hearing disability

“Why do you not understand my manner of speech? Because you are not able to hear my word.” (Jesus speaking to the Jews in John 8:43)

According to Newbigin:

Here is the crux of the matter. The word “cannot” must be taken with full seriousness … We are here dealing with the terrible reality of the bondage of the human will.

The life of man centered in the development of his own self, in the unfolding of his own capacities, is the microcosm which is reflected on the grand scale (as the word implies) in the cosmos, the organized world of human culture in all its forms–philosophy, science, technics, economics, politics, and aesthetics. “The world” represents on a grand scale man’s attempt to understand and to organize his life in such a way that he is in control of it. Language, which is fundamental to the whole effort, provides the “words” by which the business of understanding and managing is carried on. The words of Jesus–his audible speech in one of the languages of the world–are part of the world. His hearers hear them. But they can only hear them as part of this world. In that context they are intolerable and must be silenced. The Jews are unable–literally unable–to hear his logos, the word which he himself is. And this is because the logos is in fact the true source and center of all that exists and its presence requires the abandonment of the whole enterprise of understanding and managing the world from a center in the human ego. From this center belief is simply an impossibility. It is not that the man in the world has the free option to believe or not to believe. “The being of these unbelievers is constituted by the will to unbelief” (Bultmann). The being and the willing are not two separate things.

How, then, is belief possible? Only–as the whole Gospel affirms–by a death and rebirth, only when the adult man, secure in the mastery which is his philosophy, his science, and his technology give him, becomes a child who must simply receive life and truth as a gift. And this new birth is not a human possibility: it is a gift…And this is the Jews are told “You cannot hear my word.” For the citadel of man’s enterprise in seeking to understand and to manage his world is not his science, his technology, or even his philosophy: it is his religion. The Jews are at the center of this controversy not because they belong to the ethnic group Semites but because they represent the highest form of religion.

“The truth” which Jesus speaks is the truth which he is. We are not dealing with statements about the world which may or may not correspond with what is the case. We are in the presence of the ultimate conflict between light and darkness, between the reign of God which is life and light and the power of the devil which is darkness and death. Man does not stand at a midpoint between the two, free to choose one or the other. He is part of “the world” which seeks to possess in itself light and life–the capacity to understand and the power to cope. Within this world it is impossible for him to receive the world of light an life which is present in Jesus.

Newbigin, Lesslie. The Light Has Come: An Exposition of the Fourth Gospel. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1982. Print. (pp 112-113)


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