Learning to Listen to the Outcry of Others


Apathy—the lack of concern for others—may be the worst of human characteristics.  Helen Keller observes, “Science may have found a cure for most evils, but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all—the apathy of human beings.”

Apathy may be the worst of human characteristics but it is not characteristic of God.

The Bible reveals a God who is not apathetic about us but who cares passionately about us.  If the passionate God of the Bible is at work in our lives, then we, like God, will not be apathetic toward others but passionate in our care for people

Nehemiah 5:6 shows Nehemiah to be a person of passionate care rather than apathy.  The verse read, “When I heard their outcry…I was very angry.”

The word translated here as “outcry” is a word that taps into the passion of God.

Ray Vander Laan explains, “Ze’akah, one of the most impassioned, power-filled words in Hebrew, communicates intense emotion.  Usually translated as ‘cry’ or ‘outcry,’ the depth of suffering that causes such a cry is not conveyed by English words.  Ze-akah implies a heart-wrenching wailing; though there are no recognizable words, when you hear it you know what it is.  Such an outcry rises out of great pain, suffering, and despair caused not simply by impersonal suffering but by the brutality and cruelty of other people.  Scripture reveals that God never fails to hear Ze’akah, and his response against those who cause it is frightening…. Nahum Sarna, the great Exodus scholar, notes, ‘Ze’akah is one of the most powerful words in the language.  Pervaded by moral outrage and soul-stirring passion, it denotes the anguished cry of the oppressed, the agonized plea of the helpless victim.’” (Fire on the Mountain Discovery Guide, p. 107-108)

Over and over again in Scripture, when we find the word “outcry,” we find God responding compassionately on behalf of those who cry out.  In Nehemiah 5, we find Nehemiah responding compassionately on behalf of those who cry out.

How do you and I respond to the outcry of people around us?

I am challenged by a story told by Dr. Barbara Chesser: “A man was standing at the side of the highway throwing clumps of mud at cars passing by.  Finally one irate driver stopped, stepped from his car and yelled, ‘Hey, man, what’s the idea?’  Before he could say anything else, the man who had been throwing the mud said, ‘Thank you for stopping.  I tried to wave others down, but no one would stop.  My son and I were hunting and he accidentally shot himself.  He’s over here in the bushes.  Please help us!’”

Dr. Chesser adds, “When people are acting their worst, they usually need help and understanding the most.”

It makes me wonder: How often have I missed the outcry of others because I have been too hurried or too obsessed with my own activities?  And how often have I missed the legitimate outcry of others because it wasn’t made in the polite way I would have liked it?

As the passionate care of God grows in us, hopefully we will become more alert to the outcry of others.


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