A famous person died yesterday. The traditional taboo against speaking ill of the dead, for which I have some limited respect, taken together with the command not to bear false witness, puts us in a bind. Sometimes silence is best. But some things need to be said.
This much we must say:
“Faith comes by hearing” (fides ex auditu; ἡ πίστις ἐξ ἀκοῆς) is one of those words of God that is a two-edged sword. In its context in Romans 10, it refers to those who hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. They hear this “word of Christ,” and out of hearing it, they believe, and in believing it they place their trust in it, and give their loyalty to Christ. It all comes out of the fact that proclaimers of the good news are sent out, and they do their proclaiming and they are heard. The result is good because the Word that does the sending, and the word that is heard, is the word of Christ (ῥῆμα Χριστοῦ).
But “faith comes by hearing” also in cases where the originating word, the proclaimed word, is another word, a word contradictory to the word of Christ. And this is what we have seen. People listen, they listen at length, they listen repeatedly, and they believe, and they give their allegiance to a certain way of speaking, hearing, and seeing, a certain way of thinking about and responding to people who differ from themselves. They learn to rejoice in rudeness, and to be rude. They learn to giggle and chortle at insults and slanders, and to repeat them. They learn to jeer. And they learn to feel righteous while hearing and imitating these behaviors.
Even if they do not entirely forget the manners their mothers taught them, they become accustomed to believing lies, to being impermeably, undissuadably, invincibly devoted to lies.
We have seen where this leads.
The recent exit of one particular barker from the center ring, and now the departure of one particular voice from the airwaves, do not purify the whole word supply. The word supply is tainted. The culture is poisoned. Not just the national culture, but the culture in many of our churches.
What you and I and the people with whom we coexist in our churches, homes, neighborhoods, and nation listen to day in and day out—three hours a day, or six or nine hours a day, or even a few minutes a day but repeatedly over a long period of time—produces faith and flows out of faith, but if it is not the word of Christ it produces faith in something other than Christ. And there are voices—one fewer now, but many remaining—that fill the airwaves with lies, anger, hatred, intolerance, disrespect, love of money, brash selfishness, etc. And we have been listening to them, and letting them engender a certain faithless kind of faith in our hearts, and our society is poisoned.
Preachers have to tell their people that the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, and warn them that if the voices they are listening to spark hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy, they are listening to the wrong voices.
Preachers have to remind us that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. And they have to make it clear to us that this means we must listen to voices that embody truth, virtue, and praise and not listen to voices that imbibe and spew the opposites of these things.
Frankly, I wonder whether we have reached or perhaps passed the point beyond which it is necessary to stop pretending that those who persistently listen to, repeat, and order their lives according to voices that promote the opposite of every Christian virtue are to be regarded as followers of Jesus.
Paul said: “Faith comes by hearing.”
Jesus said: “Take heed to how you hear.”
Who we listen to matters. Our choice of voices to listen to is ultimately a choice between life and death.
Regarding that famous person who died yesterday, the best last word I have seen is this: “May God’s mercy exceed all our expectations.”