Words, words, words. My career and ministry center around words – selecting the ‘right’ words and assembling these ‘right’ words into a correct sentence order that follows some cohesive progress towards stating and defending an argument. Likewise, my favorite hobby is reading words. Some of my favorite books promise to help me select and order my written words better. What I’m saying is words are central to my life.
Now, this deep exposure to words has a few drawbacks. Besides the natural tendency towards weight gain and nerdiness, the bigger problem is a spiritual one. In the avalanche of words read and written, I easily forget their value and importance. Specifically, I forget the value of God’s Word.
Let me explain.
I tend to put God’s Words on the tall stack of other words I need to read. I have newspapers, magazines, how-to books, books about writing, biographical books, dozens of blogs, emails, Christian living books, websites, electronic books and commentaries all waiting for attention like a quiet dog staring at its owner. What this means is that I have a hard time correlating my stack of words alongside God’s Word.
Today and tomorrow I want to answer this question: How do I value God’s Word over the avalanche of words pressing in on all sides of my life?
First we must expand our understanding of ‘words’. Remember how the Gospel of John begins?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).
What’s all this about? This prologue sounds foreign because we think of words only as sound waves in the air, ink on paper or pixels on the screen. But understanding God’s Word is a bit more complicated than written words. Let me broaden the theme a bit.
Crucial to properly valuing God’s Word is to understand God, Who “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16, cf. 1:17). We cannot approach (still less see!) God in His magnificent holiness and glory. Moses, you recall, asked to see God’s glory and God told him, ‘I will show you My abundant goodness but you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live’ (Ex. 33:18, 20).
The face is what most identifies us. Our mug shot captures ‘us’ for the yearbooks (or for the police records). We have Botox, facelifts and facial implants of all types because a general improvement of our face is an improvement of the perception of our entire being. Yet surprisingly in Scripture we are told we cannot see God’s face (i.e. we cannot see “Him”). There is a majesty and holiness to the glory of God that we cannot behold. This is another way of saying He is unapproachable and invisible.
If I preached with a veil over my head (like the minister in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, The Minister’s Black Veil), you would naturally perceive me to be impersonal. Being shielded from God’s face means He is (at some level) impersonal. Hawthorne’s minister veiled himself in shame. God veils Himself in perfection.
We recognize we are utterly different than He is and we worship Him in His transcendent majesty and holiness. (Now hold this thought until tomorrow when I pick up this impersonal/personal theme.)
Now all this does not mean God’s existence is unknown to the world. We can all see enough of God to know He exists and that we should bow in thankfulness for all He has given us (Rom. 1). Atheism is inexcusable. But at some level, God the Father in His full-orbed majesty and glory is impersonal. His face is veiled to us.
An understanding of this veiling sets the foundational bedrock for developing a deep value for God’s Word.
Today and tomorrow I want to build from this foundation and construct two profound truths that will change how we view Scripture. Tomorrow we will look at the intimate, personal nature of God’s Words to draw us to Himself. But today I want to capture the importance of God’s Word in the person of Christ.
So how do we see God? This question takes us back to Christ as the Word.
At one point the disciples ask to see the Father – we’ve seen the Son, but we really want you to show us the Father, too. Jesus says, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me … Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’” (John 14:9).
Christ reveals His Father to us. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18).
What all this means is the arrival of Christ Incarnate is an act of God’s self-disclosure. How do we know the “invisible” God? Through the visible Son. This is what makes Christ the Word of God. He is God’s revelation to us. He is the Word of God as the message of God spoken to sinners. Christ is our hope, He is our life, He is our light! Christ is the self-disclosed Word sent from the Father who dwells in an unapproachable light.
(Later, when we look at Communion with the Triune God by John Owen we will see that God’s love, grace and truth is revealed in the Son’s love, grace and truth. This is super important to grasp if we are to understand God the Father as our loving Father. More later.)
God reveals Himself holistically, not merely in written words but also in Christ’s humility, mercy, grace, truth, sinless nature, awesome works, blameless character and especially in His substitutionary action on the Cross! Everything about Christ speaks the Word of God to us. Scripture is the infallible account of God’s self-disclosure in Christ.
I find myself neglecting Scripture simply because I fail to see God’s Word as the precious self-disclosure of an invisible God. Without Scripture, where will we find Christ? Without Christ, where will we find God? Without Christ, where is life and hope?
Armed with this awesome reality, pull your Bible from under the stack of words begging for attention. It’s more than words. It’s life. It’s God’s self-disclosure to you.
If you don’t know where to begin, start in the Gospel of John and read the precious Words of God as they display the Incarnate Word of God.
May God reform our definition of ‘words’.