Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"If a Tree Falls in the Woods..."

“If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” This is an old and humorous question. And, it is one that I would like to examine because it illustrates an important aspect of the human condition that is commonly overlooked. I will begin the examination with the definition of a “sound.” The dictionary defines a “sound” as “the sensation produced by stimulation of the organs of hearing by vibrations transmitted through the air or other medium.” Accordingly, being heard is required in order for something to be a sound. In other words, a sound is the effect of an ear (or similarly functioning device) receiving vibrations caused by an event, like a tree falling. But, if those “vibrations” never ultimately reach an ear, the “organs of hearing” are never stimulated. Therefore, without being received by an ear, they are just vibrations. If those vibrations are received by something other than an ear (or its equivalent), they don’t make a “sound.” For example, if a tree falls in the woods and nobody (including animals) is around to hear it, how do other things in the woods receive those vibrations? Take a nearby tree for example. It receives the vibrations, but does not have an ear. The vibrations would only cause that nearby tree to vibrate as well, albeit to a lesser extent. But, this would not be a "sound." Rather, this would just be vibrations causing other non-hearing vibrations. In order to be a sound it must be heard.

So, if a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? The answer is no. It makes vibrations. But, did you notice the humanistic bias in the question? My response to this question is another question, “Is it even possible for nobody to be around in the woods when that tree falls?” The answer is also no. God is ever present in the woods. Psalm 139:7-10 says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” This, coupled with other passages, makes clear that God is present throughout His universe. Further, Isaiah 59:1 says, “Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear.” This is one of several verses that refer to the “ear” of God. Whether this is figurative or literal is irrelevant when we recognize the truth that God hears regardless of whether He has a literal ear. Therefore, there is no tree that falls that escapes His hearing and attention. More importantly, there is nothing that happens throughout creation, whose effects escape God’s attention. 

It is our fallen human condition that allows the question to presume God is not present. But, we believe God is present. Or, do we? If we truly believe in God's presence, would we seriously ask the opening question? And, if we truly believe in God's presence, shouldn't that radically transform our words and actions today? Maybe we should first resolve whether we truly believe in God's presence. How we behave is the truest display of how we truly believe.