In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us: “My sheep hear my Voice.”
But even as Christians… as the “flock” the Lord shepherds, we may often wonder… What does the Lord’s voice sound like?
Perhaps one can start by reflecting on what Christ’s Voice does not sound like — and out of that deep realization, we can begin to hear God’s true Voice amid all the noise.
For one thing, God’s voice is not one of pressure. What I mean is: God doesn’t pressure us out of fear into doing His will. This kind of thing is always the voice of our own insecurities or else some influence of the enemy. Not to mention, it’s the exact opposite of what Christ’s mission is: “For freedom Christ has set us free!”
The voice of pressure makes us feel like we don’t have any options… that we are trapped. But God never pushes us to the brink of paralyzing fear. “Perfect love casts out fear,” St John tells us.
The Lord wants to drive away all the pressures and fears that bombard us each day because He wants us to be able to choose Him freely. That’s what love consists of in the end, right? We see this love in action on the Cross. Christ Crucified proves to us that our God doesn’t want to impose his will on us. Instead, he lets us have our way with him… even if we mistreat him, ignore him, make fun of him, and even crucify him. And all the while He gazes at us from the midst of all his pain and suffering and says quietly: You are free to choose me or reject me. I will not force you to love me — But here I am. I’m not going to stop loving you. I will turn even your rejection into the means of salvation.
Often this kind of Voice, this voice of unconditional, suffering love, takes the form of total silence — and it can be painfully unnerving. The look of Jesus from the Cross may sound like absolutely nothing… but it is a silence that is deafening. It is a love that says: I’m not going anywhere, even if you push me away, even if you choose to throw me away.
Secondly, God never speaks to us through accusation. He never belittles us. He desires that we grow and mature — He wants nothing more than to foster virtue and life in our hearts. But the last thing He would ever do is squish us or drag us down into discouragement.
But we hear the contrary all the time… a jabbing, dark voice somewhere in our heart whispering: “You have nothing to offer. You are so weak, so imperfect, so self-centered — how can you claim to love God? How can you claim to be doing His will? Give up! The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll stop ruining everything.” It’s tempting to give this exhausting and belittling voice room in our hearts, because there’s at least some sliver of truth to it. We call Satan the Accuser for a reason — He enjoys finding our actual faults and then draws attention to them… not that they may be healed, but in order for us to be preoccupied by them. But then, if we focus on our faults, then we’re not turned towards the God who wants to save us from them! The devil lives for this kind of horrible game! In the end, it’s slavery.
God on the other hand will certainly convict us of our sins… but always in love. Sometimes this may feel brutal, and we can even misinterpret it as accusation! Nobody likes hearing that they are wrong. But it’s always in view of salvation. Christ is the dentist that says the tooth has to come out. We hate hearing that truth, but in the end it’s the only way. He will even help us understand our faults better — but again, not to discourage us, but to free us. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem once said: “The supreme physician is too experienced to be defeated by your wounds.” Don’t listen to the voices of accusation, then. Instead, listen to your Savior who says to you: “My wounds will heal your wounds if you let them.”
The Voice of the Lord is one of intense love. Listen to Him in the silence of His suffering, in the silence of his rising. Reject the pressures and accusations, because these are not from the God who speaks in love. Listen to the Voice of the Good Shepherd.