Meditation on the Word

Consider the word Elephant.

If I break down the word Elephant, I find many parts. Three Es, an L, a P, an imageH, an A an N and a T. I can study each of these letters in isolation for ages. I can learn how they gained their present form, why they interact the way they do, and perhaps how they might have been pronounced or rhymed in a different day.

When I look around, I  will see friends, acquaintances, family members and strangers who misspell the word, and I decide whether or not to call out their ignorance. I can consider that even though I can clearly recognize what they were trying to communicate, they got the symbols wrong, either out of carelessness, or a lack of knowledge.

None of the letters by themselves is an elephant. In fact, there are many non-elephant words that use those letters. I’ve formed several in this meditation, and I will continue to do so. The letters in and of themselves remain useful, even if they aren’t, alone, helping anyone to actually visualize an elephant.

Looking closer, perhaps I may find it significant (or symbolic?) that the letter E is repeated three times, or perhaps I might feel the inclusion of the ‘ph’ is archaic and needlessly elongates the presentation of the word, moreso because it is confusing for non-native English readers (who generally understand our language by hearing it long before they understand how to spell it), and should have been replaced with an ‘f’ a long time ago. That is, if we really want the widest readership to know from this representation that we are indeed talking about an elephant.

This is a rather verbose way of saying that while ELEPHANT is the word that communicates an elephant, E, L, E, P, H, A, N, and T do not need to be affirmed as 8 individual elephants that make up one big elephant. It is absurd for me to declare that I know that the letter “P”, which is part of the Elephant, is truly by itself an elephant, simply because it is part of the makeup of the complete word Elephant.

In fact, when we translate the word ELEPHANT into another language, simply transliterating the individual letters into a different writing system doesn’t end up helping those in the receiving language understand the idea we were trying to communicate any better than if we had left it alone. The entire word/concept must be translated as a whole.

It is silly to say that because the word might be translated elefante, or slon, or 象, that none of those translation are really valid to represent an elephant, because none of them include or properly emphasize the letter ‘P’,

So what?

When I affirm that volumes of Scripture are the Word of God that communicate a messageimage from Him, that does not necessitate that I affirm that every word, story, affirmation, character, jot or tittle make up individually selected words of God.

While sometimes a letter can also happen to serve as a good shorthand summary of the word entire (“I”, for example, might a pretty good summary of “Individual”), at times we can find ourselves far more interested in spreading the letters used by God rather than the actual message – the Word of God. And sometimes the letter we chose changes how we view the Word itself. (What if I chose “U” instead?).

I affirm that the vessel, the word as a whole, indeed communicates something powerful that we are meant to listen to as a whole. I don’t necessarily affirm that the individual parts – in English, Hebrew, Greek, Reformed Egyptian, or otherwise – need to, or are meant to, be seen as equally valuable individual words of God that, in isolation, communicate timeless truth or fact.

I do, however, affirm that I see each collection of scripture that we accept as a Church as the Word of God, and as vessels that can, have, and do communicate and provoke profound inspired insight into the relationship between God and Man. Inasmuch as that singular WORD is translated correctly, and we don’t spend all our time trying to transliterate each and every jot and tittle that atomically compose that Word.

And when we take later Words in the divine sentence into consideration, and also anticipate that there will be yet more Words before the arrival of a Period, that, I think, is when the message begins to be able to be received, and understood.

Otherwise, sometimes, we just can’t see the Elephants for the Ps.

One thought on “Meditation on the Word

  1. Amen. Several years ago I came to understand that what is canon is decided by the church, by the united voice of the people who comprise the church. There are many parts of the standard works that on their own I question or disagree with, but together we have chosen to include these, as well as the parts I fully embrace. What all of these parts have in common, both the comfortable and the uncomfortable, is that they are all all witnesses of how individual men and women have experienced or come to understand God’s grace in history and their own lives. We want the canon, the standard works, to fit together seamlessly, but it is much more like a quilt, with some patches fitting better than others, but all making something that brings comfort and warmth and is an expression of love and devotion. And the most beautiful thing is that the canon is still incomplete. God continues to act and fill us with his grace and in time some of these stories and experiences may be included as well.

    As always, thanks for sharing your insights.

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