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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bible 8: the problem with words

Words are limited. It is the nature of a word. When we say, "words fail me" we do not mean that our vocabulary is too small, or that we are not efficient at creating sentences. What we mean is that words are limited. For example, the word "awesome" is popularly used to describe lots of things. "This cake is awesome!" we might say. However, when we talk about a rocket ship taking off to the moon and say, "it was awesome" or as we peer into the Grand Canyon and say, "it was awesome" we mean something deeper than it was on par with some tasty chocolate cake. And when we talk about the birth of our child and say, "it was awesome"---well anyone who has had the experience knows that the word awesome is true, but it cannot convey the full impact.

In a sense, words are like photographs. They do not convey the experience, they try to describe it. I have snapped countless photos from mountains or bays and when you look at the flat photo it just does not, can not, give someone the same feeling that standing there and gazing at the real thing does. It isn't because we are bad photographers, it is because a photograph (even a video) cannot fully capture the event..

"Words fail"; it is there nature. So words, which are too small to contain us and our communication, certainly are not infinite enough to hold and convey God. Period. To say that they can is to say God is less amazing then much of His creation. So God's Self communication through words (even The Word, The Bible) is always limited by the limitations of words.

One huge problem for words is that they are not self explaining. Words can be misunderstood and misinterpreted. Written words are even more prone to that as they do not have any of the non-verbal cues which are so vital in communication. "God is Love" for example, is really true, but probably the way most contemporary Christians is very different from what the word meant to Jesus and His disciples. Most Americans find Middle Easterners a bit strange and difficult to understand, right? (and they have the same experience of us)  And most contemporary folks find ancient folks a bit strange and hard to understand. Words like family, love, salvation, sin have different connotations and denotations in our society among us. In fact, defining terms is considered one of the steps in any discussion. So saying that the Word of God is infallible, without error, and perfect may be true, but it also means you have to understand what the Word of God is saying; and the "plain meaning" of Scripture today is the plain meaning for a white middle aged middle class American man, or a black teenaged inner city girl, or a college aged, second generation Asian girl, etc. etc. We just think we know what things mean and they don't.

However, the Word is from God, and that makes it special. He speaks to us in and through the Word. But we have to do hard work to figure out what He is saying. We have to be open to the Holy Spirit to hear what He is saying. We have to want to hear what He is saying. We have to repent to hear what He is saying.... Well, it is just not simple or easy.

Is the Bible trustworthy? Yes, but the reader isn't. And therein lies the rest of the story

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