[[Note: This post contains affiliate links.]]
Next to my desk is a framed letter. (I’ve written about the letter for Christward Collective.) My father wrote it to me when I was eight, right before he went into his first major brain surgery. (It chills my soul to imagine writing a letter like that to my own children.) The last lines read:
My love is as close as a prayer, sweetheart. You are never really alone. This is true, not a wish.
I keep these words next to my desk because it’s a way of keeping my father next to my desk. His words, no matter when I read them, evoke his personal presence. He sealed that presence in ink when he penned the words on cheap yellow notebook paper. The ink has long since dried, locking in his personhood.
I know — that’s hard to believe for most of us. Personal presence in pen and paper? The philosopher Jacques Derrida demeaned written words as corpses on a page, bones of communication left un-buried on the landscape of processed pulp. But Scripture has a very different view of words. The Word of the Father (John 1:1), after all, is life itself (John 6:14). He was written into history and walked the world over as God’s very presence in the flesh: breathing, walking, talking language. The Word that God wrote for us in the flesh is not a platitude; it’s a person.
God’s Presence with His Words
This shouldn’t be all that surprising, since God has always told us he’s present with his words. John Frame put it this way:
God is the word, and the word is God. So we conclude that wherever God is, the word is, and wherever the word is, God is. Whenever God speaks, he himself is there with us.
John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (p. 63)
Echoing the same truth, my friend and former teacher says,
The word of God manifests the presence of God. The presence of God is made strikingly evident by the fact that God’s word has the attributes of God. . . . The word of God is God speaking, not a “something” detached and unrelated to God himself.
Vern S. Poythress, In the Beginning Was the Word (p. 26)
God’s words are not just “things.” They’re not dry symbols, sapped of vigor and left dead on the page. They’re markers of God’s personal presence. And this must be the case because words have their origin in God himself. Remember: God calls himself “the Word” (John 1:1). He is present through language.
Our Presence with Our Words
And the fact that we image God means that we’re also present with our words, in the sense that our speech expresses our personal desires and thoughts (see pp. 30-31 of In the Beginning Was the Word). So, my father is present in his words, just as I’m present in the words you’re reading right now. We can’t fully explain that presence — not because it isn’t real but because it’s rooted in God himself, and God is beyond our comprehension.
One implication of this amazing truth is that words wield the greatest power not because principles or an abstract notion of “truth” lie behind them, but because people do. Don’t forget: contrary to popular assumption, truth is not first and foremost a thing; it’s a person, the second person of the Godhead (John 6:14).
Let’s bring this back to human writing. Somehow, the palpitating, muscle-moving, lung-expanding life of a person is present in written words. Whenever you write something, you’re writing yourself into prose. Whenever you read something, you’re reading a person. That’s why I keep my father’s letter next to my desk. Whenever I have trouble reading myself on this side of paradise, I can read him.
Yes, dad, I know. I’m never really alone. And it’s not just because you’re with me in those small-cap, black ink letters. It’s because God himself is present in the words of Scripture sitting on that same desk. And the worded world all around me has been steeped like a teabag in the all-consuming presence of the speaking God.
Thank God for personal presence in words.