I’m doing something a little different today. I’m going to try to make a point about reading words on a page versus having a spoken conversation. I’ve begun reading a book by Eugene Peterson (he of “The Message” Bible translation) called “Reversed Thunder – The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination“, and many of the points I am making here mirror points he makes in this book.
A major point of the second chapter of this book revolves around the spoken word as opposed to words written on a page. As Christians, we believe that God speaks, do we not? God speaks, and all things are brought into being. God speaks, and a creation comes into existence that is still expanding at the speed if light 13 billion years later. God speaks, and a covenant is made. God speaks, and eventually we have the holy scriptures to record the Word of God.
So here is the point – the word of God was, is and will be spoken long before it was ever written down. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ was the word made flesh. If you read that gospel, it is unmistakable that the coming of Christ was not just ink on paper or some philosophical thought, but an historical occurrence, a moment in time. In John’s letters, we see the physical, historical nature of what had happened. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—” 1 John 1:1 ESV. Jesus was not reduced to words on paper. They walked with him, talked with him, ate with him, prayed with him, touched him, probable slept with him (in the purely sleeping sense of that word!). The word of God was always spoken before it was written. Jesus was seen, touched, heard, before he was ever written about.
Spoken words are personal in a way written words can never be. I try my hardest to write every day as though I am speaking to you. I attempt to write as though we are actually having a conversation. Sometimes I might break the “rules” of written grammar, that is because very often I am writing, deliberately, as though I were speaking. I want you to be able to hear my voice as you read. Because there is a huge difference between hearing and reading.
Jesus Himself never wrote anything down, except that which he wrote in the dust to blow in the breeze a few minutes later. We still wonder aloud what it might have been he was writing 2000 years later. But Jesus did not communicate with his disciples by writing, he spoke his message to his disciples.
Which, I believe, is the point of this verse from the opening stanza of the final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. The Revelation of John demands that it be read aloud, and heard. Why? What is the significance?
I believe it is for the same reason I attempt to write as though I’m having a conversation. The writer of revelation wants to be heard, not read. Because to be read is impersonal, to be heard affirms and confirms a personal relationship between two parties, an interactive conversation between two people.
Peterson says that the scriptures, as God’s word, “are a great, but mixed, blessing.” They are a blessing because it is preserved from generation to generation that God speaks, what he speaks, how he speaks, and what happens when he speaks. “The scriptures are a mixed blessing because the moment the words are written they are in danger of losing the living resonance of the spoken word and reduced to something that is looked at, studied, interpreted, but not heard personally.” Words, “word”, is personal. But the moment they are written, they begin to be cold and impersonal. They are separated from the voice which spoke them and depersonalized. If all we do is read the word of God, the words on that paper no longer do what they were designed to do – “create and maintain personal relationships of intelligence and love.”
When a word is spoken and heard, it brings the speaker and hearer into a relationship with one another. Written and read – it has to rely on the imagination of the reader to do its work. The senses of seeing and hearing are no longer involved. Without these senses actuated, the written word becomes abstract. Words on paper, separated from their speaker, can be beautiful, interesting, they can be studied. But if we are not listening and responding, those words are not functioning according to the intent of the speaker. In the case of Revelation, the intent of the speaker, St. John, is not to inform us about God, but to involve us in God.
Peterson makes the point that very often, words after being written are analyzed, admired, parsed, discussed, but not not listened to, nor heard, not put into action. Jesus’ sharpest disagreements were with the scribes and the Pharisees, people of his own day who knew their scriptures very well, knew the stories, could recite them backwards and forwards. But they did not hear the voice of God. They knew their Torah. They loved the Torah. They memorized it. They used their Bible to regulate every part of their life. Yet Jesus was at odds with them at almost every turn, every chapter of his gospels, because for them, the Torah was studied and known, but not heard. The scriptures had become a book to use, not a way of hearing from God. They separated the book and the knowledge from the divine act of God’s speaking. They separated the book, and themselves, from the human act of hearing which would become believing, following and loving.
So, if you ever do actually open the book if Revelation, do as it’s author commands and read it aloud. In fact, read aloud all the books of the Bible, especially those red letters in the Gospels. Hear what the book is telling you, don’t just read. Hear Jesus telling you, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 ESV. Listen as He says “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”” Luke 22:19 ESV. Can you hear Him? Then do as He is saying. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:44-45 ESV
Read out loud the words of your bible. Pray out loud. Speak the words, don’t just think them. Hear Him speak, don’t just read ink on a paper. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”
Revelation 1:1-3 ESV