I love words, and the power of words. Human language is amazing, and it is a miracle of God's creation.
Being made in God's image includes the ability to communicate by way of language. This often involves a high level of abstraction -- ideas, purposes, meanings, desires, intents, reasons, connections -- not merely verbal sounds representing material objects.
Language is the medium of exchange for ideas, and for revealing the hidden things in our hearts. We come to know one another through our words. Granted, there are additional ways we learn from one another -- our lifestyle, shared experiences, ethical choices, etc. But the language of words is vital for knowing and understanding one another. Community is built upon communication, the giving and receiving of thoughts, knowledge, and ultimately (hopefully) truth. True and lasting community is built upon true ideas. Words can be used to deceive and to harm, but words can also be used to inform, enlighten, build up, correct, encourage, and delight others.
Reading is one way we learn the thoughts of others. Books give us access to people we can't immediately interact with. I collect books -- true, I collect far more than I actually read. But every book I have is a gateway into the mind of an author.
The other night, my wife and I watched a documentary, "The Booksellers" (Madman Entertainment, 2020), a fascinating look at rare book collectors and dealers in New York. The video (recommended) ends suitably with this poem by Henry Wessells, entitled "The Private Life of Books"...
We learn substance and worth through others’ eyes:
Cloth, flesh, ink, skin, paper, dust — these are but
Material forms in which ideas dwell.
In the roar of a crowded shelf of books
Desert sun and arctic night, distant seas
Of thought awaken, mingle, and are still.
Minds meet where the reading hand grasps the void
And inks its passage in empty margins.
Lost, forgotten, thumbed, split: we bear the scars
Of patient decades and centuries’ dreams.
Whose hands will next hold me I do not know —
The book, too, reads its readers in real time.
(Published in Temporary Culture, 2014)
A book is a "material form in which ideas dwell". But more: "The book, too, reads its readers in real time." Words -- especially words containing truth and written well -- have the power to search and change us. This is true of so many good books.
But this is ultimately true of God's word, which is the revelation of his own mind and heart and will toward us. God's word has the greatest life-giving power of all. From speaking creation into being (Gen 1) to making all things new (Rev 21-22), God speaks, and his Spirit brings forth life and change. The gospel is "the power of God for salvation" (Rom 1:16). Our spiritual growth is mediated to us through his word (2 Tim 3:16-17; 1 Pet 1:25).
His word is living and active, as the Lord said to Isaiah, "...so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:10-12) and "...the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12 ESV).
Make reading a priority! Literacy is vital. In our world filled with images and emoticons, we must take time to read books, real books, and to ponder the words and ideas. We should let the words read us. And most of all, we need to abide in God's word.
Image credit: photo above of the Austrian National Library by Stefan Steinbauer on Unsplash.