A paperback entitled ‘Conversations with God’ that I found in a charity shop reckoned that God rarely uses words, because words have their limitations and can easily be misunderstood. Rather, God speaks primarily through our feelings (the language of the soul), and thoughts (mental images), and experiences. Words are his last resort.
I had a sense of inbuilt scepticism, having been a lifelong ‘wordsmith’– a preacher, teacher and writer – and knowing that God has pre-eminently spoken to us in his Son, ‘The Word’ (John 1:1-18; Hebrews 1:1-4). After all, the Word has a face and a voice; therefore he expresses and addresses feelings, thoughts and experiences. Take a couple of examples from John’s Gospel (in which he is introduced as the Word).
- Why, for instance, was his mother not annoyed at his response to her bringing to his attention that the wine had run dry at the wedding of Cana in Galilee? She was obviously not expecting a miracle, as he had never performed one in his life hitherto; she was more probably implying that it was time to slip away to spare the newlyweds’ embarrassment. She did not take his ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me?’ (John 2:4) as a put down, as she probably saw a sparkle in his eyes and a twitch of laughter at the corners of his mouth! No wonder she told the servants of the house to do whatever he instructed them.
- And when he spoke to Philip about the urgent need to find food for the hungering multitude, we have to imagine his tone of voice: ‘“Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do’ (John 6:5-6). How many of us fathers, when presented with a toy that has come apart have done the same with an infant son or daughter, ‘Oh dear, whatever are we going to do now?’
Meditate on Hebrews 4:11-13 with these things in mind. The written word of God also is alive and active and acute – acute enough to cut through to the inner recesses of heart and soul and spirit, discerning our hidden motives and thoughts. And its aim is to bring the reader into God’s own rest – freedom from worry and fear, from confusion and frustration; for Jesus, our great high priest, has already entered a permanent state of rest – having performed the seemingly impossible.
‘After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (see Hebrews 1:3).
Praying with tongues, our language of rest (1 Corinthians 14:21; Isaiah28:11-12), lets us engage the Holy Spirit whenever we read the Scriptures he caused to be written, so that we hear those subtle tones of God’s voice as we read. At one major crossroads of confusion in my own life, I distinctly heard him say the words of a favourite verse with a whole new emphasis: ‘I know the plans I have for you.’ It brought me into rest weeks before his ‘plans to give’ me ‘a future and a hope’ were unveiled to me (Jeremiah 29:11).