I’ve always been a frustrated musician. I can play by guitar by ear and even carry a tune. I love music, but I can’t read sheet music beyond a few notes at a time.
Recently, I sat in the back of a noisy school music room. Three of my children joined about a dozen other children practicing flutes, trumpets, trombones and various other instruments.
The little musicians blew with all their might to send one solid “C” note magically from their lungs, to their lips, and out through their instruments. Their instructor produced a large card with a single quarter note on the music staff. What seemed like just noise to me at first, was actually music. I know it was music because it was intentional and it could be captured accurately on page.
At home, around the dinner table, I held one of their music books up to my ear. “I want to hear the sound ‘C’ marked on this page,” I told them. They quickly corrected me. The music on the page was not really the music. I then hummed the first few notes of the Beethoven’s familiar 5th symphony. I asked which came first, the sound or the written music. “Where did this familiar sound come from? And, where was it before it came into being?”
It seems easy enough to trace written music back to the actual sound and even back to the inspired mind that created it. It is as simple to explain Holy Scripture to our children. I put a page from a Bible up to my ear and said, “I can’t hear what Jesus is saying, can you?” Obviously, words on paper are only a representation of words once spoken and repeated.
Learning foreign languages makes this so clear to us. People learn language through experiencing it and written words are only arbitrary symbols for the reality. This is why when learning language (even or own language) we might often have to look for the spelling of an expression that we only know verbally. How many of us have said, “For all intensive purposes,” or “Nip it in the butt?” (both are incorrect, but I’m sure you figured that out the first time you had to write it:).
This should all be helpful in understanding Holy Scripture (literally writings, or words). Even children understand that there must be a predecessor to the written Bible. Some person(s) wrote it down. All written scripture at some point was simply “talk.” Even that talking or oral existence was often preceded by the actual events. Jesus words, “God is spirit, and we must worship him in spirit and in truth,” were spoken to a Samaritan woman long before they were written down. So Scripture exists in multiple times… the time of an event, the oral remembering and transmitting, the writing down, and the time of its reading.
Still of greater importance is where the words of Scripture began. We might ask where did Beethoven’s 5th exist before he first hummed it out or produced its music from his capable hands. Even if originating from his mind, his thoughts must have been inspired in some way. We might become fixated on the perfection of his music as we listen to it, or if we are capable enough, as we produce it with our own hands… but the real miracle is the genius that thought it into existence in the first place.
Scripture, then, is not simply something on paper. And, it would be a tragedy to truncate it to only words on paper! It reflects an incredible journey of time and voice, but ultimately originates from the very breath of God (the Hebrew word for breath and spirit are beautifully interconnected). God’s spirit blew through those speakers and writers like the belly breath of my youngest child bursting forth in magical music. And just as the perfection and beauty of Beethoven or Mozart is observed and understood through listening to it, the sacred quality of scripture is also discovered through listening to it (reading also being a form of listening).
Today the church is lacking in good theology of Scripture. We connect with the written word but without deeper connection to what’s behind the word. Scripture must captivate us like music. We as the reader must dissolve into the rich history and inspiration of the Word of God allowing Scripture to claim us rather than us claiming it.