The Word of God with its Four Standpoints: Power to Change from Glory to Glory

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I cannot emphasize enough what a radical work Holy Scripture as God’s Holy Word has done in my life personally. It all started back in 1995, the Lord introduced a crisis of faith into my life, a crisis that lasted for years and years; full of heavy anxiety, depression, and dark nights of the soul. It was this crisis of faith that propelled me to push deep into Holy Scripture; Scripture became my daily bread, it was my sustenance. I memorized it (books), read through it over and over again, I even went so far as to sleep with my Bible (it brought that much peace and comfort for me). The Lord has used His Holy Word to transform my life from glory to glory, and He still is. The “mystery” of all of that transformative power in my earlier days didn’t have as much clarity to me; I just knew that Scripture was powerful and that it was God’s Word, and that I needed it to survive.

What I didn’t realize back then, as much, is how intimately related the written Word was to its reality, the eternal Logos, Jesus Christ. In a way I somewhat imbued the written Word with secret mystical powers immanent to itself; as if it was its own terminus (the way an North American understanding of inerrancy does currently). But as I continued to read Scripture that understanding was busted open to the point that Scripture, for me, asserted its instrumental nature. I began to see, apart from any insight from trained theologians or exegetes, that Scripture was living and the living voice of God precisely because it pointed beyond itself to its reality (res), Jesus Christ. I began to understand that Scripture’s reality was not contingent upon my capacity to make it so, but that it has its own objectivity extrinsic from me; that it is only contingent upon the Triune God’s life and reality in Jesus Christ. Once this clicked for me Scripture became even more holy  because I understood that this was the place, the holy ground where I could encounter the living God in Jesus Christ.

As I have continued to study, all of this has gained even more clarity. Someone who has helped me the most (no surprises for any of you!) is, Karl Barth. Here is what he has to say about the Word, as he articulates his theology and ontology of the Word (in extenso):

(1) First, the Word of God as directed to us is a Word which we do not say to ourselves and which we could not in any circumstances say to ourselves. Every human word, including that of proclamation and even the Bible, we could and can perhaps say to ourselves as such. Encounter with the human word as such is never genuine, irrevocable encounter, nor can it be. Encounter with the Word of God is genuine, irrevocable encounter, i.e., encounter that can never be dissolved in union. The Word of God always tells us something fresh that we had never hear before from anyone. The rock of a Thou which never becomes an I is thrown in our path here. This otherness which is yet related to us and made known to us, though only in this way, stamps it fundamentally and comprehensively as the Word of God, the Word of the Lord, compared to which all other words, however profound or new or arresting, are not words of the Lord. Whatever God may say to us will at all events be said in this way; it will be said as the Word of the Lord.

(2) Secondly, the Word of God as this Word of the Lord directed to us is the Word which aims at us and smites us in our existence. No human word has the competence to aim at us in our existence and no human word has the power to smite us in our existence. The only word that may aim at us in our existence an can smite us in our existence is one which questions and answers us in just the same way as death might question and answer us at the end of our existence. But death is dumb. It neither questions nor answers. It is only the end. It is not really a thing outside and above our existence which can aim at our existence and smite it. The Word of God is the Word of the Lord  because it comes from the point outside and above us from which death itself would not speak to us even if it could speak at all. The Word of God applies to us as no human as such can do, and as death does not do, because this Word is the Word of our Creator, of the One who encompasses our existence and the end of our existence, by whom it is affirmed and negated, because everything has come into being and preserved by this Word, and without it would not exist. He who makes Himself heard here is the One to whom we belong. Whatever He may say, it will be said in this relation of the Creator to His creature.

(3) Thirdly, the Word of God as the Word of the Creator directed to us is the Word which has obviously become necessary and is necessary as a renewal of the original relation between us and Him. The fact that God speaks to us, that He reveals Himself to us, i.e., that He turns to us in a wholly new way, that as the Unknown He makes Himself known – even after creating us and although we belong to Him – all this implies on the one side of a criticism of the reality of the present relation between Him and us and on the other side a declaration on His part to uphold and re-establish the relation in spite of this criticism of His. Neither of these could be the content of a human word. Only the One who has instituted the relation to confirm and renew it when it is disrupted or destroyed. Only God can pronounce the verdict and give the promise and raise the claim which all lie equally in the concept of revelation. Under this third aspect of its purposiveness the Word of God is the Word of reconciliation, i.e., the Word of the Reconciler, of the God who effects a new creation, who sets up His covenant with us afresh in judgment and grace. Whatever God may to us, it will at all events be said in this relationship of renewal.

(4) Fourth and finally the Word of God as the Word of reconciliation directed to us is the Word by which God announces Himself to man, i.e., by which He promises Himself as the content of man’ s future, as the One who meets him on his way through time as the end of all time, as the hidden Lord of all times. His presence by the Word is His presence as the coming One, coming for the fulfillment and consummation of the relation established between Him and us in creation and renewed and confirmed in reconciliation. Again this final Word cannot be a word of man. Human words are never final words. They are never the promise of a specific and definitive coming of the Other. It is proper to God’s Word and to God’s Word alone to be also the full and authentic presence of the Speaker even if this be as the coming One. God’s Word is the Word of our Redeemer, i.e., of the Lord who will be Lord as He was and is, who in His relation to us keeps faith both with Himself and us. In this way He is Lord indeed, the Lord of all lords. And whatever God may say to us, it will at all events be said always in this final, consummating, eschatological relation too.

Again, what God says to us specifically remains His secret which will be disclosed in the event of His actual speaking. The concrete fullness of what He has said and will say specifically to men is and remains in truth His own business. We can only cling to the fact – but we must cling to it – that when He spoke it was, and when He will speak it will be, the Word of the Lord, the Word of our Creator, our Reconciler, our Redeemer. Understanding it as directed and applying to us, we are well advised to keep what we think and say about it open in at least these four directions, to be ready and vigilant from these four standpoints.[1]

There is no natural theology prior to God’s Word, God’s Word discloses the reality of all realities, even creation’s, in Jesus Christ. It His Word which is living and powerful because His Word is Him; it is Jesus Christ. What I have come to understand (and this is my evangelical Calvinist view) is that the Word both theo-logically and chronologically precedes the written Word, or the latter is nothing more than an idol. God’s Word is distinct from man’s word, as such it has something meaningful and transforming to say to us.

[1] Karl Barth CD I/1, 132-43.

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for this Bobby. Just to let you know, you have provided fuel to the fire of my own Scripture reading. I have always been a daily reader, but I was challenged to up the ante and so now I am working reading through the Bible for the second time this year! Thanks for your encouragement in this!

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