I talk with my hands. Apparently I feel the need to punctuate my sentences with nonverbal gestures. This can get me in trouble when I’m holding certain things. I’ve been known to spill hot coffee on my self and innocent passersby during fits of wild gesticulation.
Coffee is one thing, but imagine your reaction if I held a loaded gun or a live grenade, and I swung it around with the same indifference as a bag of skittles. You would pull me aside and ask, “Do you have a clue what kind of power you are holding?”
My posture and body language indicates that I am oblivious to the fearsome force I handle.
But have you ever had that same kind of visceral reaction toward flippant handling of theology and God’s word like they’re intellectual playthings? I’ve sometimes wanted to pull a person aside and ask them, “Are you aware of the potency of the words and concepts you’re tossing around like bean bags?”
Does your posture, inflection, and manner of presentation reflect your awareness of the precious wonder of the Word of God?
Quickening or Hardening
I love this quote from J. I. Packer,
The Puritans made me aware that all theology is also spirituality, in the sense that it has an influence, good or bad, positive or negative, on its recipients’ relationship or lack of relationship to God; if it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief; If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride. So one who theologizes in public, whether formally in the pulpit, on the podium or in print, or informally from the armchair, must think hard about the effect his thoughts will have on people—God’s people, and other people. – J. I. Packer, Quest for Godliness: the Puritan vision of the Christian life, p. 15
When we handle truth about God, whether Scripture itself or Bible-synthesizing theology, the effects are never neutral. There’s a live current in your words that can be the paramedic’s defibrillator or the executioner’s chair. For one it’s a fragrance of life, to another, death (2 Corinthians 2:16).
Moses warned the emerging generation of Israel of this on the brink of conquest.
“Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 32:46-47 ESV)
This law was no empty word. It was meant to be their life. The Word of God was to be their very life by revealing the nature, character, and means of access to God himself. The oracles they received from Moses unveiled something of God to them. If only they had hearts to receive it, which, by the way, Moses told them they didn’t (Deuteronomy 29:4).
All they needed was to receive this Word and take it into their hearts. They were to make it their meditation each day as a means to knowing and loving Yahweh (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). But it was not so for Israel, and Moses warned as much:
I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:18-20 ESV)
Rather than embracing God through his Word, they treated God’s revelation as a plaything (Matthew 3:9). Their hearts remained cold to the one of whom the Law testified, and the Law became their prosecuting attorney and condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:17, Romans 7:9-10).
They didn’t treat the thing in their hands with the kind of reverence it deserved.
Show God, Show Life
So what makes the difference? What is the key to handling awesome truths about God so that they produce life, and not death?
When we treat our knowledge of God, our theologizing, our armchair pontifications and social media broadcasts as something we brandy about to reinforce our corporate alignments, or establish a position for ourselves, we demonstrate ignorance to the incredible power in our possession. These truths were meant to show us God.
Packer praises the Puritans as models of those who took their Godtalk seriously, and he encourages us to think hard about the effects our thoughts will have on people. It is not enough to win a theological debate if in the process people were trampled at the altar of our emerging egos. May our theologically-correctness serve to show people life—to show them God.
When your aim is for God to be known and seen and treasured through your theology, you will have a tone and posture that doesn’t cause someone standing near to be left wondering whether you realize the magnitude of your remarks.
When you aim to display God’s worth in your handling of his truth, flippancy will turn to earnestness. Casual Godtalk will give way to faith-filled expectancy that he will shine forth in power.