April 14, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 8:48 pm   Category: Personal Revelation

Steve put up a great post today over at Kulturblog on developing tastes for the finer things in life — food, music, art, etc. It is an interesting subject in itself and in the comments Clark linked to another very interesting blog with a cool listening experiment. Go try it yourself.

As hard as I found it to believe, apparently a lot of people can’t tell which version of the music is askew. It was painfully obvious to me, but then again I have a degree in music and have played semi-professionally, etc. So let me know if it is obvious to you or not. If it is not, don’t fret — apparently you are in the majority. According to the study cited, most people don’t currently have the ability to discern any difference. But if it is not this might serve as an interesting object lesson on the spiritual subject of discernment.

I have a friend with perfect pitch. Not just relative perfect pitch but real perfect pitch. When he hears and A he can tell if it is A440 or not. I can’t tell though. He can discern the difference where I can’t.

So what about hearing and discerning messages from God? Is that process any different? I don’t think so. Some people have developed the ability to hear and discern messages from God where others hear nothing.

When it comes to music, some people are born with “better ears” than others. Some people are prodigies when it comes to discerning musical things. But many others have pretty bad ears. The good news is that even though lots of people think they are tone deaf, nearly no one really is. Tone deaf is an actual medical condition and most folks that wonder if they are tone deaf are just poorly trained. With enough work very few cannot attain good ears of their own.

The same can be said of hearing and understanding communications from God through the Holy Ghost, I think. No matter what kind of spiritual ears we are born with I believe that with work we can all become very good at two-way communication with God. Good spiritual ears may not be our primary spiritual gift but we can develop it in ourselves anyway. Plus, we have a huge advantage in this area as Mormons. The restoration of the priesthood also meant the restoration of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. I suspect getting this gift is like receiving a major jump-start to the potential of our spiritual ears. I think we greatly underestimate the importance of this gift.

So why is having good spiritual ears so important? Consider the following scriptures:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: (John 10: 27)

And he that will hear my voice shall be my sheep; and him shall ye receive into the church, and him will I also receive. (Mosiah 26: 21)

And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts; (D&C 29: 7)

Do you see that? The Lord’s elect and sheep are by definition those who hear His voice! By contrast, those who will not hear his voice are not his sheep and not his elect.

It appears that when it comes to our spiritual ears, the goal is to work hard enough to have perfect pitch.


  1. Very interesting post! I am also reminded of incidents recorded in Helaman 5 and 3 Nephi 11 regarding hearing God’s voice.

    I didn’t notice anything wrong with either version. As an aside, I remember reading a newspaper article about a year ago on the positives and negatives of having perfect pitch. The musician featured in the story experiences unpleasant physical reactions–her ears would hurt or she would develop a headache–in response to off-key tones or music. And she notices these things all the time–she can’t stand to dial her cell phone, for example. It’s a definite plus when she works as a vocal coach or piano teacher.

    Comment by Justin — April 15, 2005 @ 7:03 am

  2. Hey man, thanks for the KB shout-out! Remind me to get you onboard as a KB contributor on jazz — email me if you’re interested.

    Like Justin, I also thought of 3rd Nephi 11, because of how people needed to open their ears: are they attenuating their ears to hear God? That suggests that they normally would not have heard Him.

    Comment by Steve Evans — April 15, 2005 @ 8:22 am

  3. Very interesting comparison. I tend to agree, further I personally suspect that our ability to discern and recognize the spirit has a partial genetic component. However regardless of the genetics, any such potential ability requires practice to develop and utilize.

    Comment by Clarkl — April 15, 2005 @ 11:30 am

  4. Thanks amigos.

    3 Nep. 11 is good example, thanks for bringing that chapter up. The interesting parallel is that the information is there to be heard in both the music and spiritual communications cases, it just requires discerning “ears to hear”. I think it is interesting as well that we often think that Christ’s sheep include all mankind but the scriptures make it clear that this in not true — his sheep are exclusively those that hear his voice.

    As to whether the natural ability to hear spiritual messages is genetic (meaning having to with our physical bodies) or simply a spiritual trait we brouht with us based on pre-mortal skill development is not clear to me. I sort of suspect it is the latter, though. Clark, do you think this spiritual listening skills is somehow related to our physical bodies?

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 15, 2005 @ 1:55 pm

  5. I tend to think that there is at least a significant physical component. I discussed this in my various posts over at the Bloggernacle Times.

    Comment by Clark — April 15, 2005 @ 3:11 pm

  6. Cool, I’ll catch up on those posts Clark.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 15, 2005 @ 4:50 pm

  7. Wow, I heard the difference and I even turned off the second version before it was over because I couldn’t stand it — and I’m no musician. I could hear a dissonance that drove me crazy. Maybe singing for years in a non-professional choir does that to me?

    I see that the difference in the ability to hear the spirit is a matter of openness of heart; and willingness to open the heart is a function of many things like predispositions, upbringing, experiences — but in the end it is a power that we have and a free choice. (What else would you expect me to say?)

    Comment by Blake — April 15, 2005 @ 5:02 pm

  8. Good point Blake. This experiment does have interesting implication on responsibility (related to free choice). Some people can hear the musical dissonance and some people can’t — so it is with promptings. I imagine those who can’t hear promptings must be judged by different criteria than those who can are. The parable of the talents certainly applies to this.

    My guess it that those who can’t hear them naturally are partially judged by how hard they work and practice at hearing them. If they don’t put enough effort in to improving their spiritual ears they are guilty of that sin of omission. Of course all but the tone deaf can hear the most strident examples (both musically and spiritually), but discerning more subtle things is the goal for us all (spiritually).

    On the other hand, those with naturally good spiritual ears would be judged on how well they obey the messages they are receiving. For them, acting against the promptings they are getting are sins of commission.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 15, 2005 @ 5:54 pm

  9. […] lking to them and others can’t hear it. To answer that I recommend you check out my recent post called Ears. The post points out that some people can hear and discern things in music that are comple […]

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