In the last post (Responding to Anxiety: Hearing the Divine Voice), we looked at how anxiety can unstop our spiritual ears, allowing us to hear God’s voice in the pages of Scripture. In that sense, anxiety is a sort of spiritual medicine. In this article, I want to focus on that voice and how it is speaking to you personally.
The challenge we all face when reading Scripture is the “then-and-now” gap. How can something written to other people back then be meaningful and relevant to me now? There’s also the mysterious sense in which we are reading, as I heard David Powlison once put it, “someone else’s mail.” God was directly addressing his people in the Old Testament through Moses and the prophets. And he was directly addressing the nascent church in the New Testament. There are a few places where we see that we also are the intended audience of Scripture (such as in Jesus’s high priestly prayer in John 17), but often when we are reading the Bible, it feels as if we’re on the sideline. We’re observers of God’s Word, but not so much recipients of it. Right?
That might be how it feels, but that’s certainly not how it is. One of the many remarkable things about Scripture is that it’s God’s message to everyone, not just to a select few in history. The message of truth, of the coming Savior who gave himself for sinners so that we might have communion with God, is a message for you. Do you ever read the Bible that way?
You Are the Audience
One way you can approach this is to ask a simple question before you begin reading: “God, what do you have to say to me in this text?” That’s not to make the Bible subjective. Scripture is not just true in particular ways for you; it’s true for everyone. It’s objectively true. But that objective truth must live in you through subjective application. Scripture, in the end, must be both objective and subjective.
The reason Scripture can be this way (objective and subjective) is that it’s author is the eternally sovereign Lord. Authors are always in control of their message, but this applies to God on a different level. God is the author of Scripture, but he is also Lord of history. He has control over not just the meaning (objective) of Scripture but its application (subjective) in every generation, for every person (Poythress, 1986, pp. 246-47). So when you crack open your Bible and begin reading, there is a very real sense in which you are reading a message that was, in fact, intended for you.
Think of it in terms of God’s presence and communion. “Since the Bible is God’s word, his own speech to us, his speech functions as one way in which he has communion with us” (Poythress, 2016, p. 19). For God to have communion with us, surely he must be present with us. This is a deeply personal and trinitarian truth. As John Frame puts it,
Word is a title of the second person of the Trinity, and whenever one divine person acts in the world, the other two persons act together with him. 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. (Frame, 2010, p. 63).
And wherever the word is, the Spirit is there to apply it to us. So, the divine trinitarian voice — the Father speaking the word in the power of the Holy Spirit — is present with us as we read Scripture. God is with you when you read the Bible: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. God is speaking to you.
Keep the Dialogue Open
Now, if that’s the case, then we need to continue meeting with God via Scripture to hear what he has to say to us. We have to keep the dialogue open by keeping the Bible open. And I can promise you this: when you read the Bible in the midst of anxiety, he will speak to you, unequivocally and powerfully. He will speak.
The follow-up question is, “Will you speak back?” That brings in the centrality of prayer, which is where we pick up in the next post. For now, remember that anxiety is extremely isolating. But that isolation has been shattered by a divine voice that is addressing you.
Fame, John M. The Doctrine of the Word of God. A Theology of Lordship. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2010.
Poythress, Vern S. “Divine Meaning of Scripture.” Westminster Theological Journal 48 (1986): 241-79.
_____. Reading the Word of God in the Presence of God: A Handbook for Biblical Interpretation. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016.