In the film, Ghost in the Shell, the central character has an entirely upgraded body, complete with cloaking abilities and enhanced strength. Her brain, however, is intact, salvaged from her mangled body, just before she died.
Haunted by memories that don’t square with what she’s been told about her past, she lives between a distant humanity and a very real cybernetic present. She struggles to grasp who she is while concluding, “We cling to memories as if they define us, but what we do defines us.”
DO ACTIONS MATTER MOST?
In an age of activism and protest, it’s easy to think that words don’t really matter. It’s what we do that counts. But when we speak, we actually act. In marriage vows, the words of the bride and groom move them from friend to spouse. Words can make a vow, bring someone back from the brink of suicide, and inflict pain that lingers for decades.
Words are active and powerful.
This is why James warns that the tongue is like a tiny rudder which turns an entire ship, and can set the whole world on fire. The right words from our president could trigger a nuclear war, and the words, “I love you” spoken from a sincere heart can change the course of your life. If human words are that powerful, it stands to reason that God’s words are all the more vital.
So where do we find God’s words? In the Bible.
THE SPEECH OF GOD
The Bible is God’s personal speech to us. Over and over again the Scriptures record, “Thus said the Lord” or “The word of the Lord came to…” When you hear someone’s voice in another room, you can tell who it is without even seeing them. Why? Because their speech is uniquely personal; it reveals them and not somebody else. Similarly, God’s words are uniquely personal; they reveal him. The Bible is God speaking, in space and time, to us.
Now what is particularly unique about God’s voice is that it comes through other voices. Male voices, female voices, voices of all kinds of experiences, ethnicities, cultures and in three different languages. His word is modulated through speakers. But just because it is modulated through people doesn’t mean it originated with people, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). So while the Bible is true to people’s experience, it isn’t dictated by experience; it is dictated, in a sense, by God’s Spirit. The authors of Scripture spoke from God, not themselves, as God exhaled his revelation through their unique personalities (2 Timothy 3:16). But, for some, this idea seems like a stretch.
If we rule out this possibility, that God can speak to humanity through his Spirit and his Word, then we’re left with two problems. First, we’re saying if there is a God he is incapable of communicating with us. But if he is God, shouldn’t he be free to communicate however he wants?
Second, if we approach Scripture with the assumption God can’t speak through people to reveal himself, and that the Bible can’t be trusted, we’re judging his voice before we’ve even heard it. We’re saying, without having heard his voice, what his voice is like—not the voice of Scripture. This would be like making up our mind that Morgan Freeman’s voice is not his voice without ever having heard it.
This places us over Freeman, assaulting his uniqueness, predetermining what he can and cannot sound like, when in reality his speech is just that—his speech. We cannot change what is. God speaks, and it is precisely because he possesses this attribute—speech—that we speak. We are cut from the cloth of a communicating God.
As Tom Wolfe points out, “Speech, and only speech gives man the power to ask questions about his own life—and take his own life. No animal ever commits suicide.” Indeed, speech allows us to explore these questions even now. It follows, then, that if God has chosen the Scriptures to communicate with us, and his words are the origin of all, shouldn’t we lean in to learn the sound of his voice?
THE SOUND OF JESUS
What, then, does his voice sound like? It sounds like Jesus.
The word of God is not only his capacity to speak, a divine attribute, but it is also a person, the Word, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Jesus is the Word.
As history unfolds, the use of prophets taper off and the person of Christ takes their place, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1). Christ is the Word, the speech of God whom the Spirit bears witness to. But what does he witness Jesus doing?
Jesus did not just stand on a mountain, like a heavenly attraction, for people to visit and marvel at. The Word taught, using words. And when Jesus was on trial for all his words, words that upset the status quo, that questioned what people thought, Pilate asked Jesus if he was the king of the world.
Jesus replied, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth” (John 19:37). The truth, not a truth. We can’t overwrite his words here. Jesus says his purpose was to bear witness to the truth, the truth concerning his cosmic royalty and redemption. We don’t have to like his words, but that would be a silly reason to reject them. Do we truly think God will always agree with us, take our side, and support our every thought? Who then would be the real God?
Jesus taught that he was the Messiah of God come to rescue sinners who repent and trust in him for salvation. But the Word did more than teach; he enacted his teaching. He gave lessons that previewed his actions. Jesus did not pit word against deed. The Word stood up for the truth, and it cost him his life. He threw himself in front of the oncoming eighteen-wheeler of God’s holy wrath to deliver us from sin, death, and hell.
His blood still speaks . . . and his body rose from the dead.
THE WORD FOR THE WORLD
Walking on the road to Emmaus, the resurrected Word taught once again. He joined his journeying disciples, but they didn’t have a clue who he was. It wasn’t enough for the grieving disciples to see Jesus. They needed to hear his voice—for the Word to reveal himself, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). He explained how it was necessary he suffer these things and then enter into glory. We’re told their hearts burned within them and their eyes were opened to the Word, and then he vanished.
The Bible is the Word of God, and the Word of God is the centerpiece of the Bible. The Word is God’s speech, and God’s speech is the Word. Scripture is God’s revelation, and it reveals, supremely, the person and work of Christ for the world. How can this be? John Frame explains, “There is no contradiction between thinking of the word as a divine attribute and thinking of the Word as the name of the eternal Son of God. Fatherhood is a divine attribute, but Father is also the name of the first person of the Trinity.”
Therefore, we can say that the Word points to the Word. The Law, the Psalms, the Prophets, every epoch of history points forward to Christ. They show us the need for a just ruler and a humble sufferer. A king who can lead us out of this mess, and a savior who can take our place. In this way, the Word is for the world.
The Bible is a collection of memories meant to inscribe us into redemptive history, eternally defining us in a way our actions never could, sons and daughters of a flawless Father, citizens of the cosmic King. But when we fail to return to these inspired, performative, transforming stories—the true story of the world—we fill in our own stories with lesser words.
WHEN WORDS ARE ENOUGH
When we wake up and peruse the news headlines, or spend our morning scrolling a social media feed, we replace the redemptive memories of the world with ephemeral chatter and fleeting headlines. If this process repeats, we will find ourselves at a distance from God and overcome by the brokenness of the world. Enough with the words. The controversy and chaos are simply too great.
This leaves us with two decisions, spiral into despair, reaching for a pint of distraction to wash it down. Or take up redemption ourselves, subtly believing it is what we do that the defines us and the world. If we choose the latter, every injustice necessarily becomes something we must right. We become savior and judge. Those who fail to join our crusades suffer our scorn. When in fact, we will be dead in a matter of time.
But those who saturate their hearts and minds with the speech of God, and behold day by day the Word of Christ, will respond with the very character of Christ, the Word become humble flesh. We will act out of the redemptive memory of a Savior who suffers and rises to make all things new. We will reject the dichotomy between thinking and doing, reading and acting, and allow the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly, so much so that we respond in all kinds of unexpected ways—service and silence, witness and study.
Far from ghosts in a shell, we are embodied souls shaped by the Word. We speak and we act because the Bible is personal speech of a crucified God—the Word for the World. But only in Christ do we find the perfect balance, a person whose actions do not speak louder than words, and words do not speak louder than actions; instead, they speak in concert, emitting the sound of redemption and forgiveness for all who will take them in. The Word that is enough.
The Bible is God’s speech to us, and we have it in our hands, but will we give it to the world?
Jonathan K. Dodson (M.Div, Th.M) is the founding pastor of City Life Church in Austin, TX which he started with his wife, Robie, and a small group of people. They have three children. He is also the founder of GCDiscipleship.com and author of a number of books including Gospel-Centered Discipleship, and Here in Spirit: Knowing the Spirit who Creates, Sustains, and Transforms All Things (IVP, 2018).