Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
and a light for my path. – Psalm 119:105
This morning I’ve been thinking about words, both ancient words and today’s words too. That’s not really surprising, considering my profession. But the thing is, words don’t belong to writers alone; we don’t own a specialized tool set. Fact is, everyone uses words, and words can mean different things depending on who is saying them, how they are delivered, the context, and a host of other variables resident in the person reading or listening; language is malleable, living, responsive, and constantly evolving.
And it’s not like the evolution of words is something we can regulate. “Evangelical,” for example – a word that used to mean living the good news of the Gospel out loud – has been co-opted by the “Religious Right,” and now has so many political connotations that I can no longer describe myself as an evangelical. Has the good news of Jesus changed? No! But the word has.
“You Keep Using That Word; I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means…” – The Princess Bride
TRUTH: So my task, as a writer, is to coax these words that we all use to cooperate in my task of communicating truth, of harnessing encouragement, of channeling passion, and of inviting people into a more complete experience of life.
I thought about all this earlier today, when I was sitting in the living room, sipping a mug of coffee in one of the dedicated reading spaces throughout our home. I used to joke that putting in one more bookcase is a “no-brainer” decorating solution. But then I went to a few homes where fake “bookcases” featured nothing but bookends glued to a board, and I remembered the difference between academics and aesthetics.
Rebekah, sorting through some boxes from our move two years ago, recently found some ancient volumes that have been fun to thumb through. One, a collection of hymns, was printed in 1869, others, containing the Gospels or the entire Bible, are 200 years old. Many of the words are obsolete, and the translations miss the mark in many respects. Yet what they represent – the truth about God’s initiatives of love, and the story of how people struggled with faith and eventually found a reconciled relationship with God through the saving grace of Jesus – is still fresh, and powerful, and invitational.
The point of words, then, is to help us to unwrap the mystery of God, to serve as a connecting point between our hearts, our minds, and our openness to a truth that resides in deeper, higher, richer places than the text itself.
For me, this distinction between truth and text actually elevates the scriptures. By recognizing what they are not, we can more fully appreciate what they are.
WORSHIP GOD, NOT WORDS ABOUT GOD: I worship God, the God revealed to me in many ways, including the following:
- the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments,
- the person of Jesus Christ,
- the work of the Holy Spirit,
- the history of believers coming together in worship and mission,
- the compelling testimony of this good Earth and the amazing Universe,
- the story of people today who follow Jesus,
- the simple fact of our day-to-day lives,
- and… the powerful celebration of community that is Wake Forest Presbyterian Church.
But I do not worship the words, or the Bible; the words simply tell the story. Jesus is The Word, everything else is just words….
In love, and because of love – DEREK