I’ve probably mentioned a few times that I have a deep appreciation for the writings of Eugene Peterson. Here is a true shepherd-theologian, caring for the flock and carefully communicating the truth in Scripture.
Actually if you ever want to see Peterson’s passion and gifting in action, check out how The Message paraphrase came about. And you can do so by reading his work, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. It’s a beautiful work on the importance of Scripture in the life of God’s people, but from a very pastoral perspective. I mean it’s not so heady, but very practical.
Speaking of Eat This Book, here is a quote to chew on (keeping the eating metaphor going).
I sometimes marvel that God chose to risk his revelation in the ambiguities of language. If he had wanted to make sure that the truth was absolutely clear, without any possibility of misunderstanding, he should have revealed his truth by means of mathematics. Mathematics is the most precise, unambiguous language that we have. But then, of course, you can’t say “I love you” in algebra. (p93)
Interesting, right? As the title of this post states: God Speaking Through Language.
How else would he do it right?
Well, I’m not sure it’s possible to communicate without language. Of course, the language communication could come through a non-verbal channel, not spoken. But even in silent reflection, dreams, etc, we still understand God’s truth through language.
And when we come to Scripture, we see those words on the pages. What was normally first spoken has now been written down for our benefit. It wasn’y written with us in mind, meaning us of the 21st century. But we still benefit from this God-breathed communication in the language of humanity, whatever the language.
However, it’s interesting, this thing called language. As Peterson reminds us, it’s not so precise. Actually, I might say that mathematics is also ‘language’, but of a different kind. Still, Peterson’s words remind us of the imprecise nature of language. Yet God’s revelation comes to us through such a channel, such a dynamic and lively medium.
You see, I’m always a bit concerned when I hear people describe the Bible as an instruction book. While I do understand what they are getting at, we must remember Scripture is not an instruction book in the technical sense. Within it, we find instructions for living in accordance with the ways of God. We do find commands upon it’s pages. But all of this is expressed within something as dynamic as language. But here’s the thing: You would expect God’s breath to bring a dynamic, rather than static, value. Right?
God’s breath is dynamic. Language is dynamic. Maybe the tandem goes quite well together.
Let us also not forget the songs, stories, poems, poetic prophecies, visions, dreams, imagery, metaphors, personification, allegories, and so much more that we find across the pages of Scripture. We find an anthology of literary genres, not just across the whole of the text, but even within smaller portions. And it’s all to communicate the revelation of our God. It’s quite ‘messy’, if you will. Yet it remains breathed out by God himself.
I’d argue this is one major reason Scripture is able to speak today. Yes, it speaks today because it has the breath of God as it’s source. But it also presently speaks because its living and active quality. Hebrews 4:12 teaches us that the word of God is living and active. And while this verse in Hebrews does not directly speak of the canon of Scripture, we believe Scripture remains an instrumental part of God’s living word. Ultimately, God’s word is a Person. But that word has come to us in the verbal proclamation of God’s truth, also being passed on to us in Scripture itself. It endures as alive and active.
So, somehow God ‘confines’ himself to the messiness and ambiguity of language, still believing this is the best way to communicate who he is and what he is doing. It kind of reminds me of God confining himself to flesh and blood in the divine Son, Jesus.
Really? God represented as a human being?
Really? God’s word represented in human language?
Quite messy. Quite alive.
Simply scandalous. Simply good.
We were never told Aslan would be safe. But he always remains good.
Opening Scripture takes us on a lively journey. The word of God coming through language. But language never sits static. It has room to breathe. And God breathed upon this language in Scripture himself.
So I’ll open up this living and active story of God’s work amongst the ancient community of God’s people. And I, by faith, will choose to believe that this life and activity of the Spirit has continued and will continue even into God’s people today.
I sometimes marvel that God chose to risk his revelation in the ambiguities of language.
Me too, Eugene. Me too.
But the scandalous One took that risk. And we are all the better for it.