The Beauty of God's Word 

Every Christian I've asked about this has said the same thing: there's a power, a life, a beauty in the Word of God. I wrote a few days ago about the beauty of the life of Jesus Christ, and reflecting on it since then, I would add that it's a certain kind of beauty: not the delicate grace of an orchid, but the strong grandeur of a river rushing down a forested hill. (Though when tenderness was called for, Christ had that as well. An amazing, remarkable person.)

The Word of God has a mixed kind of beauty: in some places it's fresh, airy, purely encouraging and refreshing. In other places it's far rougher. 

In fact there are many places in the Bible that bother me. The Old Testament wars are bloody; the teaching on hell is very uncomfortable. This is not Emily Dickinson. Scripture doesn't beckon like a light treat; it calls to the deepest part of the soul, and challenges it. But hell and wars are not actually the parts that bother me most, to be honest. The most difficult places are those that call me to love my enemy, to show compassion on strangers, to care for the poor, to give up my life that God may give it back to me. In short, the hardest parts are the ones that call me to be different and better than I am.

The book of James calls the Bible a mirror: we can see in it how we really are, by comparison with what God meant us to be. The book of Hebrews calls it a two-edged sword, piercing to the very division of soul and spirit. There's a hint there that it is talking both about the written Word and the Incarnate Word of God, who is Jesus Christ (John 1:1). Christ was the bodily revelation, Scripture is the permanent record available to us now.

I grew up reading the Bible occasionally. I knew it was supposed to make some kind of difference in my life, but it really didn't--not until I made a life commitment, by faith, to follow Jesus Christ. After that, I was astonished, quite literally, at the life and power the Scripture suddenly had for me. Many, many other Christians have said the same thing. When one makes that faith commitment to Christ, one thing that happens is that the Author of Scripture "moves in;" a new, intimate connection with God the Holy Spirit begins, such a close connection that the Bible calls it "filling" or "indwelling." It became the words of an intimate friend and Father to me.

My own dad has written an autobiography; my mom's father did too. I'm quite sure that those biographies mean a lot more to me than they would to you. That's part of the reason for the change. The Bible also says God provides an inner light of revelation to enliven believers' understanding, which is another reason it all changed. Now, obviously this was not evidence for Christ before I became a Christian, and I'm not expecting any nonbeliever to take it as such, unless you are willing to accept the quite uniform testimony of many, many believers. For as I said, every one that I have asked about it, has said that they find this kind of life in it. For us it certainly is a powerful confirmation of our beliefs.

I've read through the entire Bible systematically four or five times, and besides that I've studied large portions of it in depth. There's always something new there, and it's amazingly relevant to the 21st Century. Not that all of it is intended still to apply today. Much of the Old Testament law was intended to apply only up until the time of Christ; it was a pointer to him, and once fulfilled, it was finished. You'll find that clearly stated in the words of Jesus, Peter, Paul, and throughout the book of Hebrews. So when the challenge is given, "Do you mean we can't wear garments of mixed fabric like it says in Leviticus," we are quite free to say, "No, we don't mean that. Not any more." The Old Testament predicted a time would come when a "new covenant" would partially supplant it. The New Testament explains quite adequately what parts of the Old Testament teachings still apply and which do not.

(Oh, and frankly I don't understand why that law for garments was important at the time. Not every word of the Bible speaks to me with equal relevance and power. The Bible is quite unabashedly situated in history, and therefore its presentation is culturally conditioned. It needs some cultural translation, across time and across societies. Nevertheless the teachings and principles, with that translation respectfully applied, are timeless and cross-cultural.)

Not only is there always something new; there's something refreshingly strong in each prayerful reading. Again, I echo the common voice of Christians in this. The Bible does call us to change; and those who submit to its guidance, by the power of the Holy Spirit, do change. Relationships are healed, love is renewed, bad habits are released, and the perhaps-hackneyed yet still true words joy and peace really do enter in. I've seen it in many hundreds of people. I've yet to see one arrive at a fully Christlike life, least of all myself; but that doesn't negate at all the good work that is done by God through his Word.

So now I've talked about the power of the word, some of its challenges; have I spoken yet of its real beauty? I'm not sure I know how to do that. My last post was about the beauty of Christ--that's something we see in his Word, that lends beauty to the narrative. There is moving and elegant poetry all around the Old Testament. Have you read the Psalms? They're incredibly honest--no whitewashed feel-good spirituality there, but a genuine wrestling with difficulties, doubts, and pain, yet always with a note of praise to God in spite of it. God understands it's not easy, and he made sure we had the witness to that in his Word. No one could count the number of hurting believers who have found comfort there.

The New Testament letters, on the other hand, are often doctrinally-oriented, yet always grounded in real situations. They were, after all, real letters to real churches (or individuals) addressing real situations. There is bracing intellectual challenge in a book like Romans--yet even that ended with line after line of personal greetings to Paul's friends.

I think I've written an appreciation of God's Word. I don't think I've approached a proper rendition on its beauty. You can find it for yourself, though, if you'll spend a few hours in it. For a great combination of the story of Christ and excellent literary language, I recommend the Gospel of John or Luke. I like the English Standard Version and the New King James Version best. You can find either online at Bible Gateway. But hey, it's a book, and there's nothing quite like holding the real thing in your hand. It's easy to find at your local bookstore.

Part of a series on Beauty as reason to believe in Jesus Christ:
1. The Beauty of Christ
2. The Beauty of God's Word
3. The Beauty of God's People
4. The Beauty of Virtue
5. The Beauty of Creativity
6. The Beauty of Explanation: The Human Condition
7. The Beauty of Explanation: The Solution
8. The Beauty of Hope

(See the introduction to Part 1, The Beauty of Christ, for the purpose and context of the entire series.) 

Posted: Fri - February 23, 2007 at 09:51 AM           |

© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

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