Pastoral Perspectives

More Than Just Letters On Pages

By now, many of us may have come across or tried out this free online word puzzle known as Wordle. According to The New York Times who has since bought over the game for an “undisclosed price in the low seven figures”, the puzzle’s rise has been phenomenal. In less than a few months after the game burst onto the Internet, the daily player count has reached more than two million and rising rapidly.

For anyone yet to try it, Wordle is rather simple to play. Unlike a traditional crossword puzzle where one has many blanks to fill, the player only needs to find the daily mystery five-letter word of the day in six tries or fewer. Each guess must be a valid word: letters in the correct space turn green, while letters that are part of the answer but in the wrong spot turn yellow.

With players being able to share the results of their attempts at solving the puzzle on social media, Wordle quickly became a viral phenomenon. One of the reasons could be since every player is sharing a similar experience or “struggle” of trying to solve the same word, this invariably creates a sense of community. Judging from my Facebook feeds, I suspect it also gives bragging rights to some. After all, I have not actually come across anyone who shared their failed attempts.

As much as some enjoy word puzzles more than others, we are mindful that Christians are all to be people of the Word. If we can spare a few minutes daily to play a game, we should also be able to set aside time to read and meditate upon God’s Word, which is the Bible. Even if some of us do not have a 100% winning streak at Wordle, the good news is that when it comes to the Word of God, no one needs to fail in our understanding of it.

In the spirit of Wordle, allow me now to briefly mention some qualities of God’s Word. Firstly, God’s Word is TRUTH so that all can trust it and know JESUS who is God through it. More than just a great work of literature or as a historical chronicle of the Jewish people, the Bible is God’s supernatural revelation to all of humanity.

As the psalmist declares in Psalm 119, we can trust God’s Word, knowing that it is altogether true (Ps 119:42). While photographs and images these days can be easily faked and all sorts of claims on the Internet need to be subjected to fact-checking, God’s Word continues to stand up to scrutiny. Not only so, it is perfect and comes with God’s authority where there are no errors in its truth claims (v.96, John 10:35).

Most importantly, Jesus himself taught that the Old Testament was primarily about him (John 5:39-40; 46-47, Luke 24:27,44-47) and that its central message is ultimately pointing towards how God’s kingdom and redemptive purposes will come about through his suffering and resurrection. If this is so, we would be missing the wood for the trees if we end up reading the Bible as merely a compilation of do’s and don’ts or a list of faith heroes we are to imitate.

Secondly, God’s Word is CLEAR so that all can understand and obey it. In theological parlance, we speak of the perspicuity of Scripture. With regards to this concept about the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1.7) states that: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all. Yet, those things that are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or another, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”

In other words, while some portions of Scripture are not easy to understand, what Christians need to know and believe about God and do in the light of who God is and says can be clearly seen in the Bible. In addition, what is necessary for our salvation and sanctification can be understood sufficiently by “ordinary” believers, as we rely on the use of the ordinary means of studying and learning.

The doctrine that Scripture is clear should bring encouragement to us all since it means that the Bible is not only accessible to scholars familiar with source criticism or pastors who have a working knowledge of Hebrew and Greek. Indeed, let us thank God that through his Spirit, we are all given the privilege and can have the ability to understand Scriptures for ourselves.

To be sure, the Bible itself shows us that understanding God’s Word is a process which in turns helps us in our sanctification. For example, Joshua’s instructions to God’s people to meditate on God’s laws (Joshua 1:8) assume that further study will lead to greater understanding as well as holy living. Likewise, effort is required just as we see Ezra who though familiar with the Law of the Lord continued to set his heart to study it (Ezra 7:10). Today, there is much opportunity for us to do in the context of community and easy access to an array of tools and resources such as commentaries and background information.

It is most unfortunate that in some circles today, people perceive God to be so transcendent that he cannot be talked about meaningfully with words. Their opinion is that we should not put God in a box since Scripture itself contains merely man’s words and is nothing more than a feeble attempt to describe the mysteries of faith using the imperfections of human language.

However, such an assumption is mistaken. Just because God cannot be known exhaustively, that does not mean God cannot be known at all. Moreover, nowhere do Jesus or the apostles ever treat the Old Testament as merely human reflections on the divine (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 2:20-21). Indeed, fundamental to our Christian doctrine is the belief that God intends to make himself and his ways known to his creatures. He has graciously chosen to communicate to us and is more than able to do so effectively through his given means of human language.

If God so desires to speak to us, then our challenge is not so much about understanding but about trusting, obeying and proclaiming it. I pray that as we continue to spend time in God’s Word, we will also increasingly come to taste that God’s Word is SWEET and find delight in doing so (Ps 19:9-10, Ps 119:35,103). I think we can all agree that it is one thing to feel good about solving a five-letter word puzzle on a daily basis, it is quite another when we get to hear from our Heavenly Father in every season of our lives.

Rev Edwin Wong

February 27, 2022