On Monday we spoke about conviction, that deep inner grasp on the reality and trustworthiness of God. Next Monday, Lord willing, we’ll press into how this works in terms of God’s presence and the Bible. The following passage is deep, and speaks to both concerns. Enjoy…
God’s speech to man is real speech. It is very much like one person speaking to another. God speaks so that we can understand him and respond appropriately. Appropriate responses are of many kinds: belief, obedience, affection, repentance, laughter, pain, sadness, and so on. God’s speech is often propositional: God’s conveying information to us. But it is far more than that. It includes all the features, functions, beauty, and richness of language that we see in human communication, and more.
…God’s word, in all its qualities and aspects, is a personal communication from him to us.
Imagine God speaking to you right now, as realistically as you can imagine, perhaps standing at the foot of your bed at night.
He speaks to you like your best friend, your parents, or your spouse.
There is no question in your mind as to who he is: he is God. In the Bible, God often spoke to people in this way: to Adam and Eve in the garden; to Noah; to Abraham; to Moses.
For some reason, these were all fully persuaded that the speaker was God, even when the speaker told them to do things they didn’t understand. Had God asked me to take my son up a mountain to burn him as a sacrifice, as he asked of Abraham in Genesis 22, I would have decided that it wasn’t God and could not be God, because God could never command such a thing.
But somehow Abraham didn’t raise that question.
He knew, somehow, that God had spoken to him, and he knew what God expected him to do.
We question Abraham at this point… But if God is God, if God is who he claims to be, isn’t it likely that he is able to persuade Abraham that the speaker is really he? Isn’t he able to unambiguously identify himself to Abraham’s mind? Now imagine that when God speaks to you personally, he gives you some information, or commands you to do something. Will you then be inclined to argue with him? Will you criticize what he says? Will you find something inadequate in his knowledge or in the rightness of his commands?
I hope not. For that is the path to disaster. When God speaks, our role is to believe, obey, delight, repent, mourn—whatever he wants us to do. Our response should be without reservation, from the heart. Once we understand (and of course we often misunderstand), we must not hesitate. We may at times find occasion to criticize one another’s words, but God’s
words are not the subject of criticism.
Scripture is plain that this is the very nature of the Christian life: having God’s word and doing it. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21). Everything we know about God we know because he has told us, through his personal speech. All our duties to God are from his commands. All the promises of salvation through the grace of Christ are God’s promises, from his own mouth. What other source could there possibly be, for a salvation message that so contradicts our own feelings of self-worth, our own ideas of how to earn God’s favor?
Now, to be sure, there are questions about where we can find God’s personal words today, for he does not normally speak to us now as he did to Abraham… And there are questions about how we can come to understand God’s words, given our distance from the culture in which they were given… I will address these questions in due course. But the answer cannot be that God’s personal words are unavailable to us, or unintelligible to us. If we say either of those things, then we lose all touch with the biblical gospel.
The idea that God communicates with human beings in personal words pervades all of Scripture, and it is central to every doctrine of Scripture. If God has, in fact, not spoken to us personally, then we lose any basis for believing in salvation by grace, in judgment, in Christ’s atonement—indeed, for believing in the biblical God at all. Indeed, if God has not spoken
to us personally, then everything important in Christianity is human speculation and fantasy.
Yet it should be evident to anyone who has studied the recent history of theology that the mainstream liberal and neoorthodox traditions have in fact denied that such personal words have occurred, even that they can occur. Others have said that although God’s personal words may have occurred in the past, they are no longer available to us as personal words because of the problems of hermeneutics and canon.
If those theologies are true, all is lost.