What good are words, and what will they achieve? For they are small before the might of hate And faulty too: they bend beneath the weight Of generations. Can we e’er relieve The burdens under which our brothers heave, All hoping against hope that soon the wait Will end in rest, in justice, in a state Of peace and love and welcome? Now, we grieve, For hope remains a hope, a thing unseen, Desire unsatisfied, dream unfulfilled. Bring justice, Lord, grant peace, and intervene. Convict and humble us till we are stilled. Let tragedy be not the final scene. Let now the hard soil of our souls be tilled.
Verbal camouflage: the art of saying enough to blend in but not enough to stand out from any conversation where you don’t know the subject matter well.
I like to think I’m pretty well versed in this type of speech. For example, I know just enough about sports to blend into an average conversation. With my limited arsenal of roughly one to five facts or anecdotes per popular sport, I can sort of follow a conversation, insert a comment when relevant, and make it through the discussion without my ignorance showing too clearly. As a bonus, if I can maintain my cover long enough, I can sometimes pick up an additional bit of info I can use in a later conversation. If all goes well, nobody knows how little I actually understand.
Verbal camouflage works for many subjects: sports, coffee, fashion, politics, music, internet controversies, etc. The practice can work in at least two ways. The first way is the way of humility. Stay silent, listen well, and learn. The goal here isn’t to appear more knowledgeable or to hide our true selves (most of my friends recognize how little I know about most things). Rather, the goal is to learn without distracting from ongoing conversations.
The second way is the way of pride. Here, we try to share what we know in order to look better in the eyes of those around us. We attempt to bluff our way to acceptance, hiding our weakness behind a mask of knowledge. Maybe we’re afraid our ignorance would deny us friends or would keep us from the circles we want to inhabit. Maybe we’re just insecure with our limits. For whatever reason, however, we choose talking over listening, assuming rather than learning. Sadly, we can sometimes get away with it. Sadder still, we sometimes try this approach with God.
I’m learning that we can’t fake things with him, though. I may know the right words to say to convince a friend I’m doing alright. I might be able to fake my way through a conversation about spirituality. But I can’t do such things with God. He knows my heart better than I do. He sees my weakness, my ignorance, my pride, my insecurity. He sees where I’m falling short in my love and my obedience. He sees it all. And while I may be able to hide from others, I can’t hide from him. If I sing about surrender or pray about dependence, he knows whether or not I really mean it.
Thankfully, God gives mercy and grace in great abundance. He reveals my ignorance, my weakness, and my need of him, and he meets me with instruction, strength, and help. He disciplines me for my good, convicting me of sinful ways and leading me in righteous ways. He provides, protects, and keeps his promises. I am weak. He is strong.
I’m trying to be more open before him, more sensitive to his Spirit, more humble in my walk. I’m beginning to learn, slowly, where before I would assume knowledge and speak hastily. I’m beginning to grow, slowly, as I learn to trust him more. I’m beginning to operate with a better understanding of my limits, looking to him for help. I’m not good at any of these things, but, by his grace, I think I’m getting better. And I pray he is pleased with me.
While I may not always verbalize the thoughts in prayer, my thoughts often turn to two types of questions: questions of comparison and questions of timing. Thankfully, Jesus’s disciples raised such questions following Jesus’s resurrection, giving us insight into how the Lord might answer our wondering.
Most writing, if not all writing, points to something. A writer works to communicate information, to tell a story, to convey an emotion, or to evoke a response. And while some words stand out as magnificent or beautiful in and of themselves, words possess meanings and point beyond the symbols on a page to ideas, to reality, to truth. Even grammar, the dread of many, serves that end, enhancing and clarifying a writer’s work. Writing, then, acts as an arrow that points beyond itself to something else. We who write don’t want our readers to stop at the wording or formatting on the page; we want them to be led onward to something further up and further in, as Lewis might say.
Christians who write face a challenge, however. The great subject of our writing, even with the reality of his revelation in view, remains ultimately ineffable. His mighty acts in creation are as outskirts and whispers of his power (Job 26:14), and his thoughts and ways are far higher than our own (Isaiah 55:8-9). Our greatest efforts at description fall far short of the fullness of his beauty and holiness and love. We can speak truthfully about God, yet we can never exhaust the words that could be written of him. Scripture thus aptly speaks of the fear of the LORD, the natural response to a proper view of God in his glory. And while God has revealed himself perfectly in Christ, he invites us into an inexhaustible pursuit of knowing him better. God is higher, greater, holier, more lovely, more beautiful, and more glorious than the heights of our understanding can perceive or describe.
Writing, then, becomes an act of worship, done for the glory of God in the name of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). We who know God in Christ have tasted and seen the goodness of the LORD and have been changed. We are new creations, ambassadors pursuing the reconciliation of sinners and the Savior (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). We are living sacrifices seeking deeper intimacy with the LORD. And while we may never be able to fully capture the beauty or the glory of God with our writing, we nevertheless point to God with our words, working in such a way that whether we produce poetry or prose, fantasy or nonfiction, our writing reflects life in the LORD and invites readers to look to him. We point to him who is beyond us and yet with us, for he offers life and love and peace for needy souls.
True, our writing may fall short of this goal. We can speak coldly of the all-consuming fire, waxing eloquent about his ways or arguing passionately for right doctrine without love for the Word we’re describing. We can articulate the ways he is transcendent and immanent without considering the implications of those truths for our lives. We can write about him in ways that draw more attention to ourselves than to him. And we can assume mastery of theology, presumptuously writing of God as if we have him fully understood. In short, we can write arrogantly rather than humbly, forgetting our place and forgetting our fear.
While I struggle to live this out, I want every aspect of the writing process to be an act of worship. I want to strive for excellence in my writing because I work as unto the Lord. I want to testify to Christ in my writing because he is the way, the truth, and the life we all desperately need. I want to be attentive to the Spirit in my writing because he knows my heart as well as the hearts of my readers best. I want to glorify the Father in my writing because he is worthy of all I have to offer. Above all, I want to be faithful to the LORD in my writing, pointing to him with every word and mark on the page.
My boy, beware the moral poverty
Of those intent on feeding discontent.
The end of all their labor is lament.
They die in lust for blood and property.
Remain not an antagonist to truth
Nor love the follies of your fallen state.
You need not face the unrepentant’s fate,
For wisdom offers hope to humble youth.
Know well that you will never know as well
As he who rules reality with love,
So hallow him and turn a list’ning ear.
Invite instruction and commit to dwell
At wisdom’s fountainhead. Heed God above
And rest within a state of holy fear.