Whether we acknowledge it or not, the Word of God is bound up with the life of man. Man is destined to have a meeting with an external Word. The Word outside of our own head, the Word that is not governed by our emotions and passions will teach us and bring us comfort as we struggle. And it will find a way to rebuke us and correct us as we go astray. Either here and now, through the preaching of the Word, or at judgment day at the final accounting before the Word made flesh, mankind with quite literally meet its maker.
The theologian Gustaf Wingren put it this way, “Man was created in the beginning by the creative Word, and destined to live by that which comes from the mouth of God. Men understand themselves aright and receive true human life in the hearing of God’s Word. The Word reached the objective for which it was sent out only when it effects an entrance into men. Man reaches the spring out of which he can draw human life only when the Word of the Creator comes to him.” (Living Word, 13)
This understanding makes it easy to see why mankind can be profoundly bound to the external Word which gives identity and security and meaning to our lives. And furthermore, this external Word has the habit of bringing unity to a group of individuals. This in its basic form is what a church is. It is a group of individuals who are all listening to the same Word and that Word has brought them into a fellowship. That Word gives them a common identity in a world of options and distractions. When you go to church you don’t go alone, it is not the same thing as sitting at home and reading your Bible, it is an encounter with the Word of God that pulls you into the lives of those around you. From them you find strength and encouragement, you can learn compassion and what is means to love. You can also learn disappointment and how to forgive, how to bind up wounds and how to say you’re sorry.
And yet it is precisely this proclivity to hearing an external word that can be the cause of great disunity among mankind. As much as we might extol the virtues of modern technology, the one thing it does better than anything else is provide us with another word to listen to, a word that is far removed from our immediate vicinity. The telephone and television literally mean to speak and see from far away. Today we telecommute and even tele-worship with televangelists. People today go to church from the comfort of their living rooms or so they say. The external Word then loses the connectivity to the fellowship and is dripped into one’s life through the same vehicle that we get our sports and entertainment and nightly news.
Through our technological prowess we have vastly multiplied the number of external words that seeks an audience in our lives. But these words live in private, they are for our ears only, not the one sitting next to me. They are bearers of disunity. It can be as innocent as checking on the score in the big game while sitting in Bible Study or as devious as a husband reconnecting with an old lover through Facebook messenger while sitting at the dinner table with his family. Private words for private thoughts and private lives that pull us away from those we’ve built lives around, those who love and care for us.
So, our care falls out of practice our ability to have empathy and to forgive and to love shrivels on the vine. As we turn away from those around us and lean deeper into our phones. We all know it; we all see it. We’ve had those moments where we look around at our friends or family members and everyone is engaged in some other conversation on their phone, some comment on Instagram has consumed their thoughts, some Snapchat or text message is carrying them away. For a moment we feel superior, puffed up ready to make a stand to call out the disunity of divided external words that pull the fellowship apart. But then you feel that subtle notice vibration in your pocket, good old George has sent the latest meme and you laugh to yourself and your thoughts race away from those sitting near you to a private world they know nothing about.
What is one to do when there is no moral high ground to claim? Perhaps the only real answer is the simplest, go to church. I mean it. Go to a place there the external Word is at the center of the gathering, a publicly proclaimed, publicly discussed, publicly embraced Word. It is place where it isn’t yet socially acceptable to turn to the other words vying for your attention. It is a place where the true Word gives healing and strength and the promise of something more than our divided and distracted lives. It is around this Word that we learn again to love and have compassion for one another. It is in His Word that we what live can truly be as we await the end of the age.