What is the Bible to us? Something holy? Something reverent? More somehow than just a book?
The bible throughout its history in Israel and after Christ has been the source of the story of God. It has told us throughout time, who we are and what God has done. Though many could not read the texts for themselves they served to form a culture of hope around them. It was a reminder of the promises God had made to them.
In the Protestant Reformation, the bible was a symbol of rebellion. It was in a common language, and available for the laypeople to read. A holy source of pride and freedom.
For many it is a treasured possession, sometimes the only book owned by a family. A book with worn edges and tattered pages. A woman once told me a story of her childhood growing up in the former Soviet Union, whose parents were so devoted to the Orthodox church, they buried a bible under the floorboards that they would read at night, sharing the illegal stories of Abraham and Noah. For others it is little more than a family history book that contains the death and birth records for the family, big, heavy, unreadable and for decoration alone
The bible is and forever will be the source of God’s Holy Word. A spirit-infused journaling of God’s holy prophets and leaders who recorded with their human hands what God had done in his creation.
But I ask, does the word of God have this power today? To uncover all that is hidden? To reveal the heart of the world?
Consider what we mean by the word of God:
If we limit the word of God to be contained within the printed letters alone, we cannot help to see the Bible as something that needs to be defended from the waves of modernity and social laxity. As something that forever and always needs to be recovered and followed.
The underlying fear is the threat of irrelevancy, that as society thrusts forward, the Bible will be forgotten. Many seek to recover the old ways, to defend what they see to be a better version of reality.
Where we run into trouble is when we begin to think that the Word of God resides only in the letters of the page, or maybe even just the red letters. That the Word of God is neatly bound between two pieces of leather. The word of God becomes then something merely to be quoted. If our only interaction with the Bible is to pull out quotes for what we believe to be true, if we don’t let the text live and breath and cut us, then it is all worthless. Then the bible is truly irrelevant.
What makes the Word of God special is that fact that it is alive. The word here in Greek is logos, means so much more that “word.” Literally, it can be translated that way, but what John is tapping into when he labels Jesus as the very Word of God, is much more expansive. It is the principle of order and understanding. The very rationality behind all things. The logic of everything that happens. Far more than being just the inspiration for the Bible, he defines what is the way, the truth and the life.
The Word of God is alive, vibrant, and active because God was never satisfied with just speaking. The word of God is followed by action. God spoke by creating the universe. God did not choose to simply speak the way of salvation from the heavens, rather God chose to wrap his word in flesh.
The Word of God that was tested in the desert, baptized by John. It is the word of God that walked on water. The word of God that took Jairus’ daughter’s hand and said “get up” The Word of God who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and restored sight to the blind.
One of the roles that Jesus, that enfleshed word of God fulfills for us, is that he is our high priest. The high priest served the role of representing the holy presence of God, priests were the mediators, they performed the sacrifices, said the prayers, and took care of the temple. They interacted with God for the people.
The good news that Hebrews shares with us is that we no longer need a high priest, for God has taken on that very role in Christ. Jesus is our priest, and he is a unique one at that. He is both God and Man. He exists in the space in between us and God. Jesus closed the distance between us and God. Christianity is unique, because for us, Christ stands beside us in the pew, leading us in worship of the Father, while also receiving that worship as truly God. He is our mediator.
Jesus has experienced everything from our point of view, he has taken on our flesh, felt the sensations of our bodies. He has lived in a brain like ours, seeing, tasting, smelling, touching. He experienced the pains, the aches, and the temptations. He truly knows how frail the flesh is. Therefore, one can never use the excuse “God, simply doesn’t understand my situation” because Christ is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses.
Jesus had a knack for knowing people. The Samartian Woman did not run away telling a theological account of the Messiahship of David’s descendant, but she says “Come see a man that has told me everything I have ever done.” Likewise, Jesus knew the very depths of the man who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life when he told him to shed all of his possessions.
For, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account” (Hebrews 4:12-16).
It reminds me of Psalm 139 in that way:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
Such a powerful word is scary. How is such a penetrating glare into our lifes at all comforting? Being naked and laid bare before the word of God sounds like humiliation, like it violates our rights to privacy. Our growing fear of the lack of privacy on the internet, the intrusion by the Patriot Act, and the ever-looming fear of Big brother is a fear of being seen. We are afraid of being vulnerable.
I ask you to consider who knows you the best. Whether it is your spouse, child, parent or friend, someone knows you better than anyone else. Now think of the parts of your life or personality that even that person does not know. Whether intentional or not, knowing another human being completely is a difficult, if not impossible task. In normal day-to-day interaction we do not present ourselves as truly ourselves, we rather put up defenses in order to project whatever version of ourselves we choose to display.
In that way, we are like porcelain jars. From the outside we may have any number of patterns painted upon us, a beautiful thatching or perhaps just a plain color. When we walk around, people cannot seen what is contained within us. Is it dirty, brackish water within us? Or is it the pure, living water of Christ?
The word of God penetrates into this mystery, making our porcelain shells transparent like glass, as though in a mirror, we are able to see who and what we are.
For many years of my life, I saw Christianity, attending church where you were expected to act a certain way, dress a certain way, and talk a certain way. I had to tuck my shirt in there, once a week, carry my bible around once a week. Somehow I thought that I was expected to be an alternate version of myself. Like a split personality version of me that referenced the Bible more often, didn’t complain as much, and tried to behave. I lived with an understanding that I wasn’t good enough, I need to be better, different.
Being open and vulnerable to God was a scary frightening thing. What if someone found out that I don’t truly live up to the standard I’m supposed to? Does God really know how bad my spontaneous prayers are? I’ve been there where the eye of God is not comforting, but a threat.
Over time, I discovered that God created me, created each one of us in God’s image that he declared to be good. God knows our strengths and our weaknesses, for we were formed by the Word of God. Jesus is not interested in kindly platitudes, in nice suits and fake smiles.
I realized, that I needed to take that leap of faith to accept that God truly could see and know my life, and to accept that it was not a burden or curse, but a blessing. I began to notice that only in the sharp gaze of God was I able to begin to truly see myself. I was able to see myself for the first time, from the eyes of God. We are able to say yes, God, those are my weaknesses, yes, God, these are my addictions, but also, yes, God, these are my spiritual gifts, you have given me, and I will use them no longer for my personal glory, but for yours alone.
The gift that God gives us is the ability to be open and vulnerable, and honestly that a majority of people do not have, and to be loved and accepted in that vulnerability. If we allow the Word of God to cut us and rend us, to expose us for all to see, we will witness the power of the Word of God. In that we will find love, grace and mercy.
What are we afraid of when opening up to others? Judgment, rejection, shame? Before an almighty God we may shake with fear at the thought. How unfair of God to lay us bare. But Jesus knows our struggles. He has put on our flesh, he had been tempted, used our brains. When we stand exposed by the holy light of Christ, we do not stand alone before God, we stand with Christ by our side, praying for us, entreating the Father on our behalf.
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.