Wounded by the Word

“God shows himself; God speaks. He may speak to other people, too, but in any case he is speaking to me. How the person next to me understands his word is none of my concern right now. God has chosen this hour and this occasion to meet me. He has the means and the power to do it in such a way that man cannot dodge the issue but has to make a decision—and will. When the believer realizes what is happening, he is usually so struck that he stands there like someone who has just been wounded. A part of him that before was whole and promised peace and seemed to have a future has broken into pieces and cannot be glued back together again. The familiar country road has suddenly stopped, and he now finds himself before a chaotic thicket. Man’s whole helplessness, indeed, his whole lack of a future, yawns open—that is, unless he resolves to jump over his own abyss to God. God’s ‘thou’ is so surpassingly powerful that man, no matter which way he moves, always remains in his clasp. A truce with God is out of the question. You have to stick it out right where you are until you have heard everything. God does not just go his way; he wants to be listened to now, and man has to be all ears. What God has to say will not take many words; it may be a single word, which afterward can be stretched out into a whole sermon. It is also possible for everything to get stuck in the initial stages so that God has to meet man for days and weeks and years until man gets an inkling of what he is saying. But as man’s Creator and Redeemer, God is so close to him and understands him so well that he knows precisely how to handle him, how to make himself heard, what word man will respond to without fail.”

Adrienne von Speyr, Man Before God (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), pp. 64-65

I wonder what this passage might say to us about the role of the Holy Scriptures and the sermon in what we call the liturgy of the Word. (Or, for that matter, what it might say to us about what we expect to hear when we read and meditate upon the Scriptures.) Do we come to the Scriptures expecting the kind of Word from God that could strike us to the heart? Do we expect to be bought to the point of crisis and decision?

Ultimately, no preacher is adequate to the task, and the Word of God is most often overheard in spite of the inadequacies of the preacher. And yet, perhaps, the poor state of the preaching ministry is as much the fault of our low expectations as it is the quality of those called and sent to preach. What do we expect? To be entertained? To be uplifted? To be confirmed in our prejudices?

Or do we instead expect “the Word of God, living and efficacious, sharper than any two edged sword”? Do we instead expect to come face to face with God’s mercy, truth, and judgment?

The Word of God is an unsettling one. It can console us but seldom without wounding us or causing the kind of chaos and helplessness mentioned above. In the words of Jesus’ preaching in the early chapters of Mark, the Good News of the Kingdom is a summons to repent—to turn our whole lives around. And there is a painful tearing away from our sins (which we love); there is a time of adjustment to the clean and pure light of God; there is a dying, before God brings us back to life.

Bill Carroll

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