A few months ago social media platforms lit up with a controversial sound byte containing one simple word: “Laurel.” Or was it “Yanny?” For reasons beyond my comprehension, my wife heard Yanny and I heard Laurel while listening to the same sound clip at the same time, sitting right next to one another. Repeatedly. Seventeen years of marriage and I felt like I was sitting next to a complete stranger. I’m sure there are perfectly good audiological and neurological reasons behind this phenomenon. But as far as I’m concerned it was a work of the enemy, using his psychoacoustic voodoo in an attempt to devour our marriage with a single blow. How could she not have heard exactly what I heard? And now that I think about it—did Vanessa hear Yanny I and hear Laurel, or was it the other way around?
It should come at no surprise to us that in the biblical record, the first words of Satan invite mankind to doubt the words of God. “Did God really say…?” the serpent’s forked tongue protested. “Did you actually hear what you think you heard?” In the days of his desert temptation, Jesus himself would endure an equally malicious convolution of God’s words (Matthew 4:1-11). Later he would rebuke the religious elite because they succumbed to this timeless tactic of the devil: “Why don’t you understand what I say? Because you cannot listen to my word. Your father is the devil… he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me,” (John 8:43-45)
God’s word spoke the universe into existence (Genesis 1:3). It is by the power of his word the universe’s existence is sustained (Hebrews 1:3). It is by the grace of his word that those lost in sin are saved and redeemed (Romans 10:17). It will one day be by the authority of his word that the nations are judged (Revelation 19:15). No wonder Satan spends much of his time twisting, manipulating and misrepresenting God’s words.
In our culture, it is supposed that meaning and translation come at the luxury of the listener. This did not happen by accident. In the late 1960s, the Reader-Response Theory of textual interpretation began to take root in which the reader’s response or reaction to a particular text is what gives the text its meaning; the author’s intended meaning is of little importance, while what the reader brings to the text is of utmost significance. Our postmodern culture has embraced this theory of textual interpretation in many ways. And with simple psychoacoustic games such as Yanny/Laurel hinging on the individual dynamics of listeners’ physiological and neurological discrepancies, it is only one simple step further to employ a Listener-Response Theory to what is heard (one that closely mirrors the Reader-Response Theory to what is read).
But God’s Word is timeless, eternally fixed in the heavens (Psalm 119:98). Its meaning never changes from generation to generation whether read silently or spoken aloud. When it comes to God’s Word, what we think we read and what we think we hear are of little importance. What matters is the Great Communicator’s intended meaning carried along through the mediums of what He has written and what He has said.
Have you stopped lately to think how awesome it is that the God who spoke the universe into existence chooses to communicate with us? In the pages of the Bible he communicates exactly what he intends. Many things skew our interpretation of what God has communicated: emotions, circumstances, preconceptions, culture, peers, history, and more. But his intended meaning never changes; it crosses all geographic, ethnic and generational barriers. God speaks; we listen. God records; we read. This is an awesome truth.
Have you stopped lately to think how maniacal it is that Satan, the one true enemy of the Christian life, works day in and day out to manipulate God’s words? When we are tempted to interpret God’s Word in light of our present circumstances or desires, Satan slithers near and protests, “Did God really say…?” His tactics have not changed over thousands of years, probably because they are still extremely effective.
The actual recording is of the word “Laurel,” by the way. (Go ahead and look it up.) I know. I’m sorry. But it’s true. There are psychological and audiological reasons that some hear the word “Yanny.” But what you heard does not change the reality of what was originally spoken. When actual truth is sought, it does not matter what a spoken word sounds like “to me,” or what a written word means “to me.” As far as truth is concerned, all that matters is what was actually said. What was actually written.
When we employ Reader-Response and Listener-Response Theories to the interpretation of God’s Word, Satan’s forked tongue is tickling our ears. What matters is what God’s Word says. What matters is His intended meaning. Because of all the individual preconceptions and emotions we bring to the text of Scripture, it often takes some work to purge ourselves of what we would superimpose on it, and instead to listen—to read—our only motivation to understand what God has communicated.
What circumstances, emotions or competing narratives are diverting you from the meaning of the pure, unadulterated Word of God? What insecurities, desires or presuppositions might Satan be using in your life to plant seeds of doubt or disbelief? Don’t let the devil stick his forked tongue in your ear. If the question is “Did God say…?” go to the Word and dig it out. But if the question is, “Did God really say…?” Satan may be using your mind as his personal playground.
In a culture of religious and moral relativism, let’s not allow Satan to play psychoacoustic games with God’s Word. It says what it says. It means what it means–this inerrant Word a gift to us from the God who spoke the universe into existence.
Grace and Peace,