Thunder—or Angel's Voice?
J. R. Miller, 1902
"Then a voice came from heaven: 'I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again!' The crowd standing there heard it and said it was thunder. Others said, 'An angel has spoken to Him!'" John 12:28-29
Different people continually give a different answer—to the same question. Our eyes are alike—and yet no two people see the same picture on the canvas. Our ears are constructed on the same pattern—and yet no two hear the same song as they listen side by side to the singer. The world is not the same to any two people. We carry within us a mysterious power, which interprets to us whatever we see or hear of the sights and voices of the outside world; and this power is distinct in each one. Thus it happens continually that the same voice falls upon the ears of two different people, and is altogether different to the two. Each hears what his own soul is prepared for hearing.
We have an illustration of this in the story of Christ. One day a voice was heard in the temple. It was a Divine voice speaking from heaven. The people standing about the Master heard it, and were strangely impressed by it. Yet they were not all impressed in the same way. Some thought it thundered; the voice awed and terrified them. Others thought an angel had spoken. It was the same sound; the difference was in those who heard it. The state of their heart—gave tone to the voice.
It is always so; our own heart makes our world for us, and fills and populates it, and the music we hear is modulated as it passes over the chords of our own soul. If you hold a sea shell to your ear, you hear a strange, murmuring sound, which we used to be told in childhood, was a sort of reminiscence of the ocean's roar. The thought is that the shell, having lain long amid the waves, the music of the sea has hidden in its magic chambers, and that this is what you hear when you hold the shell to your ear.
This pretty thought is dispelled, however, when you learn that, instead of the music of the ocean, the sound you hear is caused by the beating of your own heart, the throbbing of the blood in your fingers. Lay the shell on a table, and put your ear to it, and there is no music; you hear the murmur—only when you hold the shell in your hands.
Many of the sounds which we hear, attributing them to various sources—are but the noise of our own pulses; and every sound that breaks upon our ear is modified at least by the mood or quality of our own inner life. When our heart is glad—the world is full of song! When our heart is sad—the world is full of tears!
In ourselves the sunshine dwells;
In ourselves the music swells!
Everywhere the light and shade;
By the gazer's eye is made!
What men and women find in the life—depends on what they are themselves. We hear some people talk of the coldness of the world. They find no love anywhere, no gratitude, no appreciation, no sympathy, no tenderness. Others, living in like circumstances and conditions—find only brightness, beauty, gladness, and tenderness wherever they go. The same skies are dull and dreary to one—and glorious with their deep, wonderful blue to another. The same fields are dreary and desolate to one eye—and filled with splendid beauty to another. The same people seem unsympathetic, uncongenial, unneighborly to one—and to the other appear cordial, kindly, responsive, and unselfish.
Each person's heart—casts its own hue and tinge upon all other lives.
Two people listen to the same voice: and while one hears what seems to him to be terrifying thunder, the other hears the entrancing strains of angels' songs!
"Two men looked out from their prison bars—
One saw the mud, the other saw the stars!"
This same difference is seen in the way life's experiences appear to different people. To one pessimistic class, everything seems discouraging. They see only the troubles, the difficulties, the hindrances, the disheartenments. They talk always in sad tone of their burdens, tasks, duties, disappointments, and trials. There is no blue sky in their picture, and no stars shine down upon them.
Then there are others who always look upon life optimistically. They are never discouraged. They are not disturbed by the perplexing things which they meet. They expect to have struggles; since with only easy life—there can be no progress, no victories, no struggling upward, and they grow only the braver and more resolute in battle. They meet obstacles and hindrances; but they are not disheartened by them, and turn them into stepping stones for upward striving. They suffer defeats and reverses; but they are not dismayed, only learning from their failures how to keep from being defeated again. Everywhere they go they hear music, and everywhere they find something beautiful and good. Emerson puts it well:
Let me go where'er I will,
I hear a sky-born music still;
It sounds from all things old,
It sounds from all things young;
From all that's fair, from all that's foul,
Peals out a cheerful song!
'Tis not only in the rose,
'Tis not only in the bird,
Not only where the rainbow glows,
Nor in the song of woman heard,
But in the darkest, meanest things
There always, always something sings!
'Tis not in the high stars alone,
Nor in the cups of budding flowers,
Nor in the redbreast's mellow tone,
Nor in the bow that smiles in the showers,
But in the mud and scum of things
There always, always something sings!
All will admit that the man with the optimistic spirit—gets far more out of life, and makes far more of life, than his pessimistic neighbor. It is a great deal better to see blue sky and stars—than only dull, dreary clouds. It is a more noble thing to hear angel music — than thunders in the voices that break on our ears.
Happiness or unhappiness is, therefore, not so much a matter of external conditions—as of heart attitude. We gather in life—what our habit of heart has fitted us for gathering.
The starling, when it finds itself imprisoned in a cage, begins to struggle, trying to escape, flying wildly against the wires; but it only bruises its breast and wings in its unavailing efforts! The canary, when caged, cheerfully accepts the inevitable, and fills all the place with sweet songs. The canary is wiser than the starling. It is both good philosophy and good religion—to make the best of one's condition.
There is something sacred about that which is inevitable. When we find ourselves in hard or painful conditions, which are clearly providential, over which we have no power, we must conclude that, for the time, these conditions represent the will of God for us. This should help us to accept them, not sullenly—but joyously. Instead of the voice of thunder in them—we should hear angels' songs.
It is not enough, however, merely to state the law, that our own heart gives the quality to the music that breaks on our ears. The fact that one has a melancholy temperament which sees everything hopelessly, in shadow—is not to be regarded as a final, unchangeable fact. We are not to say in excuse for our gloomy way of looking at things—that we were made thus, and cannot remake ourselves.
In the first place, we are not made thus—but, following a trend of tendency in our nature—we have fallen into the miserable habit of weakly yielding to discouragement! Then, even if we had been made thus, with melancholy temperament, that would be no reason for our continuing unto the end of life in this unhappy state. Our business is to grow into the likeness of Christ—and He never let Himself become subject to melancholy moods. He always found the beautiful thing. He always heard the songs of angels, or the voice of God—even when others heard only the sound of thunder. He saw the flowers—where others saw only the thorns. He saw the stars—where those about Him saw only muddy roads. He found hope—where others found only despair!
We should seek to be like Christ in His wonderful optimism. If we find ourselves turning every sight and sound of earth into sadness—we should take ourselves resolutely in hand. We are living wastefully, sinfully, while we succumb to such melancholy moods; and we should set ourselves to work to change the miserable trend and habit—into something more beautiful and wholesome.
Part of the work of Christ in us—is to transform us into songful, cheerful, rejoicing Christians. Paul learned during his long life, in whatever state he was, therein to be content. He carried the secret in is own heart, so that he was not dependent on this world's weather—for the temperature of his inner life.
"Always keep sweet—and go on singing!" is a good motto. Easy, do you say? Only a lesson for children? Do you think so? Did you ever try to live it out for a week—even for a day? The perfection of Christian living, is included in this motto. He who has learned to live by this rule has reached a high attainment. Yet it is thus we are to seek to live continually. We should overcome our morbidity, our unwholesomeness of temperament—and should train ourselves to see beauty in all things, and good in every experience.
In order to do this, we must have the beauty and love of Christ in ourselves. "You must have the bird in your heart—before you can find the bird in the bush." So we must have bird songs in our soul—or we cannot hear bird songs in the groves. Mr. Burroughs tells of a woman who asked a bird lover where she could hear the bluebird. "What, never heard the bluebird!" said he. "Then you never will hear it." He could have taken her in a few minutes where a bluebird's song or warble would fall upon her ears to hear it—but her ears were not sensitized by love for birds. It requires a special organ, as it were, a power either given in creation, or acquired by long training—to hear the voices of nature.
So it is with other things. An earthly mind—cannot hear heavenly voices. An unspiritual person—finds no beauty in the Bible. Spiritual things can be only spiritually discerned. We must have the peace of God in our bosom; and then, and then only, we shall find the peace of God in all things, even in life's wildest storms! We must have the joy of Christ within us; and then, and only then, all earth's noises, even its roaring thunder—will make music of angel voices in our ears!
We cannot change the world, taking out all its thorns, making its tasks easy and its burdens light, modulating all its discords into harmonies, transforming its ugliness into beauty; but we can have our own hearts renewed by the grace of God, and thus the world will be made over for us. A new heart—makes all things new. A heart of love—will find love everywhere. A soul full of song—will find sweet music everywhere!