The Ear of Dionysius

The Italian city of Syracuse is located on the island of Sicily. In that city is a limestone cave called The Ear of Dionysius. As you might expect with that name, the cave’s shape is similar to that of the human ear.

According to local legend, Dionysius I of Syracuse had the large cave carved into its earlike shape so that he could eavesdrop on his prisoners inside the cave. The acoustics of the cave created an echo effect that carried sounds a great distance. Purportedly, Dionysius I could sit in the parlor of his palace directly above the cave and listen to the prisoners’ cries, conversations, plans to escape, etc.

Like many local legends from ancient times, it’s impossible for us to know whether or not The Ear of Dionysius was actually man-made and served such a sinister purpose. Certainly the cave is shaped like an ear, but some believe it is simply a natural formation. Then again, perhaps it was a natural formation, complete with an uncommon echo, that Dionysus’ workers tinkered with a bit to bring to full effect.

Whatever the truth might be, we know that The Ear of Dionysius could never compare to the ear of God. Psalm 34:15 says of Him: “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry.” Likewise, Psalm 34:17 says: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles” (N.K.J.V.). God hearing our cries is surely a good thing. For that matter, He even hears our complaints. As Moses told the Israelites, “…He hears your complaints…” (Exodus 16:7, N.K.J.V.).

It should be noted, however, that God can choose to not listen to us. It’s here that the warm, fuzzy feeling we get about God hearing our prayers goes to die. Consider the following verses (all from the N.K.J.V.):

  • Psalm 66:18: If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.
  • Proverbs 28:9: One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, Even his prayer is an abomination.
  • Isaiah 1:15: “When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.”
  • Isaiah 59:2: But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.
  • Jeremiah 11:11: Therefore thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will surely bring calamity on them which they will not be able to escape; and though they cry out to Me, I will not listen to them.”
  • Zechariah 7:13: “Therefore it happened, that just as He proclaimed and they would not hear, so they called out and I would not listen,” says the Lord of hosts.

These verses plainly teach that there is a limit to God’s hearing, and it’s a limit that He Himself imposes. Fortunately, this limit only applies to those who persist in their sins. You see, God’s default setting is to hear us when we speak, no matter if what we are saying involves a cry, a complaint, or just a conversation. If the lines of communication get switched off, we are the ones to blame, and the root cause of the problem will always be those sins for which we refuse to confess and repent.

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