Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it. — Jesus Christ
Which is greater: the Word of God or the being that inspired it? Why, then, do so many appeal to the word of God instead of God himself?
I think the deification of the bible is a blind spot to many Christians, myself included. We tend to view the bible—correctly, I think—as the inspired word of God. However, we tend to deify the word itself and turn it in to an idol, wherein we appeal to the word of God to arbitrate our disputes rather than turn to God himself.
There is a certain convenience to appealing to the word instead of appealing to God. For starters, it’s considerably easier to do so. What could be easier than citing book, chapter, and verse to prove a point or settle a doctrinal matter? Not a thing, which is why we make so many appeals to the Bible.
It is far more difficult to appeal to God to settle a matter. In the first case, we must know him, which is a rather difficult thing to do. As the heavens are above the earth and all that. In the second case, we must imitate him. (Cf. Eph. 5:1.)
Now, one objection to this line of argumentation is that knowing God’s word is the same as knowing God. This, unfortunately, is nonsense. Some of us even today can be said to know Plato’s words. But how many of us can be said to know Plato? It is thus obvious that knowing someone’s words is not the same as knowing that person. Likewise with God, merely knowing his Word is not anywhere close to being the same as knowing him. While it is true that knowing God’s word can aid in knowing God, ultimately our knowledge of God will have to surpass mere book knowledge.
Long ago, Christ, referencing the prophets, said, “they have eyes to see but cannot see and ears to hear but cannot hear.” He said this when explaining why he spoke in parables. Christ claimed that some truths about God are hidden in order to ensure that only those who are actually seeking God will find him, which fits in with what he said on the Sermon on the Mount when he claimed that everyone who seeks will find. Some truths about God are hidden in plain sight, so to speak. Christ made use of many parables that referenced nature to show that even many mundane things can teach spiritual lessons. Even common things hold the secrets of God.
For example, the marital relationship illuminates many spiritual truths, as evidenced by Paul’s writings in Ephesians 5:22-33. The father-son relationship is another way of understanding God. Christ even noted that a corrupted version of this relationship can still show theological truths. The Psalmist wrote that nature reveals the glory of God. Christ argued that God’s providence can be seen among the birds of the air and the grass of the field. Indeed, God can be seen everywhere, if you know how to look. We need not limit our understanding of God to simply knowing his word; we can know him through his creation.
We can also know him personally, as long as we seek him. Prayer is an obvious avenue, but self-reflection seems to be a good approach as well (cf. II Cor. 13:5). We are made in God’s image, and we have a form of Godliness within ourselves as a result. Our natural instinct is to be like our heavenly father, but because of sin we often suppress it, which is why Paul encourages us to be imitators of God as dear children. If we are sensitive to our conscience, and if we make a point of truly knowing our heart as best we can and seeing the image of God inscribed therein, we can know God better.
However, it often seems that we would rather idolize the bible because this is the path of least resistance. We can champion the bible as an objective standard and constantly compare ourselves to the word. This is a rather lazy way of handling the matter of spiritual growth, for we ought to compare ourselves to God, which requires some hard work and heavy intellectual lifting, as well as blunt honesty. This is a difficult thing, which is perhaps why we so often eschew it.
Or perhaps we don’t recognize the inherent idolatry of worshiping the word of God instead of God himself. The word of God is definitely a good thing, and it shouldn’t be ignored; it also shouldn’t be elevated above God, either. The problem comes when we, like the Pharisees, elevate the subordinate above the sanctifier. It’s not that the word of God is to be ignored; it’s that we must make sure that the word is subordinate to its giver.
The point in this little exercise is this: if we often find ourselves appealing to the Word instead of appealing to God, perhaps it is time to ask ourselves whether we are worshiping God or worshiping his word. And if we find ourselves doing the latter, perhaps we ought to spend a little time realigning our priorities.