Words - or the Word?
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2, NIV)
Speaking in London this week, Archbishop Justin Welby said: “It is extraordinarily important as Christians that we remember that the definitive revelation of who God is was not in words, but in the word of God who we call Jesus Christ. We can’t pin God down.”
The Archbishop’s comments came as part of Q & A after an evening talk at St Martin’s-in-the-Fields church, where he was being asked about God being described as “our Father”. I think his point is that God has supremely made himself known by a person rather than a book; and that since a person cannot be analysed as a book can, we cannot be too precise about God. This got me thinking.
It is wonderfully true that God’s definitive revelation of himself is indeed in the person of Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews, quoted above, is clear about that. The same writer goes on to show how vital it is that God has come to us this way. Jesus, in His humanity, was able to take our place and atone for our sins. Risen from the dead, he lives to intercede for us - not as one remote from us, but one who knows what it’s like to face what we face. No book could ever do that!
Christianity is not about a book coming down from heaven, but a man. How would we know the love of God for us without the death of the Lord Jesus? How would we know God’s compassion, his desire for justice, and so much more, if we were not able to observe Jesus’ earthly life? How wonderful it is that God did not just send us a book, but his only Son.
And yet, as I chew this over, I find myself with a problem. The Archbishop’s words make him sound as if we should look to Jesus to see God, rather than the (many) words of Scripture. The problem is simple: we only know Jesus through the words of the Bible.
Jesus himself used many words himself - he was known in his day principally as a teacher. Moreover, he himself regarded the Old Testament as the Word of God. It is this Old Testament that points towards him. The Bible is all about Jesus.
“Yes”, says someone, “but surely words on a page are inadequate to express out-of-this-world truth about God?” Not if they are the words God himself has chosen to use to speak to us. Here is the Apostle Paul: This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. (1 Corinthians 2:13) God’s own words can carry the weight of God’s message.
It is wonderfully true that God’s definitive revelation is by means of his Son. Praise him for that! But that’s why I pick up my Bible - to get to know him better. To separate Jesus from the Bible would be the gateway to a dangerous and subjective mysticism.
Putting it negatively: no Bible, no Jesus. Or positively, for those who come to him or want to come to him, know Bible, know Jesus!
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