"When God created humanity he created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them."
We know these words. Genesis 1:28 continues this train of thought and adds that God blessed them and spoke to them.
This morning I’m particularly interested in God’s speaking to humanity when he created them. God directed his word to humanity right at the beginning of their history. Words created trust and relationships. God regarded humanity as his partner and counterpart. He spoke to them. Human beings were created to communicate with God, to encounter God as a partner, a friend, a true counterpart. They were created to receive his Word.
We don’t live in the Garden of Eden anymore. Beyond Eden, we live in a blurred reality. Communication between humanity and God changed when humanity put his trust in the voice of a serpent. Yes. In our days, the voice of God seems to have faded away, to have become silent among all the voices that call our attention.
On the other hand, God’s Word is still there. It is still speaking into the lives of human beings. It still can be heard. It has stood the test of time.
The following passage is from one of Franz Kafka’s letters. The passage reflects on the practice of reading and the capacity of words to change lives. In that letter to a friend, Kafka, one of the major figures of 20th-century literature in Europe, wrote:
Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? … We’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.”
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That’s Kafka. Centuries before Kafka, and even centuries before Christ, one of Israel’s greatest prophets used a similar picture to express the capacity of words to change lives. Against the backdrop of his dark and spiritually impoverished time, Jeremiah invites his contemporaries to hear the word of Yahweh. In chapter 22 verse 29, Jeremiah says:
“O land, land, land, Hear the word of the Lord!”
A few verses further, in chapter 23 verse 29, Yahweh speaks and asks:
“‘Is not My word like fire?’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer which shatters a rock?’”
Yahweh speaks into the reality of human beings living at Jeremiah’s time. I’d like to repeat Yahweh’s declaration: Is not My word like fire, and like a hammer which shatters a rock?
Yahweh’s word is compared to fire and a hammer which is able to shatter a rock. The land is to hear it! The fire and the hammer express the capacity of Yahweh’s words to change lives.
The Reformation is said to have been one of the most momentous turning points in world history. Martin Luther has been alternatively described as the brilliant scholar who rediscovered the central message of the Bible and brought the Bible to the people. When Martin Luther was summoned to the Diet of Worms in 1521 and asked to recant his teaching, he replied:
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience would be neither right nor safe. God help me. Here I stand, I can do no other.”
A conscience captive to the word of God – which is like fire and a hammer that shatters rock – was Luther’s credo. Human beings have been transformed by that Word ever since. That word has been life-altering for many. It has shaken awake those who were paralyzed by despair and hopelessness. It has stirred the hearts of those who were wandering in a world seemingly devoid of meaning. It has been the most important turning point in human lives. Yes. It has been the axe for the frozen sea within us, softening our hardened hearts and filling it with love for others.
The reformation opened a door for that Word which then reached humanity on a large scale. That Word is there to make us encounter Yahweh, the creator and redeemer of humanity. It is there to inspire faith and hope in us. It is there to make us see the world from the perspective of God.
May this Word continue to shake us, to be the axe for the frozen sea within us, and to inspire us with hope and courage to confront life with the conviction that Yahweh is there and that his Word is able to change our lives to the core.
I’d like to pray.
We’d like to thank you for your Word that is still speaking into our reality. It still has the capacity to change our lives and to give meaning to our broken lives. Let it lead us into true love and authentic adoration of you who created us in your image. You want us to live deeply. You want us to communicate with you. Thank you for your gracious Word that still touches our hearts.
Daniela Gelbrich is a lecturer of Old Testament at the Friedensau Adventist University in Friedensau, Germany. This devotional was presented at the Friedensau History Conference in May 2016, and is reprinted here with permission.
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