Genesis says God spoke and life began. Ever since, I think, we’ve been word-based cultures, societies, and communities. Right now, I’m taking a class studying the Dead Sea Scrolls and the community of Qumran – where the scrolls were found. Looking at the “Community Rule” has told us mostly one thing: words were everything with this group.
After understanding what words meant to this community, I’ve looked much differently at the New Testament Scriptures, like James 3 and Matt. 12:36-37. Words that I write, speak, and even think become much more carefully chosen. It’s really hard to train one’s mind not to think of certain words because the very first thing one does when I say, “Peanut” is think of the word “peanut,” either directly or indirectly. But when it comes to writing or speaking, words tend to play a much more critical role in the development of a community – and by extension, the development of humanity.
This morning, one of our retreat speakers, Jen Stewart, taught from the first couple chapters of Genesis. She mostly discussed an intrinsic-value element to God; when He speaks, life begins, but even deeper than that, things are inherently good. And while I love talking about God breathing intrinsic value into life, I couldn’t help but notice that all of life and all the things we can ever come to know began with words.
When discussing the identity of the culture of Qumran, Carol Newsom writes, “Culture consists of particular utterances yet the whole of the thing is never finished but is continuously in motion and divided among an indefinite number participants,” which says to me that culture, words, and even life itself are all intertwined and eternal in a community. Perhaps the printed words on this screen are not eternal; but my thoughts that created them and my memory of them after they have been refined are eternal, forever etched in the memory of what I’ve done, said, and written. Humanity lives and moves in a whirlwind of words that, on some level, never ends.
When Jesus entered the scene, He not only reminded us of our intrinsic value (that we aren’t defined by what we do but rather who we are defines what we do), but He also rekindled the life-giving power within God’s words. Just as God breathed into the dead body of Adam to give him life; Jesus breathed His last into the depths of death itself in order to resurrect the spiritual communion between God and man.
Ever since, little by little, like leaven working its way through bread, God’s kingdom is being made known among us, in our midst, and within us. What we are left with, then, is a decision. Do we want to follow the broken and misleading words of those apart from God – of those who would rather define themselves with works? Or do we want to embrace the eternal words of God – the ones that say we have value before we do anything? No, I’m not merely referring to the Bible, but rather Who the Bible points to: Jesus.
His words reversed the words we’ve believed as humanity; that searching ourselves for our meaning is an endless and destructive whirlind. Searching Him, however, reveals to us our original value; a value that was restored with the greatest work of all: Jesus’ death on the cross. Since we wouldn’t listen to His words, He communicated with works as well; healing, raising the dead, and then suffering 40 lashes minus one right before being pierced with three nails. His actions spoke even when His words were ignored.
Actions do speak louder than words, but we come to understand those actions through words; talking with each other, reasoning within ourselves, or both. The difference between our own words and the words of God is that His breathe life. And we are left to decide whether we want that life or if we want to try and make up some life on our own. Adjusting the poem from Robert Frost, “And I, I took the [words] less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”