impacted by them. If you place a recording device there and leave, the sound will still be recorded whether or not someone is there. This question is a philosophical exercise, not one of science.

We have five senses. They are designed by God to work together to give us information. However, some senses provide more information than others. Sight provides about 83%, then hearing with about 11%. Taste, smell, and touch surprisingly combine for only about 6%. While sight is the most prominent sense, and it works together with sound to provide the vast majority or our sensory information, let us focus here primarily on sound.

The human ear is miraculously designed by God for its unique purpose. It could not have evolved because it is too precise and complex to have worked before it allegedly evolved into what it currently is. Any creature with an evolving ear would be unable to hear and would be the first item on another creature's menu. It would thus be eliminated before it could evolve. That is besides many other issues such as DNA. We hear sound continually whether we are aware of it or not. There are constant sounds all around us and even from within our bodies. In the relative quiet of our homes, there are sounds. There is traffic outside, air conditioning and other equipment running, etc. We get used to these sounds and are not even consciously aware of them. Some people leave devices like the TV or radio on continually to have some background noise. There is "white noise" all the time. Most people are comfortable with 30-60 decibels of it. 28 decibels is considered a good amount of background noise for taking tests. I once lived on a busy street which included constant noise day and night. At first, it hindered sleep. After a while I got used to it and did not even notice it any more. I moved to a much quieter neighborhood where the opposite happened. I had to get used to the quiet and had trouble sleeping at first. I had not realized how used to the noise I was. When my wife and I were at the Grand Canyon, one evening we were sitting by the canyon rim and there were no other people around. There was no wind. It was eerily silent. It was almost like we could hear the air or a slight ringing noise. It was strange to be outside in such a touristy place with such a grand (pun intended) view and hear absolutely nothing.

While absolute silence seems like it would be pleasant and peaceful, experiments show that the brain has great difficulty with it. The Shure microphone company in Niles, Il. has what is called an anechoic chamber. It is a room that has special soundproofing which reduces the sound to below what the human ear can hear which is called 20 micropascals. The sound level in that room is -5 decibels. There is another anechoic chamber in Minneapolis, Mn. which is considered the quietest room on earth. It is -9 decibels. When people are placed in these rooms and the lights are turned off, their senses of sight and sound are deprived. They start to hear their own heartbeat and even the blood flowing through their brains. They experience hallucinations of both sound and sight because their brains, deprived of sensory input, will make things up to try to fill in the lack of information. People start hearing noises and seeing lights that are not there. We usually think of the sense of sight when we think of hallucinations, but in these rooms people also experience them in sound. These can start after just minutes. Even before the hallucinations begin, people report being able to feel the air pressure, and that since there is no reverb sounds strike the ears very differently and seem very odd. Some have anxiety and claustrophobia.

There are some important correlations between the natural and the spiritual in this area. The Bible has much to say about sound and sight. Right from the beginning, we see this. In Genesis 1:2-3, the Bible says, "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. " At the beginning of the process of creation, there was nothing, not even the smallest particles. We do not know precisely when the angels were created, although Job 38:7 seems to indicate that at the latest it was sometime during the creation week. Regardless, angels are spirits and so do not bear on the issue being discussed here (Heb 1:6-14). Notice that God spoke before He created light. He spoke before creating all things which He made out of nothing (Gen 1, Jn 1:3, Col 1:16). The creative force was His own word. Since there was nothing else yet, we can ask if His voice could be heard. We do not know every detail of how God created everything, and we do not need to know it all. He does. What He revealed about it in His written word, the Bible is enough. It is more a philosophical question than a scientific one, but the point here is that His voice came before light and created it.

There are many verses in the Bible that correlate seeing and hearing. Here are some examples:

1. God hears and sees (Ex 3:7, Is 38:5, Is 59:1-2)

2. Idols don't see or hear (Deut 4:28)

3. At Mt. Sinai, Israel heard God's voice and saw the fire (Deut 18:16)

4. Israel did not have spiritual eyes and ears (Deut 29:4, Is 6:9-10, Is 42:18, Mt 13:13-17)

5. Show John what you see and hear (Mt 11:4)

6. The man Jesus saw and heard (Jn 3:32)

7. The Jews did not see nor hear God (Jn 5:37)

8. God has shed forth the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:33)

9. The apostles saw and heard (Acts 4:20)

10. Paul was to see Jesus and hear HIs voice (Acts 22:14-15)

11. John saw and heard (Rev 22:8)

Here are some examples of scriptures about sound:

1. When Israel sinned, they would be scared of the sound of a shaken leaf (Lev 26:36)

2. Israel heard God's voice but saw no similitude (Deut 4:15)

3. Hear, O Israel (Deut 6:4)

4. Hear and do His commandments (Deut 30:12-17)

5. David was to attack when he heard a sound in the mulberry trees (2Sam 5:24)

6. Their joy was so loud the earth rent (1Ki 1:40)

7. Elijah said there was a sound of abundance of rain (1Ki 18:41)

8. Worship involved many sounds such as cymbals (1Chr 15:19)

9. Who has ears, let him hear (Mt 13:9, Rev 2:7)

10. The Holy Ghost is correlated to the sound of the wind (Jn 3:8, Acts 2:2)

11. The sheep hear the voice of the shepherd (Jn 10:1-16)

12. How can they hear without a preacher? (Rom 10:14)

13. The sound of the gospel went into all the world (Rom 10:18)

14. The trumpet must give a certain sound (1Cor 14:8)

15. Be swift to hear (Jam 1:19)

16. God's voice sounds like many waters (Rev 1:15)

When God speaks, we need to listen and obey. God has clearly spoken to us through His written word, the Bible. He also has other means of communication such as preaching, prayer, counsel, and circumstances all in accordance with His written word. When we continually ignore God, eventually He will honor our desire and stop speaking to us (2Ki 18:12, Ps 66:18, Is 1:15, Is 59:2, Is 65:12, Jer 17:23, Mic 3:4, Zech 7:13), but then He will also not listen to us. None of us is perfect in hearing and obeying God, so He is merciful to us. Yet, when it becomes our consistent manner to refuse His voice, He will not continue endlessly to speak to us. Hearing the voice of God is precious, and we need to treat Him accordingly. There is no better sound to hear. When we stop hearing the voice of God, and there is silence from Him, our mind will begin to hear other sounds that are not His voice. They can be from our own deceitful heart (Jer 17:9-10), the devil and his demons (1Ki 22:19-23, Rev 12:8, Rev 20:8), or false teachers (2Cor 11:13-15). God will even send delusion to those who have gone that far away from Him to cause it (Is 66:4, Rom 1:24-28, 2Thes 2:11). God's truth is available to anyone who wants it. His voice can be heard by all who truly listen. He is the same God He has always been and always will be. He knows how to communicate His will to us.

Sometimes it seems to us that God is not talking to us. This can be a test to see if we will continue in faith and be obedient to His word. God is abundant in truth to us, but sometimes He has to test us for our own growth. When it seems like we are not hearing from God for a season and we are not sure what direction to go, the thing to do is to keep doing what we already know He wants us to do. If you look at the men in the Bible that God spoke to, He did not always speak in great volume. For example, there are only eight recordings in the Bible of the Lord speaking to Abraham (Gen 12-22). God only spoke to Solomon twice (1Ki 3, 2Chr 7, 1Ki 11:9). Our responsibility is to continue in what we already know to do in the mean time. He will not keep silence to His children forever (Ps 50:3).

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