“In the beginning … God said: Let there be light. And there was light” (Genesis 1).
“The heavens are telling the glory of God; the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork. There is no speech; there are no words; and yet – their voice goes out throughout the earth, their words to the end of the world” (Psalms 19).
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth…Where were you when all the morning stars sang together…” (Job 38).
The poetry of Scripture gives me chill bumps. There is such beauty and mystery in these words; they draw me in and fill me up. I smile. I wonder. I weep. I furrow my brow and scratch my head. I argue. I wait. I watch. I listen.
Scripture is a vast ocean. We can sail its seas and rock gently in its waves one day and then be challenged to hold on for dear life the next. Sometimes its waters are crystal clear and we see into depths we never imagined. Sometimes its ocean roils red or stretches out before us in greens and blues and greys.
If you have been reading through the Bible with Living in The Story over the past 48 weeks, maybe you have experienced Scripture with fresh eyes. I hope you have learned something through your reading. I hope you have recognized that there is always more to learn.
Throughout this project, I have tried to blog about these Scriptures in a way that helps you make more sense of this strange and wonderful book. That does not always turn out the way I would hope but maybe – through this experience – all of us are listening and learning and growing.
When I was preaching regularly on Sundays, we would hear the words of Scripture read to us and then the reader would say: the “Word of the Lord.” We dutifully responded: “Thanks be to God.” But what are we saying with those words? What does it mean to say this Bible that is the Christian Scripture is the “Word of the Lord?”
Some people believe it is the literal word of God; each and every word dictated and inspired by the Spirit, containing no errors or contradictions.
Some people believe it is a collection of stories and teachings; “just” stories but within which wisdom may be found.
Some think of it as a book of rules, a manual for living.
Some see it as a history book or as a glimpse into modern scientific understandings.
Some understand it to be an ancient story of another people in another time; interesting for its historical and archeological insights but not relevant for a modern world.
When I was preaching regularly, I would stand in the pulpit and pray the same prayer Sunday after Sunday: “You have spoken to us once and for all in Jesus Christ and you continue to speak in these Holy Scriptures. Speak to us now, we pray….”
When I would read the text for the sermon, I would begin by saying: “Listen now for the Word of the Lord in this Holy Scripture.”
So you might ask what I mean when say this Bible that is the Christian Scripture is the “Word of the Lord?” You might ask how I describe what it is I believe about this book we call the Bible. Why do I call it “holy?”
As I have grown to understand it, the Scriptures are witness.
Followers of the one true God, over the millennia, have given witness to their experience with God. The Bible records that evolving understanding and gives testimony to the variety of ways God’s people have found meaning and tried to live their lives with faith in the One beyond our knowing, the One beyond our grasping, the One who Is.
Sometimes the stories record great unfaithfulness. (Yes, that is our human story.) Sometimes the stories show misunderstandings and sometimes great wisdom. (Yes, we humans are both very foolish and very wise.) Sometimes the stories tell of remarkable courage and goodness. (Yes, humans have a way of rising above adversity and responding to the challenges of life with tenacious faith and stubborn hope.)
Over the years, these writings have offered faithful witness to a people’s relationship with the God of their understanding. And so – over the years, these writings have become our sacred Scriptures; the “Holy” Bible giving witness to the holiness of living in the presence of a holy God.
The Old Testament together with the New Testament are the Scriptures of the Christian Church. And in order for the Church to be “Christian,” it must engage the Christian Scriptures. By “engage” I mean – study, learn from, argue with, protest, be shaped by, be challenged by, be spoken to, addressed by, changed by – by this Holy Bible.
But the Scriptures are not only the witness of human beings.
Somehow, in some mystery, again and again, the God of all Creation speaks in and through these human words. “Speak to us now we pray, that we may know you…” Don’t ask me to explain that. Don’t think I can explain knowing the God who is beyond knowing.
But I have come to trust it without being able to explain it.
Trust it because we see evidence of God’s presence in our lives and in the world, and that evidence supports our confidence.
Trust it because we see how the Word of the Lord has created a people who are bound together over countless ages; who are bound together despite the differences that seek to divide us.
Trust it because a deep honest logic can see something deeply true about the witness of Scripture. But also because – as the mystics teach us – people of faith are able to see with our “third eye;” we can perceive God’s ever new presence and God’s call to new beginnings and God’s will and way for us today – even through these ancient, culture bound, human words of Scripture.
Evidence, experience, tradition, reason, community, intuitive knowing – they all come together to allow us to trust that somehow, in some mystery, again and again, the God of all Creation speaks in and through these human words. So when I say: “the Word of the Lord; thanks be to God,” I am giving witness that I believe God is still speaking. I am giving witness that I believe the witness of Scripture can speak authentically in every age about who we are as humans and who God is as God.
Of course that is not exhaustive. Words are so limited. And the words of the Bible are no exception. There are just so many ways words can represent reality and all ways are always inadequate. Human words are not things; words are symbols, pointers. They point beyond themselves to something else. The words of the Old Testament point to, direct us toward something in their future, while the words of the New Testament point to, direct us toward something in their past. And what is this “thing” the words of Scripture point to? What is the point of this book we call the Bible?
“In the beginning was the Word…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…and this Word is light and life to all people.”
Christ the crux, the hinge of history.
THE Word of the Lord; thanks be to God.
Whether someone knows that or not, claims that or not, I believe God has spoken once and for all in Jesus Christ. And in Jesus Christ, God has spoken love and grace and welcome for all.
God has revealed himself, unveiled himself, emerged from the fire and cloud, stepped down out of the whirlwind, and said: “I Am.”
Here I am – in a manger in a cattle stall; with a calloused hand and a carpenter’s saw; reaching out to the lost and forsaken; embracing the children; feeding the hungry; healing the sick; washing dirty feet; hanging on a cross.
Here I Am.
This is what light and love looks like and sounds like and acts like.
God’s Word made flesh.
And so now “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend…the breadth and length and height and depth of love, and to know the love of Christ that is beyond knowing…” (Ephesians 3).
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
“Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh, 1889.
Hand Image: Detail from “Crucifixion,” Matthias Grunewald, c 1515.