Words tend to matter less these days. Talk is cheap. If the Republican presidential nomination process hasn’t convinced you, take this for an example: apparently you can buy an iPhone app that puts words in your mouth- in this case, “Status Shuffle” will update your Facebook status for you, so that you at least sound funny, creative or interesting (when in reality you may be a conventional, personality-less bore).
But the Gospel writer of John calls Jesus “the Word.” The same Word that God spoke when God creates the world, saying “Let there be.” “Word made flesh.” The cosmic, life-giving, energizing force that was present at the very beginning of the universe and which still “speaks” all creation into being has in the person of Jesus become a human being.
I often meet people who say with certainty that they believe in a life force or energy of some kind, if not a Higher Power, because they have experienced it. They see it in nature. Or they sense it in the birth of a child. Or in the union between two people in love. Or in great works of art, or movements that change the world. But the notion that this same force might be embodied in a person is harder to wrap one’s mind around, isn’t it?
Yet the Gospel of John would claim this very thing about Jesus. Which is a claim not only about Jesus’ divinity- that Jesus is God incarnate- but a statement about Jesus’ very trustworthiness.
Most of us have met people who speak eloquently about all sorts of things, or make claims on us or promises. Claims in the form of “I love you” or “You can trust me.” Or promises like “I won’t say a word” or “Til’ death do us part.” Some times we are the ones who make these assertions only to discover that we can’t live up to them. Our words fail to create a reality that is lived out in our character or actions. Similarly, when our politicians, spouses, lovers, pastors, or parents fail us, it is usually because somewhere along the line their words proved untrustworthy.
But someone who lives up to their word honors a personal relationship with us. And in turn makes claims on us, too- claims that many of us would prefer to ignore, or resent. In some ways, it is easier to reduce God to nothing more than an impersonal cosmic energy force, because it means that God is ultimately disinterested in how we live our lives (which we often would prefer to live on our own terms, anyway).
So the boldness of the claim that Jesus is the Word is really twofold: that Jesus is God Himself; and that this God by definition has to live up to what He promises. Whenever God speaks, God’s words are not just an extension of God’s breath. They create reality. They speak into and shape human hearts and the unfolding of history.
Pretty mind-blowing, eh? A claim like this requires not just a suspension of disbelief but personal surrender. Or at the very least a handshake.
It can also lead us to throw darts in the dark whenever we attribute certain words and actions to God and not others. And we Christians have been doing this sort of thing for centuries, often mistakenly in big and little ways. Not long ago, for example, I was convinced God was telling me that my husband and I would be moving to Singapore to start a new job. It didn’t happen. I was wrong. Somewhere along the line God and I must have gotten our lines crossed. (All good fodder for another post about disappointment and discerning God’s will.) And it seems by implication here that the Gospel writer John would attribute that miscommunication to me.