“The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold on me.” Martin Luther
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Heb 4:12-13
Professor emeritus, Charles Hedrick, a former teacher in religious studies at Missouri State, wrote the following in a recent newspaper editorial: “The biblical God was a talker! So, why the deafening silence today? If ever a time was needed to hear God’s voice in our ears, it is now, but today few claim to hear God’s voice….Religious professionals tell us God speaks through the Bible-which for some is literally the “Words of God.” But written words are not a living voice!”
Professor Hedrick bemoans the lack of God’s speaking at a time when we desperately need his direct communication. Issues like abortion, homosexuality, the care of the environment and the war in Iraq confuse and divide us. According to the professor, The Bible can’t do it because it is mere “memoirs” of believers rather than a living, speaking document. For him, God is absent and silent, leaving this troubling question: “How do we discriminate among the insistent voices filling the vacuum?”
My first response to the good doctor’s observations is this: I don’t believe that an audible “living voice” would make that much of a difference. The Israelites not only heard the voice they saw awesome miracles. Still, they doubted, rebelled and were punished. In Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man in hell asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his family to warn them of the place of torment that awaited them. Abraham responded, “They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them listen to them.” But the rich man pleaded again, reasoning that a person coming from the dead would be the needed proof to motivate repentance. But Abraham declined, saying: [Luke 16:31] ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'” In Jesus’ view, the writings of Moses and the Prophets have divine power so that even the appearance of a dead man would not add a thing to its effectiveness in bringing unbelievers to repentance.
My second response is this: The Word of God that we hold in our hands is not a dead book, nor is it merely the memoirs of religious men, but a “living voice” of God. It is alive and dynamic. It is able to penetrate through layers of denial and cover-up that we have built up to cover our sins. It does not stop with political issues. It goes to the hearts of men. Its penetrating power is able to cut through those layers of denial to expose and lay bare our most secret and cherished sins. It does not stop with behaviors but goes deep to motives. Only God’s Word leaves us exposed and without excuse before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account. I doubt if the good professor wants that kind of “living voice”.
The Scriptures are the objective eternal, testimony of God’s Word to men. However, men and women like the scholarly professor Hedrick have managed to read and even study the Scriptures and miss the life changing truth that mysteriously pulsates within it. Jesus expressed this when he said to the Scribes of his day: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. [Matt 22:29] Jesus lays the source of their error to the fact that they do not “know” the Scriptures nor its “power.” What is that “power” that the scribes and scholars do not know? It is the subjective power of the Holy Spirit working within the soul, making the Word come alive to our darkened and deadened souls.
I have found that even in the church there are those who fail to know the Scriptures and the power thereof. At times I have been among them. I have read scriptures that were as clear as a bell and yet they seemed as dry as cardboard. They were in my head but not my heart. What was the disconnect? I think 1 John 2:27, with a bit of hard thinking, can help us here. John writes, “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit — just as it has taught you, remain in him.”
Here is what I believe John is saying. When we believe, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us. He teaches us the truth about Jesus Christ. His purpose is to bring glory to God by forming us into Christ’s image [Romans 8:29]. He does this by taking that which is Christ and making it known to us [John 14:26]. In other words, he enables us to see Christ and love Christ in ever increasing ways through His Word. John is not saying that there is no need for gifted teachers to fulfill their calling in the church. He is saying that the Holy Spirit, working within us, is able to open our eyes and soften our hearts so that when we hear the Word or read the Word, at that moment it comes alive to our hearts. The Spirit doesn’t teach us new things about God that are not found in Scripture. He take the scriptures that we have been given and breathes life into them so that we hear them as God’s personal and powerful Word to us. In that moment, we are more sure that what we are hearing is the “living voice” of God than if we heard God audibly speaking through a glowing angel, suspended in space, hanging over our head.
Now here is the point in all this. We need the Holy Spirit to be active if we are to see and savor Christ in His Word. God has appointed that prayer be the means to activate this life giving partnership of Word and Spirit. What I am saying is that getting the Word from our head to our heart is not automatic. If you doubt this, read Psalm 119 again. It is 176 verses that elevate and proclaim the value of God’s law, but it is filled with prayers for divine help: “Open my eyes” ; “Let me understand” ; “Direct me in the path of your commands” ; “Turn my heart toward your statutes” ; etc. His prayers for God’s help is in every stanza.
I write this as a Preacher, teacher and as a disciple of Christ. Everywhere I go I see a famine of the Word. People are not being nourished and so turn to other artificial substitutes for food. Believers pick up the Bible and listen to sermons but are unchanged. The tragedy is not because God is not speaking but because we cannot hear. I encourage you to align yourself with the Psalmist not the professor. Don’t settle for darkness and despair. Cry out for insight and inspiration. You will hear the “living voice” in wonderful, Christ honoring, soul-satisfying ways!
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