Words and Relationships

The word is the basis for our relationships. Without words we form no connections, no closeness, no self-disclosure, no knowing. Without words there is no relationship. A picture of my face will not build a relationship with you (it will more likely repel you!). But words like these can begin to do so. Self-disclosure is the first step in a relationship. Ellul makes the point from Genesis: “God is not only creator; he is creator through the word, which means that he is never far from, never foreign to, his creation. God speaking means he is in relationship” (Humiliation, 59). The word forms the basis of our relationship with God, or, rather, God’s relationship with his creation.

This point is taken to another level in the Gospel of John, a book that opens by echoing the creation event as we are introduced to the Savior as the self-disclosure of God. The theme of word and relationship returns. God’s children, his flock, listen to the Shepherd’s voice. Jesus came into the world to speak and His children hear his voice (10:16, 27; 18:37). But they do more than listen. When God speaks his children recognize their Shepherd, are drawn into relationship, and are moved to follow Him. Whenever words are spoken directly at us we are invited to respond, normally it would be odd not to respond, even of those words come from a complete stranger on the street. Or to illustrate it in a different context think of a time when you drove a car past a friend in another car and waved but got no response back. The immediate thought is “Maybe that wasn’t my friend.” A lack of response makes us question our relationship. Words are like that. Words, like the voice of the Shepherd, invite us into relationship.

If words are the foundation for our relationships, lies destroy those relationships. The one seeking to destroy man’s relationship with God–Satan–is the one who has busied himself in seeking to distort and twist the truth into lies from the beginning of God’s creation. He did this to sever man from God. And he succeeded. But it gets worse because to be a liar is to be a murderer (8:44). When truth is twisted into lies a world of relationally-networked sinners becomes a very bloody place and a war breaks out between God and the people he created. The only hope for this severed relationship between a holy God and sinful man (each of us) is through the death and resurrection of Christ. Thus the Father of Lies can be defeated–and our relationship with God can be restored–only through the ultimate murder, the severed forsakenness of our Savior on the cross. For us to know God the Word of God must be murdered by lies.

The connection between word/relationship and truth/lies has profound implications for just about every sphere of life. But the simple point of these musings is to see the connection between our Bibles, our God, and our relationship and response to Him. Scripture is more than a book. It’s the voice of our Shepherd and therefore is the foundation of our relationship with Him. Those words are God’s invitation for us to know Him, to respond, to enter an eternal relationship with Him. He speaks truth so we can know Him.

7 thoughts on “Words and Relationships

  1. Tony,

    very interesting post…much to think about. However, let me share mt initial reaction to the opening lines of your post. You wrote, “The word is the basis for our relationships. Without words we form no connections, no closeness, no self-disclosure, no knowing. Without words there is no relationship.”

    My first thoughts on this opening were questions: What about actions? Do not our actions, without words, form connections, closeness, self-disclosure, and knowing? What of the infant and its mother? Even with no exchange of words the baby will connect with, be close to, and know its mother because of her actions.

    I think, for instance, that God’s self-disclosure was/is in actions as well as in words. However, God’s actions in history (eg. Calvary) can only be ‘mediated’ to us by words. So, I’m not denying the critical importance of words in general and God’s words in particular.

    I guess I’m wondering about the significance of actions, in that we are not just intellectual beings, but physical beings as well. God disclosed/discloses himself in words and deeds, both a form of relating to us.

    However, as Peter writes, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word”; a word that is more sure than having been eyewitnesses (or even ear-witnesses). So words seem to take a significant priority, which is what you are suggesting. So, I’m not disagreeing, just musing about what came to mind as I read; I concur that “Scripture is more than a book. It’s the voice of our Shepherd and therefore is the foundation of our relationship with Him.”

    Thanks for the post.

    Jude

  2. This is a very stirring post and highlights one of the underlying dichotomies that reverberates throughout scripture along with Light/Darkness. This concept of LOGOS is a defining aspect of God as described by scripture. I appreciate the insight and revelation. This is definitely something that could be extrapolated further into a detailed description of the Gospel.

    Check out my blog at Biblereadingproject.blogspot.com

  3. Thanks Jude. I hope I did not leave the impression that word/deed can be separated. They obviously cannot be. Rather I’ve tried to focus in one the word side. Even in deeds words play a vital role. This of course opens another debate, can Christians love their neighbor by merely caring for physical needs without ever sharing words? What value are the deeds toward non-Christians if those deeds come with no eternal words? I hoped to steer clear of that whole discussion because that is a discussion for people with longer blog posts and larger brains to figure out. Blessings brother! Coming to T4G?

  4. LOL … I brought it up because I thought you were one of the guys with the larger brains.

    You did not suggest any separation, I was musing as I was replying…probably should have thought it through more before posting my comment.

    Alas, I cannot make it to T4G despite the fact that I initiated a trip in which 3 of my very good friends are going and I am not. You may cross paths with them. Tim knows them and perhaps you will get a chance to meet them. It will be a hard week for me but I will be experiencing vicariously through them. I’ll continue to look forward to the day we meet in person.

    Jude

  5. I feel so stupid to ask, but what is the reference to “Humiliation, 59” pointing towards? I sure don’t remember the book of Humiliation… I fear I may have fallen behind in Bible reading. ;)

  6. Nice post, Tony. You don’t come across people reading Jacques Ellul too often, but he has many deep insights on the intersection of media, theology, and culture. I fully agree that the importance of knowing how to understand words (written and spoken) has profound implications for our relationships.

    Undoubtedly, Christian fellowship could not happen without the foundation of Scripture–and this is true even though full agreement on every point of truth with one another is unlikely, if not impossible. I am provoked by your thoughts as I begin a study of John’s Gospel. Thanks.

    One thought for future posts that I’d love to read, if you have the chance to comment on other books by Ellul (Technological Society and Propaganda), is the challenge that lies before us in this technology-driven, pluralistic media environment. How do individual believers and local churches most effectively bring the truths of the word of God forward in our relationships with others–especially at work–when most people don’t share our same starting point about Scripture?

    I know this is a hard topic, but I’d love any musings you have.

    – Mark Fedeli

  7. Steve,
    Not stupid at all. It’s actually a gnostic work that they found in an alabaster jar near the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    Kidding of course, but it does have that ancient ring to it, doesn’t it?!

    For real, Tony is referencing the Humiliation of the Word, by French Chrisian, sociologist, and Nazi resistance leader Jacques Ellul.

    Amazon: http://ow.ly/1yMcW
    Read it online: http://ow.ly/1yMbt

    Here is a list of all his works at Amazon, including the two I referenced above (Technological Society & Propaganda): http://ow.ly/1yMh5

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