Sermon From the Sidelines: A One Minute Message on Signal To Noise Ratio (*)

“11 And he said , Go forth , and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by , and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: 12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. 13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out…”

Scripture to meditate upon: 1 Kings 19: 11-13a

An idea I learned while in the Navy studying electronics was the concept of the “signal to noise ratio” in communications. Basically, the stronger the signal was compared to the level of noise, the better you were able to communicate. A stronger signal or less noise was desired.

The most recent retreat reminded me of this concept while sitting at a meal. I had a hard time following much of the conversation at the table because of the presence of several loud conversations occurring behind me. There was a large noise component, so it was hard to get the info being presented.

In general, if you are doing the transmitting you can control the strength of the signal. If you are the receiver, you (generally) don’t have much control over the signal, but you can mitigate the effects of the noise present. A “speak louder” verses “listen harder” contest. (An example is if you have a hard time hearing a phone conversation you can move to a quieter location or ask others to ‘turn it down’ to reduce the noise level).

And so it goes with seeking the voice of God. We have little (read: none) control of how strong the message is, but we have the ability to control and reduce the noise in our lives. Increasing quietness  is just as effective in making the S/N ratio larger as provoking God to yell at us… and considerably more pleasant!

Phred the Elder
DC3 Heretic Laureate

(* Disclaimer: 60 Second Sermon guaranteed if you read fast enough)

[Original posting to e-mail 1/30/2015]
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