I live in Washington, D.C., where the roads seems to be busy at every hour of the day — a fact that never ceases to amaze a girl from the most rural part of Northern New England. One Friday night, despite the excitement provided by the other drivers constantly switching lanes and honking menacingly at one another, I decided to pop in a Rich Mullins CD for the drive to a friend’s house.
It took the hand of God Almighty/To part the waters from the sea
But it only took one little lie/To separate you and me
We are not as strong as we think we are….
Ah… I still remember the day my friend e-mailed those lyrics to me, because they had moved her so deeply The words still have a special place in my heart, because they came from her, and because they are so true.
Suddenly it hit me: He is dead. Rich Mullins passed from this world several years ago, yet his words still affect us. He wrote and sang these words out of the faith in his heart, and every day someone in the world is listening to them and finding their own faith strengthened by them. Did Rich Mullins question God at times? Certainly — just listen to the song on his final album, where he accuses God of “playing hard to get.” Did Rich Mullins have “bad faith” days? Most likely — though probably not as often as I have “bad hair” days. But whenever the Word of God was strong in his heart, he wrote down a message, and turned it into a song that would be shared with others.
While I was pondering the concept of dead men speaking, I was further reminded of Hebrews 11:4, which says that “by faith” Abraham “still speaks, even though he is dead.” His faith in God and the resulting actions he chose (including laying his first and only son Isaac on an altar and getting ready to “offer” him to God as a sacrifice) remain a legacy for us, an example to which we can aspire. We can also take encouragement in Abraham’s failings, as recorded in other parts of the Bible — which show us that we can doubt and still be believers; we can fall short and yet be marked as “in the right” by God.
Sheltered as you are now from various aspects of life after college, there are some ways in which college is exactly like the rest of the world. Particularly, there is the fact that each day holds the challenges and rewards of relating with roommates, classmates, co-workers, even professors. This is a reality you cannot escape, even in college. No matter what profession you choose, no matter what part of the world you will move to, you will inevitably have relationships with other people. Some relationships will be social sandpaper — roommates who ruin your clothes, classmates who spill Coke on your notes, hall neighbors who schedule a sock raid the night before your exam, professors who assign improbable goals. Other relationships will be your haven in a heartless world. In every kind of relationship, God has plans for you — and for the people to whom you will be listening and talking. This semester, experience all your relationships with this in mind: God speaks to His people through other people.
This semester, I encourage you to keep your ears open for the very Word of God spoken to you by your fellow mortals. Whether you believe that prophecy has ceased or is still pouring out in churches, one day you may find yourself listening, transfixed, to words that pertain remarkably to your situation — just what you needed to hear, right at the time you needed to hear it. The person speaking may not even realize how valuable their words are to your soul! Whatever term you want to use for it, you don’t want to miss out!
But God has put this Word into the mouth of others in order that it may be communicated to us. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find his living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged…. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.
— Deitrich Bonhoffer, Life Together
The first time I read this section of Bonhoffer’s book, I was in a discussion group. As an example of Bonhoffer’s point, one of the girls shared how God had spoken to her through another person. Her co-worker had challenged her to allow herself time to “grieve evil” rather than trying to explain it away by looking at all the good in the world. This was, in turn, something that I really needed to hear. She didn’t quote any Scripture verses; the words she spoke were God’s truth in everyday language. It was not a new revelation; it was a reiteration of principles already in the Bible.
As an example of this principle, take the story of Joseph. Recall when he was reunited with his family, on the verge of a nation-wide famine. When he looked at his brothers who had sold him into slavery, he didn’t say “hey, everything’s okay now, so none of it was bad.” His brothers knew as well as he did that God never rejoiced over their jealousy and malice or Joseph’s tribulation. He had endured false accusations, decades in prison and other unpleasant effects of their sin against him — this was not going to become “okay.” But Joseph also had the wisdom to point out that God had taken even that evil and turned events around to create blessings for the entire family. This part was very, very good.
As my friend spoke, and I reflected on this Scripture, I knew immediately that I needed to take her point into practice, in order to get back into balance and maintain a healthy position between two extremes.
God’s word in the mouth of another, communicated to me.
Admittedly, even random strangers can tell you things that are true — one time I smiled as I walked past a man begging for change on the street, and he summed up me and my modus operandi and my plastic smile perfectly in one sentence. He said, “You don’t even know what you are smiling about.” It got me thinking about sincerity for days on end.
Sometimes you don’t even need to hear an actual word, in order to receive God’s word from another. Certain people in my life have been incredibly influential just by being themselves. A roommate of mine showed grace and gave our mutual friend the benefit of the doubt when I was ready to castigate. A couple whom I admire has persistently honored their clearly imperfect parents. I have watched my peers and elders go through amazingly selfless thought processes in deciding difficult matters. I was never in the forefront of these people’s minds when they did what they did, but by living according to their consciences, they challenged me to “do better” in my own affairs.
God’s word in the actions of another, a decisive message to me.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” says the Proverb (27:6), “but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Sometimes, your fellow Christian mortals, out of concern for you, might speak the words of God to you when you just don’t want to hear it. The polite word for this is “exhortation.” Those on the receiving end may call it “meddling” or “nagging,” but in all honesty, it can only be called God’s word to us from the mouths of others.
At one point in my life when I was going astray and knew it, I deliberately avoided relating too deeply with certain other Christians. I knew that my closer friends might point out to me what I was doing wrong The reality (that I was obeying certain lies instead of the Truth) was far less threatening as a nagging thought deep in the recesses of my mind; I could ignore it there. I was secretly afraid that if the Truth was spoken to me directly by a brother or sister, it would be “incarnate” and I would have to look it in the face, maybe even obey it.
Which brings me to my final point: I do not mean to imply that you should skip church and begin listening to the loudest voices in your hall for moral direction. You can always find someone to tell you what you want to hear. Down any street, you can locate a person who is willing to be “sympathetic” to your side of the story, and encourage you to do just what you wanted to do in the first place! Some people will gladly tell you to do the wrong thing, for various twisted reasons. The goal is to be receptive to the Word of God in the mouths of others, NOT to obey the strong opinions of others, shoved into the mouth of God! So, get out there and LISTEN! Then come home and double-check.
Copyright 2001 Laurel Robinson. All rights reserved.