Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Living By Every Word That Proceeds From the Mouth of God - Part 6


The Adequacy of Human Speech as a Medium for Divine Speech.

(This is part six in a series that examines the view of Justice Boshoff who advocates that God’s word comes to us personally and directly from the Holy Spirit through prayer for wisdom and that the scriptures are a hindrance to hearing the word of God. You can read a transcript of two of his You-Tube videos: According to the Scriptures, You Won't Make It and Breaking Through the Bible Barrier.)

Can human language properly serve as a medium through which God’s speech may be heard? That is a fair question. Another way to state the question is to contend that God’s speech necessarily means divine words expressing divine thoughts, and divine thoughts are so far above human thoughts it is absurd to think human language has the capacity to suitably express those divine thoughts. May we not draw that conclusion from scripture itself?

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8, 9

It may seem a remarkable claim that human language is able to express the breathed-out language of God. But in fact, it is very suited for that purpose; the text just cited illustrates the point in two ways.

First, though the human language of Is 55:8, 9 (Hebrew) communicates the truth that God’s thoughts are incomprehensible, that does not mean that nothing can be known of God’s thoughts. Rather, incomprehensibility means that God’s thoughts cannot be fully known to us as they are to God himself. Cornelius Van Til, former professor of Westminster Theological Seminary, was fond of saying that we think God’s thoughts after him. Our thoughts are not identical to his (otherwise, we would be God) but they are analogous, similar, akin to his thoughts so that we do know something of what God thinks.

Second, we may observe that the truth itself regarding a profound difference between God’s thinking and man’s thinking is actually revealed to us from God through human speech, through the words of the text. We understand that there is a difference. How did we gain that understanding? Because God spoke through the human language of Isaiah.

All speech, in its most fundamental character, is the communication of information. By definition, it is meaningful and understandable; otherwise, there is no communication. The observation that language is meaningful may seem superfluous - everybody knows that, it’s a given. But why is it meaningful? Why are humans able to communicate verbally with one another? Why are they not like the brute beast who has no such capacity?

The short answer is that we are made in God’s image and share some of his attributes. From eternity, the intra-Trinitarian fellowship was enhanced by divine speech; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, needing nothing outside of their being, completely satisfied and happy in their inter-personal communion, existed in a fellowship marked by verbal communication.

John 12:28-30 sheds light on intra-Trinitarian dialogue. Jesus is about to publicly reveal his coming death with the preamble that he is very troubled over it, though it is the very purpose he has come into the world. True to his desire to always honor his Father, even in the face of the cross, Jesus calls out to the Father:

“Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” Therefore, the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake."
The Son speaks to the Father and the Father answers the Son. When Jesus said the ‘voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake,’ he did not mean that God was speaking to the people instead of him. He meant that the voice came audibly, for their sakes, so that they could hear with their own ears God speaking to the Son. What Jesus heard every day of his life, the voice of his Father, was made audible to the people. What they heard on that special occasion, Jesus heard daily (cf John 8:26-28). It is preposterous to think that such dialogue between the Father and the Son began only after the incarnation. John 1:1, 2 reveals that “the Word was with God” from the beginning. The Greek word for ‘with’ is better translated ‘toward’ signifying a face-to-face relationship. Such a relationship implies fellowship, which implies communication.

We may draw the same conclusion for dialogue between the Son and the Holy Spirit (John 16:13 in context of John 15:26).

God’s speech is the pattern on which all human speech is designed. The first recorded words of God are “Let there be light,” or simply, “Light be!” Genesis 1:3. It is divine speech, translated into human language, having a meaning that we humans can understand. God’s speech is translatable into and understandable in terms of human language.

Since it was God who spoke first and human language came afterwards, we may understand that human language is analogous of divine language. Human speech is patterned after God’s speech. God’s speech is the paradigm that human language follows. Grammatical rules, syntactical relationships, and meaningful vocabulary are intrinsic to human language because they are intrinsic to God’s language. That is why human language is suited as a medium for expressing God’s speech. When human language is enlisted to express God thoughts as they are in the words, “Let there be light,” those human words are God’s words using the grammar, syntax, and verbal meanings of a human language that is analogous to God’s speech.

We may take another example of human speech as the vehicle through which divine speech is expressed. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians.

For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe, 1 Thess 2:13.

The human language of Paul was directly and immediately the word of God. We understand this only to be possible in terms of the superintending work of the Holy Spirit. But unless human language in and of itself is capable of articulating divine speech, it would be unable, even through the oversight of the Holy Spirit, to express the words of God.

We insist then that the scriptures are written in a language that is analogous of divine language, and as such are particularly suited to express God’s words. Human language is not merely suitable, but by way of inspiration it becomes divine-human language, the out-breathed words of God expressed in human speech. Whenever we read a New Testament letter of Paul to a church in Ephesus, or Corinth, or Rome, or Thessalonica, or to an individual as Timothy, Titus, or Philemon, Paul’s speech is God’s speech, and his words are God’s words. As such, it is God speaking to the Church or the human recipient; it is meaningful and communicates God’s will and purpose addressing the situation.

The question then, is God’s speech that addresses a situation in a previous era pertinent to our situation today? Is there any meaning for us now in what he said to his people long ago? Succinctly, does God speak to us today through the scriptures? Part five of this series (The Relevancy of God’s Word in Every Age) would argue affirmatively emphasizing Paul’s use of Old Testament scripture and his observation that scripture has a four-fold profitability (2 Tim 3:16) for more than just the original hearers. The next article in the series will consider how the expository sermon is derivatively the word of God.

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