The benefit of a bridge is often taken for granted. Consider the state of Michigan—two masses of land separated by enormous lakes (which some would even venture to call “great”). The Mackinac Bridge connects these two land masses and enables people to travel between them. Without the bridge, to get around Lake Michigan would require swimming, boating, or driving the hours-long trip around. The connecting bridge is simple and often over-looked, but it would be hard to overstate its consequence.
There is meant to be a similar connection in the Christian life between the sadly distant realms of hearing and doing. Christians often struggle to take what we read or hear and put it into practice. Why? Because many of us are missing the bridge that links hearing and doing.
I’ve always loved James 1:22–25 and the distinction James draws between being a “doer” of the Word and a “hearer only.” This illustration comes in the midst of the larger section of 1:19–27 that addresses our relationship to God’s Word. James explains that we are to have a disposition of meekness (1:21) as we hear the Word. But it is not enough to receive the Word of God with meekness.
But this is where most of us falter. We are skilled consumers of information. It’s what we do almost all day every day, and Sundays are an extension of this routine. We are expert listeners to sermons. We know how to tune in and out as relevance fluctuates. But information flows into our heads and rarely, if ever, moves us into action (unless of course, by action, we mean clicking like and sharing on social media).
In order to be faithful doers of the Word, we need to think more deeply about the biblical nature of ethical instruction and how to cross the bridge from hearing to doing. Recognizing the bridge that connects our listening and acting will help those of us who read the Bible daily, listen to sermons weekly (or more), and even those who preach on a regular basis move from hearing to acting.
We need first to understand why it’s so hard to pass from hearing to doing. Many answers could be given to this question, but fundamentally we must grasp the Augustinian reality that our motivations, or “loves,” move us to action. Biographer Peter Brown summarizes Augustine’s understanding of human action in this way:
“Delight” is the only possible source of action, nothing else can move the will. Therefore, a man can act only if he can mobilize his feelings, only if he is “affected” by an object of delight.1