‘Hey, want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?” That is Jim Carrey’s character, Lloyd, speaking in the 1994 comedy “Dumb and Dumber.” He goes on to demonstrate the world’s most annoying sound. Some people might find a lowbrow comedy like this, as a whole, a collection of some of the most annoying sounds in the world. Hold on to that thought; this might work out for you spiritually.
It seems that the annoyance factor works two ways. On the one hand, God hears our persistent, bothersome pleas; on the other hand, God asks us to engage in behavior that punctures polite convention. Jesus’ parable in Luke regarding the dishonest judge and the annoying widow is one of those biblical passages that takes one aback each time it is encountered. I keep wondering, when I hear of the widow who because of her persistent badgering receives justice from “a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people,” whether I am truly getting the point or missing some profound spiritual insight that my surface reading cannot perceive.
In the parable, Jesus indicates that persistence in bringing our pleas to God in prayer matters. Even the unjust judge grants the wishes of the woman when she will not cease calling out to him, though it must be said he has his own needs in mind. As he explains, he is concerned she will “wear me out by continually coming.” But that is the point: if an unjust judge will render a proper verdict when one is persistent in pleading one’s case, how much more will God render the proper verdict?
The question I just asked is a way of arguing common among the rabbis, known in Hebrew as a qal wa-homer argument, “an implicit argument from the lesser to the greater, and vice-versa”. The parable of the annoying widow and the unjust judge has at its heart an implicit qal wa-homer argument.
God is not unjust; God is not unwilling to hear us; God does not render justice just to get rid of us. So if we approach God with our prayers, our pleas, our pain, our suffering, our loneliness, not only will God hear us; God will render justice not to get rid of us and not because we have worn God down with the most annoying sounds in the world, but because God loves us, wants what is best for us and wants to hear from us, over and over again.
And so, as the parable nears its conclusion, Jesus asks: “Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”
Yet the parable ends with a question designed to challenge us: “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Do we see God as an unjust judge? Do we see God as unconcerned about our problems? Do we see God as someone who does not want to hear from us? This parable asks us to perceive God properly as the one who desires us, whom we can never annoy, who is more than open to welcoming our concerns. God yearns for us to lay our burdens down.
This is the persistence with which the author of the Second Letter to Timothy, traditionally identified as Paul, instructs Timothy to live the Christian life. In this passage, Paul functions in the role of a coach as he encourages Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed,” holding up the Scripture as a faithful guide, for “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
Paul says that in view of Christ’s “appearing and his kingdom,” Timothy should “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”
At stake is our life with God, so we must be persistent in approaching God and in proclaiming the message. The most annoying sound for God, according to Jesus, is our silence, not our persistent knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door. Let’s make some noise.