A little while ago I posted some thoughts on the relationship between God and the Word of God from theologian John Frame, including this great quote:
“Wherever God is, the word is, and wherever the word is, God is. Whenever God speaks, he himself is there with us.”
This is quite the assertion, but Frame backs it up in detail in chapter 11 of his book The Doctrine of the Word of God. As the chapter winds to a close, Frame goes even further, pressing the implications of the verses he quotes to a logical conclusion…
Finally, the Word is God
John 1:1 comes right out and says this, together with other passages we have mentioned that correlate God’s word with Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-3; 1 John 1:1-3; Rev. 3:14; 19:13). We are inclined to focus on the Christology of John 1:1-14 and thus to take it as identifying Jesus Christ with the word of God and therefore with God. But we should also note the fact that this verse identifies God with the creative word of Genesis 1. We have seen that in Genesis 1, God creates all things by his word of Genesis 1. When John’s Gospel starts “In the beginning,” any Jewish reader would have caught the allusion back to Genesis 1:1. John 1:1-14 is about that word, the word that created all things. The allusion becomes more obvious in verse 3: “All things were made through him [i.e., through the word], and without him was not anything made that was made.” So when verse 1 says that “the Word was God,” it indicates not only the deity of Christ, but also the deity of the creative word. So the passage teaches not only an identity between God and Christ, but a threefold identity, between God, Christ, and the creative world.
So the word is God. When we encounter the word of God, we encounter God. When we encounter God, we encounter his word. We cannot encounter God without the word, or the word without God. God’s word and his personal presence are inseparable. His word, indeed, is his personal presence. Whenever God’s Word is spoken, read, or heard, God himself is there.
The implications of this are huge.
Paul’s second letter to Timothy (3:16-17) says: “You must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
“Inspiration” here has the idea of “breathed out by God.” In other words, the words of the scriptures are carried by God’s very breath. In other words, where the words of the Bible are, God is there—breathing them out. God is present there with you when you read it, with us, together, when we hear it. He’s walking in the cool of the day. He’s calling from the top of the mountain. He’s surrounding us, speaking. The only issue is—will we hear him?
Now, of course, we all know that sometimes people read the bible and feel like they heard nothing. And they don’t feel like God is close to them. But if it’s true that God is present wherever his word is, that means that if we don’t feel God’s nearness when we’re interacting with the words of the bible, the issue is with us; and that means that if we feel far away from God, we can grow in this area.
We can cultivate a nearness to God in His word. How? By “getting on his wavelength” in terms of our thoughts, desires and goals. We have to “get into rhythm” with him. In the pages of the Bible, we can hear God’s words, and if we learn to humbly look for his wisdom, and listen to his thoughts, and search for all the ways that our thoughts are different than his thoughts—we can learn to think like God. That’s the key. It’s tuning the frequency of our heart to be able to pick up his thoughts, and it’s getting the wavelengths of our thoughts to match his. We learn to understand the kinds of things God says and does—so we can better understand what he’s thinking about and what he’s saying. The main way God accomplishes this is through the scriptures. They acquaint us with who God is, and with his thoughts, so that we can know what he’s like, and see what he’s doing.
Which means that in the Bible, God draws near to us by revealing his thoughts to us, and by actively drawing us to seek him, and then by conforming our thoughts to his—if we’ll seek him and reject our old evil.
It’s just true that God is near in his word, and so we should surround ourselves with it and see how that begins to affect our sense of his nearness. But we can also see how God draws near to us in his word. Wherever we are, we can say He’s right here, with us, right now. It’s just that we’re not naturally on his wavelength. You probably know know the experience of having his word open in front of you, and you’re reading it, but then you have a thought like—God is really far away. Where is he? I can’t sense him. I can’t find him. It can happen even when we’re reading the bible. But press on, and the Bible will be saying what God says: “I’m right here. And this is what I’m thinking about and this is what I’m doing…and this is what I love.” If God’s thoughts seem like they don’t make sense, we need to let his thoughts challenge our thoughts, and change them.
Again, 2 Tmothy 3:16 answers the question of how that practically happens and helps us see how God’s word changes us. It does it with doctrine—it tells us who God is. It does it with reproof—it shows us what thoughts or ways of living are wrong. It does it with correction—it teaches us how to change. And it does it with instruction—it helps us move forward to really know and serve God. When you’re “equipped” for every good work, as the verse says, it means that you’re ready to know what God’s doing in the world and to do it along side of him.
To try to paint a picture of it: When a son is young, dad goes away every morning, and the son doesn’t know where he’s going. Dad feels far away. When the son gets a little older, he learns what the father’s doing. The father has a business. The father does a certain kind of work. He doesn’t think of his dad as far away anymore because he understands. But when the son is fully mature, he learns the father’s thoughts and ways, and joins in running the family business with his father. That’s a high level of closeness. And something like this is what the Bible seems to point us to in terms of growing with God.
There’s another phrase for all of this in the Bible: “hearing God’s Word…” Sometimes Christians act like the ultimate Christian experience is to have messages from God constantly in our ears, like a spiritual GPS with a direct uplink to a running commentary on our lives from God himself. But actually, this process—having the words of scripture speak to us and shape our thoughts and feelings—is probably closer to what the Bible means by “hearing God’s word.” God is already speaking—in the words of the Bible. The ability to hear the words of Scripture as God’s Words to us, to know God’s thoughts and understand what he’s doing in the world and with our lives, to have all of that understanding and awareness shaped by the bible—that is what ends up producing a deep, inner sense of the closeness of God that’s better than if God was whispering in our ears all the time—and this is because God is actually near in His words.
So think about it. If our thoughts are full of God’s word, doesn’t that mean…God is dwelling with us, in our very thoughts? And, just to put it out there, when that’s our situation, won’t that make it easier for us to actually know when he might be communicating something to us that isn’t explicitly found in the Bible?
Maybe this is what Jesus meant by having ears to hear.