For several years my hearing ability has grown increasingly worse. In recent months the tinnitus has increased to a crescendo in both ears. Without hearing aids, I am virtually deaf in my right ear, while the loss of hearing in my left ear is severe. I have sought help from otolaryngologists (ENT docs). They have been able to do little, except to puncture my right eardrum to reduce pressure in the right ear, and my hearing loss in the left ear continues to decline. It set me to wondering what ear problems might look like from a biblical perspective.
I discovered that the biblical writers attributed loss of hearing to a variety of reasons (a great deal of inconsistency exists between biblical writers) and there are several reasons for, and several “cures” of, hearing problems to be found in the Bible.1 One ancient writer (2nd Sam 19:31-40) attributed loss of hearing to age (2nd Sam 19:35) as though it were a natural phenomenon. It was regarded as one of the assorted ills of advanced old age that naturally comes with the territory. Today, we are told that nearly half of those older than 75 have hearing loss. Such information offers me little that I can do about my hearing loss. Today’s docs seem to agree with the author of Second Samuel: my hearing loss will continue to decline.
Another reason for loss of hearing is that God (if such there be) has chosen to make particular people “mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind” (Exod 4:10-11), for reasons known only to the divine mind. In ancient Israel such physical infirmities were believed to have been sent by God.2 Like Job said: should we receive good at God’s hands and not evil? (Job 2:10). It was not until after the Babylonian Captivity (587 BCE) and the Restoration of Israel (539 BCE) to the land that an alternate evil force emerged as a part of the belief of the people.3 Hence, if this is the reason for my loss of hearing, I must assume that I have been cursed by God for some unknown reason and I could never regain my hearing, unless God changed his/her mind.
A third reason for deafness is found in one story in Mark 9:14-29. Jesus exorcized an unclean spirit that had caused muteness and deafness (Mark 9:25; cf. 9:17) in a possessed boy. Matthew (17:14-21), however, regards the boy as an epileptic (17:15), a condition also believed to be caused by demon possession (17:18). Luke (9:37-43a) describes the boy as possessed by an unclean spirit (9:42) but says nothing about deafness. There is a related story in Mark (7:31-37) in which Jesus lays hands on a deaf man who also had a speech impediment. Neither Mark nor Matthew (15:29-31) regard this as an exorcism. In both gospels (Luke omits it), Jesus lays hands on the afflicted person (Mark 7:33-34) and “his ears were opened, and his tongue was released.” This story seems to authorize faith healing as an option for regaining hearing. In my case I presume that I should then seek the services of an exorcist or a popular faith healer.
There may be a fourth option for regaining my hearing. The book of James (5:14-15) recommends the following:
Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
In some ways this option resembles the story in Mark 7:31-37; it seems to be a kind of faith healing with multiple healers involved. I am not sure that the elders (if we had them) of a Baptist church would have been up to such a miracle.
Are any of these “cures” for hearing loss reasonable today? Anyone taking advice from the Bible probably should first decide what the present world is like before considering any of the Bible’s ancient recommendations. In my view in 2022 human beings are not manipulated by spirits (either good or bad). We do not protect ourselves by fetishes or prayer (although we may pray), rather we live in a century where genes, ancestry, germs, viruses, bacteria, vaccines, and medical science have more to do with determining health outcomes than do evil spirits.
Unfortunately, however, even rational, intelligent people can be guided into primitive solutions (“fetishes, spirits, or gods”) instead of ones recommended by modern medicine because of a personal phobia or an obsession originating in the mind4 or simply by being misled by some well-meaning but ill-informed minister. It is a good thing to remember that the earth moves around the sun; the sun does not rise every morning.
Missouri State University
1This is because the Bible reflects about 1200 years of the passage of time and the demise of many cultures.
2Compare Isa 6:9-10 where God commissions Isaiah to interfere with people’s hearing so that they “will not hear with their ears and understand with their hearts.” A passage quoted in Mark 4:12.
3This story has the trappings of magic: fingers stuck in ears, spitting, a magic utterance, and sighing (Mark 7:33-34).
4Carl G. Jung, Man and his Symbols (Dell, 1964), 31-33.