In an image-saturated world, words still matter. In our friendships, marriages, and churches, how we use and misuse words will set the path either for pain or for flourishing. In this series, writer Branson Parler exhorts us to not take our words lightly, because the way we use our words ultimately points to the Word who became matter, became flesh, and dwelt among us.

This Part 4 of a four part series called Words Matter. Access the rest of the series here:

Promises Broken | More but not Less Than Words | Tongues of Fire | Speaking of God


 

 

As a kid growing up in Iowa, I thought the mountains of the West were like another planet. Between family vacations and church trips, we made the trek to Colorado several times. And although the majesty and grandeur of the Rockies were incredible, I was left with this question: how do you describe them to other plains-dwellers who have never seen them? What compares with them? Iowa does have its hill country, but I couldn’t just say, “The Rockies are like the rolling hills in northeast Iowa, just a LOT bigger.”

 

That just doesn’t seem to do justice to what the Rockies are really like.

 

So I understand why many people would say that our words fall short of capturing God, of describing who God is. God is so different, so completely beyond us, so “other” than finite humans that any attempt to speak of him seems like it fails before it starts.

 

This instinct is understandable and gets something very right about God—God is utterly unique. As Isaiah asks, “With whom will you compare God?” If we start out thinking that God is basically like us, just a little bigger in some respects, we’ve turned God into something within creation, not the God who brings creation into existence. So I’m all for emphasizing that God is beyond us.

 

But this respect for God can sometimes lead to despair or at least into a cloud of agnosticism. If God is so beyond us, can we speak of God truly? Or speak of God at all? Maybe all we can say is…nothing, like an Iowa boy who can describe the Rockies only by gesturing to the cornfields under the endless sky and saying, “It’s nothing like this.”

 

But what if the Rockies came to us? I think our challenge to speak of God truly—or at all—often begins from the wrong place. Namely, us.

 

In Scripture, God takes the initiative. He doesn’t wait for us to figure out how to speak to or about him; he speaks first. In the book of Genesis, God speaks and brings all things into existence; humanity speaks only in response to that initial word. This pattern continues. God doesn’t wait for Abraham to figure out who he is; God speaks words of promise to Abraham and his descendants. God doesn’t wait for Moses to figure out how to speak about him; instead, God shows up in a burning bush and speaks words of deliverance and hope to Moses. In short, the Bible shows us that humanity receives the words God speaks to us, and then we respond. When the time was right, God spoke to us through his Son, Jesus, who fully revealed his nature.

 

If God has spoken, if he has told us who he is, then it’s dangerous for us to hide behind a false humility that refuses to speak. “Oh, I can’t say anything of substance about God because God is so beyond me.” The God we see and hear in Jesus, the Word become flesh, is a God who is not just beyond us but God with us. See, when we refuse to speak of God because God is so beyond us, that “God” is actually an invention, a projection of a “God” who cannot be spoken of. That is not the true God, the God we can know in Jesus.

 

Speaking of God | Off the Page

 

When we read the stories in the Bible about people who encounter God—from Moses to Isaiah to Ezekiel to Peter and Paul and John—we see an interesting pattern. When they see and hear God, they in turn speak of God to those who need to hear. Because God is a God who speaks, we need both the care and the courage to speak God’s words after him. For to stay silent when God has indeed spoken would be the most arrogant speech of all.


 

 

This Part 4 of a four part series called Words Matter. Access the rest of the series here:

Promises Broken | Words > Image | Tongues of Fire | Speaking of God