15 Mar Two Popes Talk about how Hard it is to Hear God’s Voice
One of the goals of director Fernando Meirelles in his recent movie The Two Popes was to present Pope Benedict and Pope Francis in an “everyman’s” light. As such, the movie points to the vast scope, grandeur and influence of the world’s largest church. But it also features Benedict and Francis gearing up in their papal robes and eating pizza in a side room of the Sistine Chapel.
Although the interactions of the two popes in the film are largely imagined, their conversations are based on their various speeches and writings. One of the signature scenes is a dialogue about hearing God’s voice. Benedict begins:
Benedict: You know the hardest thing is to listen for God’s voice.
Francis: Even for a pope?
Benedict: As a young man I always knew what God wanted – his purpose for me, but now? I don’t know. Perhaps I need to listen more intently. What do you think?
Francis: I think perhaps I need a spiritual hearing aid. When I first heard God’s voice, it brought me peace; such peace. You must have felt that. The call, yes?
Benedict: I asked God for a sign. I did. Nothing. I can’t hear his voice. Silence.
In this scene Pope Benedict is struggling to hear from God about his future role leading the Church – should he stay or should he take early retirement. Francis (a cardinal at the time) responds to Benedict’s musings with his own story hearing the call of God as a young man. Though the call had been clear to Francis at the time, both men agreed how hard it can be to hear God’s voice.
Their conversation is reminiscent of many of us. The struggle to hear from God seems to apply whether we’re from the highest hierarchies of church life or whether we’re brand new Christians. Yet, the question remains, why it is so? If God is by his very nature, a speaking God (the Old Testament alone records references to him speaking over 3800 times), then how can something so basic to the Christian faith be so difficult?
A reference in the book of Job redirects the attention from God to us. God is speaking, but we don’t notice it (Job 33:13-15). When we are struggling to hear from God, we first need to remind ourselves that the expectation to hear God’s voice is a good one. Indeed it is a biblical one. The God of the Bible is a talking God. The possibility of hearing from him lies at the core of personal relationship. A two-way conversation with God is the key distinctive of the New covenant (Acts 2:16,17) and the pattern of the entire biblical narrative. Most of the Bible is made up of humanity’s God conversations! Story after story tells how the biblical characters heard from God (Amos 3:7), believed it in faith and acted to see it come to pass. Our expectation should be that we can and will hear God’s voice clearly.
Instead, it is our ideas about what God says that is the problem. Too often we come to God with our own agendas – we need answers and we need them now! But God speaks to us as the continuing voice of Jesus (John 14:26; John 16:13). It is his mission that defines the conversation. The Spirit speaks today to bring God’s kingdom from heaven to earth. Hearing and following God’s voice is designed to make us more like Jesus.
This means the silence we’re experiencing may be because our agenda for hearing and God’s agenda for speaking is mismatched. What we need to do is to set aside our own agendas and allow the Spirit to speak to us about whatever is on God’s heart. Then once we’ve heard God speak, we make a decision to follow (John 10:27; John 14:21). It is this kind of understanding that positions our heart to hear from God. It’s a principle that applies to every single member of God’s church – even to the pope (Acts 2:16,17).
Read more: What to Do When God is Silent.