—Written on July 26, 2015—
If buzzing, bumping, and colliding electrons conduct heat, then these letters are the atomic particles that transmit my communication to you. Letters crash into one another, forming words, and words collide to shape sentences until the concept-radiation reaches your mind’s eye. Language, the stringing together of phrases, is the conduction of ideas.
Words are terrifying. Terrifying and beautiful and invigorating and exciting—and sometimes, to the shame of either the author or the reader, they can be boring. Most of the time, however, words are vastly underestimated. Consider the following quote, found in Steven Hall’s literary novel, The Raw Shark Texts:
Imagine you’re in a rowing boat on a lake. It’s early morning, That time when the sun hasn’t quite broken free of the landscape and long, projected shadows tigerstripe the light. The rays are warm on your skin as you drift through them, but in the shadows the air is still cold, greyness holding onto undersides and edges wherever it can.
A low clinging breeze comes and goes, racing ripples across the water and gently rocking you and your boat as you float in yin-yang slices of morning. Birds are singing. It’s a sharp, clear sound, clean without the humming backing track of a day well underway. There’s the occasional sound of wind in leaves and the occasional slap-splash of a larger wavelet breaking on the side of your boat, but nothing else.
You reach over the side and feel the shock of the water, the steady bob of the lake’s movement playing up and down your knuckles in a rhythm of cold. You pull your arm back; you enjoy the after-ache in your fingers. Holding out your hand, you close your eyes and feel the tiny physics of gravity and resistance as the liquid finds routes across your skin, builds itelf into droplets of the required weight, then falls, each drop ending with an audible tap.
Now right on that tap – stop. Stop imagining. Here’s the real game. Here’s what’s obvious and wonderful and terrible all at the same time: the lake in my head, the lake I was imagining, has just become the lake in your head. It doesn’t matter if you never know me or never know anything about me. I could be dead, I could have been dead a hundred years before you were even born and still – think about this carefully, think past the obvious sense of it to the huge and amazing miracle hiding inside – the lake in my head has just become the lake in your head.
— Steven Hall, The Raw Shark Texts, p.54–55
Words, when regarded appropriately, are like caged animals captured on pages, unleashed in the quiet halls of libraries, on the incessant pages of the world wide web, and on the coffee table in your grandmother’s living room. She’s not safe, and neither are you. They’re embedded in the audio tracks of movies and music. They’re spilling forth from the billions of mouths in existence on planet earth. They’re everywhere. And they may not seem like they’re saying much—but they’re always saying something. And that something is always an idea, whether it’s in the forefront of their speech, or concealed by words with lots of syllables, or surrounded by terms that were once inappropriate for young ears.
In his book on the art of writing, Wordsmithy, Doug Wilson says, “Your writing advances a particular view of the world. Pretending that it doesn’t just confuses everybody, starting with you.” Even the most inarticulate voice in existence is promoting his or her worldview. And each worldview says something about God, about the reason for our existence, about where the world is going. Even saying nothing is saying something, because beyond each sentence, phrase, word, and letter there are sub-atomic particles: as a quark is to an atom, a presupposition is to a statement. These are the tiny, beyond-microscopic building blocks of our very thoughts and ideas.
Don’t underestimate the power of words. Words shape humans—in fact, humans are made up of words. God’s words. He has spoken every atom into existence, commanded planets to get up onto their axes, and told them to twirl—in a perfectly aligned, impeccably timed, seasonally appropriate sort of way. On His adjectives rest your every trait and on his verbs your very existence. Within His adverbs lie gravity, the laws of physics, and each of the universe’s habits. He has already written the saga of the cosmos and is telling it even now as you read, upholding it by the Word of His power (Heb. 1:3).1 He was telling it even when Shakespeare ironically mused, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”2
If you listen closely, the susurrus of Creation is the same story; in its existence and interworkings are scribbled the signature of the Author God. Humans themselves are faded and broken reflections of God (Gen. 1:26). Those who have faith in Christ are being transformed to resemble Him once again (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). And we exist because God is speaking our existence—we are made up of His words. More than that, Paul says Christians are letters penned to one another and to the world by the Holy Spirit Himself—not with pen and ink, but with sanctification as the writing instrument and our hearts as the medium.
“And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
—2 Corinthians 3:3
Because we belong to Christ, the letter-lives which He pens through us say something very different than the letter-lives of the rest of the world. Both you and I are sanctified stationery, set apart to tell the same story that the Maker has been speaking since the beginning of time: Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, and Him crucified (John 1:1; 1 Cor. 2:2).
A Letter Apart is the marginalia from the letter that Christ is penning on my heart through the Holy Spirit. I know that He writes not only for my benefit but for the encouragement of others, the building up of the Church, and ultimately the glory of God. In the feeble way of an echo nigh extinct, I shall endeavor to do the same.
This blog’s words are droplets in a vast ocean of blogs, like so very few atoms in the face of the universe. It is not so prideful or hipster to think it is especially unique or that it has the final word. But it is also not so ignorant as to think that it has no effect whatsoever. After all, it is made of words. These pages are full of them—absolutely dangerous, and God willing, humbly wielded words. Words are a highway of ideas from the mind of the writer into the minds of the readers. Reach over the side of the boat and dip your fingers into the water. Feel the water droplets on your skin.
I pray that these words will continually speak of God’s grace toward us in Christ, from Whom is our sufficiency (1 Cor. 3:5). I pray that through my words, Christ will pen a letter to you that communicates far more than an image of a lake. I pray that the hope in the gospel of Christ written by the Holy Spirit on my heart shall also become the hope etched deeply into yours.
- Ideas for this whole paragraph were probably heavily influenced by Nate Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl. If you liked my paltry sentences, you will love his book exponentially more.
- Shakespeare’s As You Like It