“And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying “What is this?” then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.’” Exodus 13:14
Say – Too often we are influenced by factors in the culture that are nearly invisible to us. Unless we take the time to ask deep questions about the culture, we will simply slide along with the masses, never realizing how much of what we think and do is formed by the patterns of this world (to quote Paul). None of us want this to happen, but most of us don’t really know how to see what’s happening. We know something isn’t right. That doesn’t take a genius. All we have to do is observe the state of moral decay and the general chaos of the world. But we don’t know how it got like this or what to do about it. We don’t know where to turn for help. It’s time to correct that. It’s time to ask at least one deep question.
What happens to our understanding of God’s presence when we conform to the technology of the written word? Does this seem like a strange question? Writing is such a fundamental part of our understanding of the world that we don’t even think about this anymore. But that wasn’t always the case. Notice this commandment in Exodus. Education about God is oral, not written. How children learn about God is the direct result of the stories that parents tell about God. The introduction of God in the lives of children comes with all the intonation, inflection, personal dynamics and loving tone of conversation between parents and children. God’s character is communicated personally, not artificially in written words. In fact, even more than spoken words are implied in this word ‘amar. In Hebrew, this word for speaking also includes my thinking and my actions. To tell someone about God involves what I say, what I think and what I do. Did you notice that none of it is about what I write?
Ancient Hebrew has no punctuation. You might wonder why. The answer is this: Hebrew was a spoken language. When I speak, I don’t need punctuation marks. I put all the punctuation into my voice. It is a dynamic part of the message. But when I stop speaking and start writing, all those essential parts of the speech have to be converted to symbols, and of course, the delivery of the message becomes subject to the interpretation of the reader. In oral communication, the interpretation is incorporated into the message. That’s why memorization was so important in ancient cultures. Memorization guaranteed that the exact character of the message was transmitted from one person to the next.
Today there are more than fifty different translations of the Bible in English. These written variations change the way we think about God. They allow the reader to interpret the message rather than the speaker. There is no continuity or consistency from speaker to listener because the written word replaces oral communication. In the process, my understanding of God changes from personal and dynamic to doctrinal and static. My appreciation of God’s actual words changes from memorized guidance to verse references. The Bible becomes a source book rather than a love poem. And my children learn about God through written stories in classroom settings rather than through my voice as they are held in my arms or while they watch my behavior. Something happened without us even realizing it. The result was catastrophic.
Topical Index: Education