The Word of God and Spirit

I want to begin where I ended my last journal entry and ask, Why is it important to affirm that the Word of God, i. e., revelation, is something other than information?

It is important to do so because information is inert; it cannot save us. It is true that we can make use of information for our good. If I am on a diet and learn that a piece of bread contains 100 calories, I may be deterred from eating it. If I am told that investing in a certain way will increase my wealth, I can use that information. But information, in itself, does nothing. It is simply available for use.

Contrast this with the Bible’s affirmations about the Word of God. It is living and active; it works; it accomplishes God’s purpose. Information is not living and active; it does no work; alone, it accomplishes nothing. It thus cannot save us.

The living and active quality of the Word of God explains why the Bible associates the Word with Spirit. Consider these texts:

  • John 6:63: It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
  • Psalm 33:6: By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath [literally Spirit or spirit, ruach] of his mouth.

Consider also how Word and Spirit are coordinated in Genesis 1: God speaks the creative word; the Spirit of God rushes over the void.

The coordination of Word and Spirit explains as well the Gospel of John’s teaching that, after Jesus (who is the Word of God) returns to heaven, the Spirit will continue the ministry of the Word: the Spirit will teach the disciples everything, reminding them of what Jesus has said (John 14:26) and will guide the disciples into the truth (John 16:13).

These texts tell us that the Word of God is spirit-ual; filled with the Spirit of God. Because the Spirit is creative, the Word is creative. That is what it means to say that the Word is living and active. Information may be interesting, useful, and important, but it cannot be filled with God’s Spirit. It cannot save us.

It is important to deny that the Word of God is information for another reason, one that bears on the way in which we read and interpret the Bible. For too long, Christians have treated the Bible as though it were a big encyclopedia of true statements–as though God wanted us to know some facts and caused the biblical writers to write those facts for our benefit. The result of this approach has been crazy and unsustainable interpretations of the Bible’s creation stories, as well as astonishingly stupid interpretations of the Bible’s eschatology. It all comes from treating the Bible as a huge store of facts, instead of approaching it as the principal way in which the living and active Word of God comes to us with creative and saving power.

So, we honor the Word of God when we receive its saving, transforming power–when we hear its message of judgment and deliverance. We do not honor it by ascribing to it the sort of petty truth that facts possess.

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