The only language you and God share

You don’t have to read too deeply into the Gospels before you realize that much of Jesus’ message to his disciples boils down to, “I know I’m going too fast for you. But try to keep up anyway.”

And try to keep up they did. What else could they do?

What else can any of us do?

Of course, those first Christians had Jesus right there in the (luminous, I would guess) flesh—walking on water, healing the lame, turning dead people into people who woke up like they’d only been napping. I mean, you know. Talk about reasons to believe.

Setting aside for a moment the Holy Spirit, what have we today to help us believe in and understand Jesus? A book. A book! And one that’s not exactly a snappy read. It’s not even a book so much as a bunch of books, written in ancient languages by maybe fifty different authors beginning from the time of Moses (around 1450 BC) to not long after Jesus died (about AD 100). And about half the part of the book that’s all about Jesus was written by a guy who (inspired genius though he certainly was) never even met Jesus.

That’s a long, long way from being right there when, say, Jesus, turned five loaves of bread and a couple of fish into a meal for five thousand people.

So here’s my question: Why didn’t Jesus write a book in which he captured his timeless message for all mankind? Why leave it up to regular people to after the fact nail down the things he did, said and meant during his time on earth? Jesus knew how to write. He understood the value of books. He knew the power of the written word. Why wouldn’t he personally use that power to at least try to communicate the depth and breadth of his knowledge and wisdom?

Why leave us to write the books about him? Has he ever read any book randomly pulled from the Christian Living shelf of a bookstore? If so, did he then resist striking himself blind so he’d never have to do that again?

Why, why, why didn’t Jesus write his own book?

I think it’s because he was always first and foremost aware of something that it’s entirely too easy for us to forget about him: He was God.

God! The alpha and omega of all that ever was, is, or could be. The creative force that birthed, formed, and sustains the universe. The origin and absolute master of all time, space, and dimension.

The original Mister Humongous.

I think human language was to Jesus what this is to the tens of millions of colors detectable to the human eye:

Jesus trying to write down who he was, what he thought, how he saw us, or what he wanted for us would be like me trying to belch all of Shakespeare. Not possible. Doesn’t make sense. Seriously wrong tool for the right job.

Not that Jesus didn’t try his best to … say stuff. But as anyone attempting to plumb the depths of Jesus’ mind by reading his words in the New Testament knows, it’s pretty much impossible to ever know what Jesus is actually saying in the New Testament. His words read like … I dunno: Yoda as translated by Buddha by way of Hal the Computer who’s gotten stoned. Or maybe like a bunch of words are just missing, or something. I dunno. All I know is that anyone who claims to grasp more than 25% of what Jesus is purported to have said should do themselves a favor and stop talking.

And why is it so hard for us to understand the words of Jesus? Because unlike Jesus we think linearly. We want words to have specific meanings that correspond to specific concepts in our heads. And we want those concepts to be really familiar to us; we want them to entirely correspond with our own personal reality and experience. And we don’t just want that. We need that if we’re at all going to understand whatever words we’re reading or hearing.

Meanwhile, Jesus was down here walking around talking to people while simultaneously being fully cognizant of everything that ever was, is, or will happen in the universe. He knows the whole life history, and every emotion ever experienced—he feels every emotion ever experienced—by every person he ever meets—and everyone who wasn’t lucky enough to actually bump into him. Before you talk to Jesus he knows exactly what you’re going to say, and everything that went into your saying it, going back countless generations of your forebearers.

All the elements are his playthings. The stars are the jewels in a ring on his finger. He holds the seas in his cup. He clears his throat and it’s thunder; he taps his foot and it’s an earthquake.

And there he was, all squeezed down into one little human form, operating within a window of physical space and time that to him is infinitesimally small.

But he did it, and he did it for a reason, and he was (yayeth!) real clear about that reason—and then he was gone.

And then there we were, and here we are, trying to fathom the totality of Jesus with the feeble tools available to us.

Which, for us, expression-wise, boils down to words. To a book.

So this is my point: I love the Bible; I’m not discounting it. But if you really want to know God, and to know Jesus, and to be at the place where your soul and spirit meet the very essence of all that Jesus is and was, then you must turn inward to the Holy Spirit. That is what Jesus left us. That is what Jesus came to give. That is where all the action is.

The Bible is a signpost. And it’s not pointing to anything out there. It’s not trying to get you to appreciate anything out there. Out there is finite, mercurial, strictly relative, always changing, nothing but limited. Out there belongs to the world. And the world can have it, to turn to ashes as it will.

Out there isn’t really your place. It’s not where you really belong. It’s not where you really are.

Where you really are is inside.

Where you really are is at the locus of the Holy Spirit within you.

You go there—you close your eyes and really go there—and shaka-laka-boom: there it is. There’s God. There’s all that God wants you to know. There’s all you can know.

There’s all you ever desired to know.

There’s the language—the only language—that you and God share.

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  • charles

    brilliant post.

    An athiest friend of mine once said that you can tell a Christian from what they get out of the Bible…. it might be violent hate, or compassionate love. But its their choice as to how they define who God is in their life.

  • Christie L.

    amen! hallelujah! pass the plate! 🙂

    A book to guide us back inside ourselves, where God resides. The outside takes care of itself when we live according to the Holy Spirit. The Bible is itself a devotional book – we are to read and meditate/pray about what it says and how does that apply to our lives and our actions.

    I love to reflect on and wrestle with those words of the Bible. It’s a tool God & I use together to chisel my character, values, and actions.

  • Lee Walker

    *like* 🙂

  • Jill Hileman via Facebook

    You keep me sane, John. Don’t know how else to describe it.

  • anon

    This weekend the word “ineffable” came up in a theological context.

    At the far edges of our perception, language just breaks down, and attempts to pursue Truth past those points is futile (at least with our current limits of understanding)

    The Bible cautions us early on with the story of the tower of Babylon. Language is not a unifier, not an illumination. Language creates barriers, even between speakers of that language.

    So much of what Christ taught was in practical, pragmatic terms. He spits in his hand and rubs some dirt in it to make mud, and uses that mud to heal a blind man. Why? Did he need the mud to do that? No, of course not — he was showing that “working” on the Sabbath (i.e., making that tiny bit of mud) was permissible if one was doing good (i.e., healing).

    He gave us three commandments: Love God, one each other as much as we love ourselves, and finally to love one another as much as he loved us.

    All else, as Rabbi Hillel said, is superfluous.

  • Excellent post. Thank you for putting into words the turmoil that’s been going on inside of me.

  • Barbara

    Excellent and poignant. I guess that’s why we say, “knowledge is power”.

  • I wish he had.

  • I heard his editor couldn’t find a publisher …

  • Leslie Marbach

    Love this, John. Too often those who idolize the Bible forget that the Holy Spirit is still speaking to us today, still moving in people’s lives.

  • Maybe its just me, but I never once had God speak to me via the bible. I learned stuff, I saw things in the bible I liked and stuff I didn’t, but it being a personal means of communication? Nope. Never happened.

    However I can name many times where I felt God’s presence, where communication occurred. In every case, there was not a book in my hand.

  • True, but we have the Bible so we can test the spirits. Because if we’re not careful we can think we’re hearing the Holy Spirit, when it’s actually someone or something else entirely. It’s the knowledge of the Bible that helps us tune in to the Holy Spirit’s voice.

  • Jill H

    How true.

  • But what if you are illiterate? What if you lived during a period where bibles weren’t exactly accessible? What if you live in a part of the world where you can’t legally own one, much less affo,rd a copy? If the Holy Spirit needs the bible to help us know its really God speaking, doesn’t that mean that its really limiting itself to the literate, affluent and modern?

    Besides if God wants our attention, He’ll get it. He’s used weather, oversize fish, donkeys and charred shrubbery in the past. Who says he ever stopped using unorthodox methods to reach us?

  • Carol B.


  • Terri Antonovich via Facebook

    Beautifully written , thank you !

  • He was told the Bible was nothing more than a ‘Mary Sue’ that would owe any success it had to His Father’s influence.

  • Blaine Williams via Facebook

    “…what have we today to help us believe in and understand Jesus? A book. A book!” love that. So glady you, that someone, has finally pointed out what a herculean feat it is for us to understand all that we need to understand; given our lack of proximity to him and his works.

  • Allie

    Okay, but I feel like we’re not reading the same book. Most of what Jesus said is surprisingly simple and elegant. He clearly loved language enough to make puns. Apparently I should just do you a favor and stop talking, because I don’t see the problems you’re seeing.

  • vj

    Wow, John, this was so beautiful. Deeply moving!

  • vj

    The thing is, I knew Jesus before I ever owned a Bible. Studying the Bible can definitely help us to understand God’s big picture for life, the universe and everything, but it is the Holy Spirit that illuminates it for us. The Bible can help our own faith journey as we look back at God’s faithfulness to those who have lived before us. The Bible can help us to understand what we are feeling/hearing when the Holy Spirit is at work in us, but the Bible on its own is not very helpful. I have found enormous wisdom, comfort and encouragement in the Bible, but at the most traumatic times in my life it has been GOD within me that has comforted me when I cried out to Him, that has let me know that I am loved…

  • Naomi G Tangonan via Facebook

    what 4?even w/o writing a book He already put the Message across..about Who He is and why He came on earth! His Work & His Person is His Book! praise you Lord Jesus!thanks 2 His Spirit-led writers though… they sure helped a lot!

  • I agree, he will get our attention and he does in mysterious ways, but we are literate and we have access to Bibles, so we are held to a different standard.

    “But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

  • “but the Bible on its own is not very helpful”

    Tell this to my former pastor who decided to become a Christian simply by reading the New Testament. 😉

  • Jill H

    The point is, we all have our faith journey in our own context. Fabulous for those who find comfort in an infallible view of scripture, but also awesome for those who experience the bible as an adjunct to an already full spiritual life.

    No, the bible on its own was not helpful for me. The bible has frequently made me angry and discouraged in our Creator, but I won’t get into that. Sorting out that God is bigger than my experience with scripture saved our relationship.

  • I agree. I find some scriptures challenging. When I come across one, I usually put the book down and say, “Huh!?” and then I move on. I’m not going to understand everything in the Bible and that’s okay. I’m looking “up” at scriptures from earth with my limited perspective. He can see past, present, future and makes His decisions based on His unique perspective, thus some of his decisions are going to look wacky to me.

    I’ve also come to accept that He doesn’t alter His behavior because He’s afraid I might think He’s a meanie, but that acceptance came after a slow process of learning to trust that He has my best interests at heart. (Emphasis on *slow*, and it’s still a daily, sometimes painful process of handing over control, as if that “control” was ever mine to hand over in the first place.)

  • J

    Like “coming home.” Thanks for this post. Tears in my eyes. I really needed it.

  • vj

    I would have to humbly submit that it was the Holy Spirit working in him as he read the New Testament that caused your former pastor to become a Christian… It’s wonderful that this was how it worked for him, but we all need to remember that God can reach anyone in any manner, and that each experience of God is unique to the individual who has it (which is not to say that many of us don’t have similar experiences – we just cannot require that anyone’s experience is the same as ours).

    And the only ‘standard’ that matters is the blood of Christ, which is available to all, and effective for the salvation of all, regardless of literacy level or access (or otherwise) to actual Bibles. I don’t think you intended it this way, but (to me) your concern with ‘being held to a higher standard’ seems to border on legalism. Studying, praying and meditating on Scripture is wonderful and desirable, but it should never be used as a yardstick for measuring our acceptance in Christ.

  • The Holy Spirit and the Bible work in tandem, no question. God takes a multi-pronged approach.

    I definitely wouldn’t call myself a legalist, but I would say I’m generally hard on myself. I’ve been blessed with intelligence and the economic means to use it, and I very much expect Jesus to say to me when I meet him, “What did you do with what I gave you?” and I want to have a darn good answer. Though I know my works will never save me, he still holds me accountable for what I do and don’t do…and I want to please him.

  • (And I didn’t say a “higher” standard, I said a “different” standard.)

  • Maria

    Very good post. Loved reading it and loved feeling the truth of it. Thank you John.

  • Maria

    Same here.

  • Maria


  • Jim Marjoram

    Eeew, Jessica. I really hope you don’t think God is like that 😉

    The point is, God actually is far bigger than the bible and its really scary for us who have only known traditional “bible” christianity to think he is limited in any way shape or form to a book. Its a great book, but in the big scheme of things we don’t need. If God can’t communicate himself to every single one of his precious creatures by whatever way he chooses, so he can enjoy them as he intended, then he ain’t God.

  • ******Or maybe like a bunch of words are just missing, or something.******

    Heh. Ya think….maybe….. after decades of word-of-mouth followed by centuries of re-tranlations?! Not to mention that many, maybe MOST of the authors of his life and words never met or knew him and much of those words and works is given to us second or third or fourth or ??? hand. So your implication that we can and must trust in our own internal spiritual truth, obviously after much soul searching introspection and yes, some Biblical guidance, is spot on.

    Too many “christians” rely entirely on that Book of books and ignore their own spirits because they’ve tragically allowed themselves to believe that the human mind and heart (the Spirit) cannot be trusted. (Jeremiah 17:9) Only the Book can be trusted. The Love in your heart? Not so much.

    And look where that has gotten us.

  • Yep, I really do think God is like that, based on Jesus’ quote that I referenced above from Luke.

    And yes, there’s no way God could reveal all of his character in one book. I don’t think that was his intent when he wrote the Bible.

  • My sweet, you please him by simply breathing and being Jessica Thomas. Nothing you do can do will please him more than that. Everything else is just icing.

  • Jennifer Sandberg

    I don’t think that Jesus was God. He was a child of God, as all of us are.

  • Jill H

    And there it is.

  • mike moore

    I read this several times over the past couple of days. The idea of turning inward to discover the divine (or at least some small spark of the Divine) makes so much sense … thank you.

    And because tone is hard to convey in a short comment, please know I say this with a small voice, respect, kindness, and desire for dialog:

    I just can’t get past that you seem to be giving Jesus/God a huge pass. The Huge Pass, if you will.

    The world is no longer at the mercy of fragile scrolls and oral/second-hand histories. And, to my mortal mind, it certainly is no secret to God that, for 2000 years, those forms of messaging have been less than successful … arguably, His form of relaying Divine communication has caused untold evil in our world.

    A modern Jesus need not write a book or go on TV. I just wish that He/She could stop by for visit.

    I’m the first the admit the human race always ready to buy into the latest inquisition, crusade, jihad, televangelist, and/or self-help guru. And I recognize we often tear down (and hang on crosses) good people.

    But I also give us credit to recognize the Real Deal when he or she appears. In the gothic southern family that is part of my roots, Martin Luther King was recognized as the real deal … he aroused anger and fear in some of my relatives, and to the rest of them, he instilled hope and inspiration. But they all knew he was the real deal.

    I guess, most simply put, that I wish the Divine would put a little more effort into His message than an ephemeral, fraction-of-a-blink-of-His-eye, 2000 year old visit.

    If Jesus did want to write a book , I think He could handle it. And I’d really like to read it.

  • Hi, Mike. So what you’re asking is for God to prove he exists. But you don’t really want God to do that, because … well, as I put it (man, I hate writing that, but there it is) in my very recent Prayer for Thanksgiving:

    Mainly, you didn’t give us full knowledge of you. I understand why that is. I know that if we knew you the way we know ourselves, Lord, we’d have nothing to hope for, nothing to aspire toward. And without hope we’d have no purpose.

    I also wrote about this in Why Doesn’t God Just Prove He Exists? (And I actually have God himself answering that exact question in my short book Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang.)

    So. Righto. There we have it. Best to you, brohammand.

  • Donald Rappe

    Although I agree with the gist of what you are saying, there have been times when the Bible spoke to me personally. When God asked Job “Where were you when I hurled the stars into the sky and all those sons of god sang together?” I also heard the question. When God instructed Moses “Take off your shoes, this is holy ground!” he spoke also to me. These words helped me feel the reality of God and God’s presence. Of course, Job and Moses were not holding books when they heard them. I do believe that our experience of the Presence is as real as that of any biblical writer and that miracles are no less frequent now than ever they were.

  • Donald Rappe

    I suppose this is a good place to point out that the words “Jesus is God.” are not even close to being self explanatory. Before I can think about what they might mean, I have to think about what could they possibly mean. Is it like when the mother of Lord Khrishna tried to remove some dirt from his mouth and looking inside, she saw the entire cosmos? Or, something else?

  • Donald Rappe

    I think that we Christians get our religious faith from the Church and the Spirit, and that the sacred writings are the measuring stick the Church gives us to determine whether our faith is like that of the saints and prophets. Of course, the Church usually acts through its members; my universalist bones believe that the church includes all God’s people.

  • Interesting post, but one part really stuck out to me:

    “beginning from the time of Moses (around 1450 BC) to not long after Jesus died (about AD 100).”

    No, no, no, no, no. No part of the Bible was written down as early as 1450 BC. 700 BC as the earliest date is closer. And most experts think 2 Peter was written past AD 100. You need to get some more up-to-date scholarly work on the composition of the books of the Bible. The whole “the Pentateuch was written by Moses and his followers” theory is only upheld in Bible Colleges at this point.

  • mike moore

    Guessing you meant to sign off, “bromhammad” … which cracks me up. Will definitely plagiarize and call my own.

    To the heart of it: I’m not asking God to prove he exists, I believe God exists … I’m amazed daily by his work.

    Where I get lost is the concept that God is somehow a “personal” God, involved in our day-to-day lives. I see his Grand Scheme, but not much on the micro-level.

    Risking/embracing arrogance, I look at my own work. In the 90’s, I built a company in Los Angeles with hundreds of employees, but I lived in San Francisco. I wanted people to know I was involved, even if from afar, and I visited regularly.

    When it was discovered that a senior level exec was sexually harassing female employees and verbally abusing both women and men, I flew to LA and personally stepped in to deal with him. Afterward, I worked hard to demonstrate and reinforce to my employees that they never needed to put up with such behaviour and live in fear of job loss, or worse. And in this process, no one’s free will was taken from them.

    For myself, I freely admit that should one attempt to follow True North on my Moral Compass, one might well find themselves in passed-out, half-naked, with a bong between their legs, backstage at a Phish concert.

    And with that said, I still can’t help but ask: if God wants us to believe in Him as personal God, couldn’t He act a little more like me?

  • mike moore

    even I misssspelllled it … you’re going for “brohammad,” right?