My latest post, “Is God Angry With His Children?” generated some conversation via twitter and the comment section of my blog. I believe this is one of the most important topics to think through as believers and well worth our time. I also believe that this issue comes down to how we view God’s two words: Law and Gospel. I wrapped up the comment section of my last blog by promising a follow up piece to explain this further. This post is me keeping that promise.
This post originally appeared on Liberate. My dear friend and Law-Gospel theologian, Lauren Larkin, is the author of this piece and gave me full permission to post it here. I wanted the readers to have the clearest answer- and so I chose to let someone else explain it as I’m still learning and wrestling through these things myself. This is a shortened, condensed version of a 3 part series she wrote for Liberate entitled “Prison Break”. I will post the three links at the bottom for those who would like to delve deeper into this topic.
You can find Lauren on Twitter: @laurenrelarkin
The old adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is, I guess, “technically” true. In a very true sense, a word has never “killed” me or been of such a substance to cause literal bruising, breaking of bones, or death. I’ve heard some really tough things and I’m still standing here today. But even as I’m saying this, I know that what I’ve just said about words is a complete lie. Words are important: words can create and can destroy as quickly as they are spoken. Think of the first time someone—other than immediate family—uttered: “I love you.” Those three words have the power to turn stone hearts into puddles. Words like: “I hate you!” have the power to crumble the strongest amongst us; in fact, when I’ve heard or read such harsh words, I’d rather take some sticks and stones.
The flesh’s memory is quite short (that’s why some of us keep having kids!); but the long term memory of the heart, bruised and wounded by someone’s carefully chosen or off the cuff remark can (and will) remain with us long after those words were uttered. So, the saying should be “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will cause way, way, way, more damage”; it might not be as snappy, but it’s true. Words are mightier than the sword; words are important.
And not only does our own flesh and blood and soul experience tell us that words are important, but God shows us they are. God speaks to nothing and creates something; and we were made in this image as speaking, wordy creatures. Speaking isn’t God’s way of stooping low, to our level as if He preferred to reside strictly in the intellect and thoughts; speaking is the fabulous way we demonstrate whose we really are. It’s one of the divine thumb prints on our existence. While our words don’t typically generate stuff out of not-stuff, they do build up or tear down. And this power is part of the image of God we bare.
Words are important and they’re important to God. We know this not solely from the creation account in Gen, but from John 1,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (1-3).
Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is the Word of God. Not “a” word, but “the” Word. He is the Word that silences all other words. There is no other Word bigger than Christ and His absolution. This word, Christ and the Gospel of the justification of sinners, is the game changing Word; no other word will or can trump it; it is meek yet powerful; it is simple yet intellectually perplexing; it is a whisper yet it is heard through out the cosmos.
Consider this passage from the Gospel of Matthew (22:33-46):
“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’
“Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
‘If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son’ And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
The Pharisees have already been bested once, and Jesus’ response leaves them baffled: “When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away” (22:22). After the Pharisees, Jesus is accosted by the Sadducees and asked about the resurrection, marriage, and children (Matt 22: 23-33). Jesus’ response to their question? You neither understand the Scriptures or the power of God. Their response? Like the Pharisees before them, “And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.” In the passage above, we see that the Pharisees desired one more shot to trick Jesus. So one of them, a lawyer, asks Jesus about the Law; and it’s supposed to be a tricky question (“to test him”): “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
And Jesus’ response? All of it! Jesus’ response isn’t just two commandments, but the perfect summary of the whole law. Which is the greatest? All of them. The throw-down about the Law ended before it even began. But the story Matthew records doesn’t stop there. The story continues with a second question, and this time it’s from Jesus to the Pharisees. And this question changes the game; this question changes the entire dialogue. Because this question isn’t about the Law, it’s about the Christ; this question isn’t concerned with the first word of God but with the second and penultimate Word of God: Jesus.
Zooming out a little bit and looking at this passages of Scripture from a higher perspective, we see something remarkable occurring: we see the dynamic interplay between Law and Gospel, between the word of the Law and the word of the Gospel—God’s two words to humanity.
We’re all obsessed with the Law one way or another—either we are clinging to it to garner approval and the declaration of “good enough,” or we are running from it because of it’s cacophonous echoes of condemnation: failure and “not good enough.” And so we come to God, we come to Jesus and ask a question nearly identical to that of the Pharisaic Lawyer: “What do I have to do?” And Jesus’ response to us: “Who here condemns you?” His question demands that we change our question; it’s not, “What do I need to do?” but “Who loves me?” And when this question changes, then the answer changes; it’s no longer a list of things to be done to validate my existence or my humanity but a declaration: forgiven; absolved; loved and I have existence and humanity in the fullest.
The Pharisees came to Jesus and tried to stump him, and trip him up with a question about the Law, and Jesus mercifully gives them the exact answer they were looking for: the entire Law is important! But then he changes the dialogue—it’s not about the Law, it’s about The Christ, it’s about me—the words are radically different: the Law is not the Gospel and the Gospel is not the Law, they are two distinct words, one silencing the other, stripping it of its warden like status over us. And after Jesus has changed the dialogue, it can never be the same again because what Jesus—God—speaks into existence cannot be undone by anyone but God and he doesn’t go back on his promises.
After this final word is spoken, it’s not now about the first word, because the game is changed for good (period). And once the dialogue is changed, a conundrum is proposed unless our questions and our answers are caused to change too, or we, like the Pharisees, walk away the ones stumped and tripped up, lacking in language because it doesn’t fit our narrow little box.
But even in this little fact there is still more good news: our questions and our answers change not because we will them to, but because the one who is speaking, the one who is changing the dialogue, creates (from nothing) something in me and in you. His word, this game-changing word of the Gospel, is the creative Word of God, speaking into existence that which was not there before. And that which he creates he sustains.
When Jesus speaks, there is: people are healed, the dead rise, sins are forgiven; His word penetrates the hardest of hearts and the darkest of darkness and changes the whole entire game: stone hearts become flesh and darkness is turned to light.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
Here are the links to Lauren’s 3 part series: