Saturday, November 26, 2016

To Live by The Words of God

A proverb from the Desert Fathers goes as follows: A young man seeks out his elder and complains to him, "Elder, I am afflicted with lust and horrid thoughts! I am overcome day in and day out!" The elder responds to him, "You must continue in reciting Scripture". The young man, exasperated, shouts out, "I've tried! It's no good! I keep reciting the Scripture, but I don't feel any different. None of it makes any sense to me". The elder replies, "Perhaps it is true none of it makes sense to you, but it makes sense to the demons who afflict you. They understand the words and they shall flee".

The Desert Fathers practiced a form of meditation that is hardly what anyone would consider: they recited Scripture from memory. They were from oral societies where such is normal. They would recite phrases, lines, entire books, sometimes single words. They believed that the words of Scripture were none other than the very words of God. This was true power.

At the risk of sounding like a magician, these men got it right. The Scripture itself testifies when St. Paul tells us that he came not with craft and cunning, but with very power, in his speech. The words of Scripture are of such power that they lay bare the very scope and shape of the cosmos. There's a story attributed to Charles Spurgeon: he was preparing for his sermon when he bellowed, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world"; a janitor heard this and was converted at the very sound. There are plenty of other conversion stories at the very words of Scripture: Anthony, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley. And of course, there are the simple words to St. Matthew: Come Follow Me.

The fixture upon Inerrantism that one finds in conservative Evangelicalism is completely wrong-headed. Most articulations of this doctrine seem content to lock the Bible's pristine form into texts that may or may not even exist anymore. They've given up the battle to theological liberals and, even as they drown in the swamp of Postivistic notions of authorship, they will slowly fade away as most people cannot understand the strange nuances of their argument. But of course, this operates not upon faith in Christ, but upon the latest findings in archaeology and the structures of textual criticism.

The Christian position on the Scripture as the very words and commandments of God will not find any place in the academy, nor should it. The Bible is not a text like any other, but we claim divine editorialship. The Bible is not a divisible collection of books, it is not a library, nor is it a mess of internecine theological battles as revelation, with one contradicting the other. If it is so, then Christians are without hope.

What if the Bible reflects the very shape of God's intended will for the Creation? What if the Scripture is God speaking to us now, today? What if it is the very garment of Christ, seamless and undivided? As He is the Word, this is further testimony that every word of Scripture belongs to Him and yet He is more than merely their collection. This is St. Maximus' Logos/logoi distinction played out in a more Biblicist form. The very words and commandments over Creation are the uncreated adornments of Christ Jesus, the Lord.

Ponder this next time you open your Bible. Even if you don't understand, the Word is still sharp enough to divide spirit from soul, bone from marrow. Such a power even the demons fear, and tremble.

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