There is a strange, wonderful movie from MGM titled “The Next Voice You Hear.” Released in 1950, and directed by the great William Wellman, it stars James Whitmore and Nancy Davis (who two years later would become Nancy Reagan). It is the story of a family – a dad, an expectant mom, and an adolescent son – living in a quiet neighborhood. At precisely 8:30 pm, as they are listening to their radio, the voice of God takes over the airwaves and says: “This is God, I’ll be with you for a few days.” It turns out that everyone around the world heard the same voice, in their own language, at the same time. On an international flight which carried an American pilot and a French navigator, both men heard the same voice at the same time over the same line, each in his own language. It doesn’t take long for people to believe that they are truly listening to the voice of God. For 6 days, at precisely 8:30pm Pacific Time God speaks a sentence or two. His message, which develops over those six days, is that we should count our blessings, and then be a blessing to others.
This is a strange, beautiful film. It is inhabited by real people, flawed and complex, not flannel-board characters from Sunday School. The husband-wife, and parent-child relationships are biblically based and healthy. It is set in a time when we have troops in Korea, the Russians have the bomb, and the new dad pushing the pram down the street has one sleeve of his bomber-jacket pinned because he lost an arm in the Second World War. The anxiety outside the door of the cozy home is palpable. Home is the refuge in a frightening world.
In the film, the first thing people feel about hearing the voice of God each day is not wonder, or adoration, but fear – gripping, debilitating fear. I suppose this would indeed be our reaction. When anyone has an experience of the divine in the Bible the usual first line is “Fear Not!” - because fear is the natural response to realizing the presence of the Divine. ”Fear of the Lord” is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1.7, 9.10). Eventually this fear leads to appreciation of blessings, and then love and reconciliation between people.
The thing I really like about the movie is that the viewer never hears the voice of God. The only way that we know what God has said is through the telling o
f others, or what others have written down. On the seventh day everyone has packed themselves into some church, listening for God at 8:30pm, but there is only silence.
The preachers remind the throngs that God rests on the seventh day, but we know that the communications have stopped. We also strongly suspect that folks will forget, and go back to their old ways – that’s what folks do. The film ends with the future first lady going into labor and delivering a daughter. The older brother is distraught because his baby sister will never hear the voice, but James Whitmore tells his son – “She will if you tell her – will you tell her?”
We are blessed that recently, family entertainments like “Facing the Giants,” and “Courageous,” are being made and distributed. It is good to remember that there was a time when major studios, with major talent would produce films now and then that asked moral questions, and asserted positive values.
This largely forgotten film is important because it presents our situation as it actually is. God speaks. To really hear the voice of God is to be transformed – first by fear, and then by love. We have the voice of God in what has been written down, and in the blessings that surround us.
Others may only hear His voice if we are willing to tell. Are we willing? Will we tell them?