One of the most significant ways in which people have been created in the image of God, I’m sure, has to do their ability to frame thoughts in the form of words. I must confess that I am deeply impressed and fascinated by this aspect of God’s self-revelation. In Romans 3, St. Paul asks the question about the advantage of being a Jew. His answer is that to the Jews had been given the very oracles of God. In other words, the distinguishing mark of the Jewish people — that which gave them a “leg-up” on every other nation in the world is that they were given, through Moses, the self-revelation of God in written form. It came to them in the form of the Law (or Torah, as known among the Jewish people).
Evidently, Jehovah God’s self-revelation through speech was one of the most important aspects of his person and character that he wanted his people to know. Through the holy Scriptures, both Jews and Christians learn that creation itself came about by the very words of God. Hebrews 11:3 confirms the fact that the entire universe came into existence by God’s mere command! This is an astounding aspect of the natural world that challenges the best of scientific inquiry concerning the subject of origin. The fact of creation by God’s command generally appears to support the idea that the existence of all things in the universe came about rather suddenly. Yet, it’s possible, I suppose, that even in that suddenness there is room for the development of elements within long “day” periods of time. But the fact remains, based on the testimony of Scripture, that ex nihilo creation took place by the word of God.
Israel is often reminded by the prophets that idols, by comparison to God, don’t have the ability to speak. The prophet, Habakkuk, speaks of idols as being speechless (2:18), and Paul likewise writes of idols as being “dumb” (1 Corinthians 12:2). Surely the folly of humanity in its idolatry is that it looks for words of life from sources that have no capacity for speech. I love the expression of this foolishness in Psalm 115. “Their idols are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands. They cannot talk, though they have mouths, or see though they have eyes! They cannot hear with their ears, or smell with their noses, or feel with their hands, or walk with their feet, or utter sounds with their throats! And those who make them are just like them as are all who trust in them” (vs 4 – 8, NLT).
Amazingly, on the other hand, God is even able to speak without words as we know them. Psalm 19 tells of God’s glory being made known to all the world through the very existence of created things — especially, in this case, in the skies above. This order of created things is, emphatically, a silent testimony to God’s power, glory and majesty. “Their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world” (vs 4). Thankfully, however, as referred to earlier, God has also made his power and glory known through the written word. It has come to us through various prophets appointed by God for this task. “Holy men of God spoke, as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). So we come to the conclusion that “…all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16). That is why so many of us view the Bible with such reverence and importance — because it is the very word of God in its objective form.
Yet the Bible itself is not the climax of God’s speaking word. That comes to us in the Person of Christ himself. Jesus is the best “word” revelation from God that the world has ever seen. He is the most specific and profound revelation of the great God of all eternity. “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. But now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son… The Son reflects God’s own glory and everything about him represents God exactly” (Hebrews 2, 3 — NLT). Accordingly, it is not insignificant that John’s Gospel begins with reference to Jesus as “the Word.” If anyone wants to know what God is actually like, he or she has merely to take a good look at Jesus. Thankfully, we have a grand description given to us of Jesus in the Gospels (not to mention the many allusions to him in the rest of Scripture).
There is another dimension of God’s speaking voice, however, that is often overlooked. This has to do with what we might refer to as the subjective experience of God’s voice — the special privilege of those who are followers of Jesus. This aspect of God’s voice is well-illustrated in the experience of the prophets and the people of God under the old regime — the Old Testament. There are many instances of individual’s “hearing” the voice of the Lord. But under the new regime — the New Testament — God’s voice is an immediate experience for followers of Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Just as the disciples of Jesus experienced God’s very presence and voice in his Person, so it is our privilege today to hear his voice, as we follow him. I believe this is what Jesus was talking about as recorded in John 10 when he says, “after he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they recognize his voice” (John 10:4).
One of the great blessings, for me, of being a Christ-follower is the daily experience of hearing the voice of God in my own heart. No, it is not an audible thing, using the physical medium of air to communicate with me. Rather, it is that inner “gentle whisper” that Elijah speaks of as documented in 1 Kings 19:12. It is that spiritual inner urging or impression that comes through meditation and reflection in God’s presence while reading the Word or engaging in prayer — or simply in worshipping God while doing some ordinary task. It’s interesting to me that so many of the gifts of the Spirit have to do with speech — teaching, knowledge, wisdom, prophesy (preaching), exhortation, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.
In the end, it is obvious to me, that the capacity to write or speak, to engage in conversation, or to make an oral presentation of one kind or another is a very, very powerful gift with which to create, influence, and build structures of eternal value. In raw form of course, words can be dangerous and destructive; but by the grace of God in Christ, words — and the very capacity of speech — can be redeemed to accomplish God’s very powerful and beautiful purposes.