When I used to teach classes on words, I would ask students to close their eyes. Then I would say the word “chair”. Then I would ask them to open their eyes and ask them to describe their chair.
Some would describe a “lazy boy” type recliner, some would describe a ladder back chair, some would describe a simple folding chair.
The point of the exercise? We all have different experiences that shape the way we attach meaning to words.
Chair has different meanings for everyone because we have different referents that we attach to the symbol “chair.” My referent may not be the same as yours. When the word is used, I call up an object in my mind and my object may not look like your object. To the extent that it does, we have shared meaning.
Dr. Willard starts Chapter 6 with a discussion of words, “If we wish to understand God’s personal relationship to us, including how He speaks to us individually today, we must understand what the word of God is in general and how both the Son of God and the Bible are the word of God.”
It is important to know that words don’t mean anything in and of themselves. For words to have meaning, a person has to apply their thoughts and feelings to the words.
Of course words are symbols. A symbol is an arbitrary or conventional sign used in writing or printing relating to a particular field to represent operations, quantities, elements, relations, or qualities [Merriam Webster Dictionary]. Typed letters joined together or handwritten letters joined together mean little without a reader to interpret them.
When words work, meaning is shared. I am able to share a piece of my mind with my reader. Dr. Willard goes further and says “souls impact souls, sometimes with a great spiritual force.”
What does the statement “God created, God rules and God redeems” mean?
To me, this is what God means to us. This is the defining statement that expresses what having a relationship with God means. God created me. God rules over my life [if I am wise and let Him] and God is constantly seeking to get me to be closer to Him [regain a relationship He once had with Adam and Eve in the garden].
This leads to the spiritual dimension of words. Jesus knew His words conveyed a spirit. He says in John 6:63 “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Since Jesus was the Son of God, His words imparted the thoughts of God. When Dr. Willard says “When God speaks, He expresses His mind, His character and His purposes. Thus he is always present in His word.”
When we hear the words of another, we can understand more than their thoughts. We get a glimpse of the person. We begin to understand their level of intelligence. We begin to understand their perspective on life. We begin to understand a little of their character and value system.
Word’s reveal a lot or so we think.
God’s word should do the same. The personal force of God is revealed in His words. As we read our Bibles, we are reading the word of God, not just some ordinary book. As we hear words from another person, they may be words of prophecy, not just some random thoughts by some random person. As we pray and have a thought that leads, guides and directs, the thought may be from God, that still small voice.
Surely we take words for granted. My wife says I am a man of many words. At times I think she would rather I not say about 80% of what I say. She speaks a lot less than I do. Even though we are entirely different people I am glad to be her spouse. I think she is glad to have me as her husband. When we do share ideas with each other, there is a magic that occurs, a sharing of minds and spirit that is called communication. The basis of that communication is the words that we use.
As Christians, we should not take God’s words for granted but many of us do. Our Bibles remain unread. Our prayer time is rushed and for some nonexistent. We don’t spend enough time listening to God. For listening to happen, we have to be quiet and allow Him to speak.
I am reminded of one of the iconic advertising phrases of the 70’s and 80’s: “When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen.” That was a successful slogan that made E. F. Hutton a lot of money. To me it always communicated the idea that the brokerage firm was knowledgeable, well respected. They knew something that the rest of us did not know. It was of great benefit to listen to them.
For the Christian, the word of God should be all-important.
When God talks to us no matter what the method, as Christians, we listen, for we know He is revealing His mind, His character and His purposes.
He created me, He rules over me and He is constantly attempting to redeem me.
I listen to Him because I need Him. I need His words.