What is the Bible? Part 22: The Word of God, Baby.
What is the Bible?
Part 22: The Word of God, Baby.
To begin with, a few words about words.
Somewhere around 1993 I was studying to be a pastor and I took a class in preaching from the Rev. Dr. Mitties McDonald DeChamplain. She’s a legend, and it was a thrill to learn from her. I was just starting out but I had big ideas about preaching and how it could be done in new ways and I threw myself into the craft, trying to learn everything I could while getting as much experience as I could. As part of my time studying with her I got to give a short sermon to the class. I had learned early on in seminary that there was a way seminary folks approached sermons and that I didn’t see it that way-I was after something else. Something different. Something new. So I worked and worked to prepare my sermon, trying to get it how I thought it should be.
And then the day came and I gave that sermon. I can only imagine how rough it was must have been for my fellow students, but I was on top of the world. I felt like I’d tapped in to something, like I was finding my voice, like the sky was the limit with what would be done with this particular art form called the sermon.
I sat down, and it was time for the class to comment. They were kind and supportive and said what you say when you know this same person you’re evaluating is going to evaluate you later. Polite, in other words.
And then it was Dr. DeChamplain’s turn to give me feedback. You know what she said?
You can take it way farther.
That’s what she said. She didn’t wonder why I did it the way I did it, she didn’t tell me how to do it better, she didn’t give me a list of things to work on, she somehow understood what I was up to and she let me know she was behind me and I should keep going and the there was no limit.
You can take it way farther.
Words have power. Twenty years later her words are still with me.
There are those moments when someone says exactly what you needed to hear-you knew there was more, you knew that what you had been taught wasn’t the last word on the matter, you had a sense that you were missing something, and then you heard someone say it. They named it, called it out, described it, insisted it was possible, gave it language-whatever it is that they said, it made your heart leap.
Or maybe you were in a bad place. Filled with despair and doubt, wondering if there was any way forward, and someone said something that changed everything. It inspired you, moved you, spurred you to action, gave you hope that there was a way forward.
Words can do that.
Words create new worlds. (Heschel said that.)
Words can change everything.
So when you open the Bible and start reading the poem on the first page, does it surprise you that the poet describes a God who creates using…words?
Words create new realities. And when this God speaks, the poet insists, things happen.
The word for word in Hebrew is the word davar and it’s used around 1400 times in the Bible. God speaks, God davars, and things happen. The word for word is also the word for thing and power-something written, spoken, heard, seen, and experienced. A creative act that brings something new into existence.
They believed that this life has a source, that it flows from the heart of a divine being who is good and creative and generous and on our side. As Paul asked a crowd of people in the city of Lystra: Who do you think it is that provides your food and fills you with joy? According to the Hebrews, there is a creative life force that surges through all creation, giving it life and sustaining it, from the movement of the planets to the breathe of a child. God speaks, and then God continues to speak. As the Psalm writer put it God continually renews the face of the earth… .
In the Bible, the whole universe is God’s megaphone.
God speaks, God acts, God creates, God sustains, God is the source of the endless energy that pours forth into creation, bringing new life and sustaining everything from solar systems to your next breath.
So the Bible is the Word of God?
Yep. Lots of things are.
Wait-lots of things are the word of God?
That’s what you find in the Bible-
from the heavens and the stars (the Psalms)
the mouth of a baby (again, the Psalms)
your conscience (Romans)
the poets and philosophers of the day (Paul quotes them in his case for God and the resurrection of Christ in Acts 17.).
So when you read the word of God you find the writers of the word of God talking about lots of words of God?
How would you define the word of God?
The creative action of God speaking in the world, bringing new creation and new life into being.
And how would you define the Bible as the word of God?
First, I’d stress that it’s written by people-it’s the word of humans first.
So what do people mean when they say that this library of books written by people is the word of God?
Good question. What they’re saying is that they find this book to be a reliable record of the ongoing, unfolding creative work of God in the world.
Are there dangers in calling it the word of God?
There are. Because often the perspective that starts with the Bible being the word of God tends to skip over the fact that the Bible is first and foremost a human book, written by people for people. That gets confusing when people come across the humanity of these writings. It can throw them off, thinking that they can’t trust it or it isn’t relevant anymore. And when the preacher up front just keeps insisting that it’s God’s word and giving lame explanations for the obviously human parts, you either check your brain at the door or you check out.
So human first, then the God part.
Well said. Have you been reading my posts?
But that can get confusing, the human part and the God part-
Yes, and there’s a lot of great writing on this, helping us understand the difference between dictation and adoption and a number of other ways we got this book. I highly recommend Kenton Spark’s magnificent book Sacred Word, Broken Word-it’s a highly accessible book that’s very helpful in understanding the human/divine dimensions to this book.
What do you mean by the God part?
When I read this book, something happens in me. I’m inspired, I’m convicted, I’m confronted, I’m comforted-I read these stories and they speak to me about the story God is telling. They’re books, but they’re more than books. That’s been my experience. They ring true to me.
But can’t you experience that through lots of books, lots of other words, lots of other experiences?
Of course. That’s something the writers of the Bible say often. It’s as if the writers keep saying open your eyes, look around, listen, pay attention.
Then what’s the big deal about the Bible? What makes it so special? What makes it unique? Why is it even needed?
Great questions. You free tomorrow?
Tomorrow: Why this library?