Communicating your voice accurately and succinctly is one of the challenges of every writer, regardless of the intended audience and purpose of the material. Great writers are able to devise any type of voice they wish and one would think a completely different person were writing it. Poor writers end up sounding the same regardless of whether they’re writing a novel, a newspaper article, or a grocery list (ouch!).
Not only do writers have to communicate with the voice they wish, they also need to pay attention to the tone with which their content is consumed by their target audience. With tone, emotion to the voice is communicated, along with style, rhythm, and meter. Writers are responsible for not only communicating their thoughts, but the mood and tone with which they want those thoughts to be heard. Writers must do all they can to ensure that their audience receives those thoughts, ideas, and moods accurately and as intended.
With that said, a certain responsibility for how written material is processed does fall upon the audience. Something I’ve noticed is that the way we hear written words and the voice behind them is partially dependent upon us and whatever’s going on in our hearts and heads, particularly if it concerns something personal or matters of the heart. If I’m having a bad day, I may project those feelings onto something I’m reading and suddenly that may take on an ill tone and mood that was never intended by the writer. An article that would otherwise be very uplifting may be processed as being crass, annoying, or even accusatory. Regardless of the words, the same content may be heard very differently depending on the heart and ears of the listener.
When we read a letter or an email (or even a text), what voice do we hear behind the words? For myself, I suppose it depends on your relationship with that person. It’s largely dependent on how well we know the person who wrote it and the voice with which they usually speak. We remember our shared experiences with that person (good and bad!), and the voice we hear is often “heard” with those experiences and history in the back of our minds. But even then, our current moods may shape how their words are heard and processed at that particular time.
When I write things of a personal nature, I always try to speak with a voice of gentleness, understanding, and compassion, because that’s who I am (or at least that’s who I hope I am!). But I’m afraid my words aren’t heard as intended sometimes. When I am upset about something, my sentences are shorter and far more blunt and candid, along with my tone being harsher. When I am serious or want to carefully articulate my thoughts, my sentences are longer and more descriptive, probably to the point of being horrible run-ons.
When it comes to the Bible, how our current mood shapes our interpretation of what’s written is no different, except often more profound and pronounced. Also, how we hear the Scriptures largely depends on how well we know God and how we feel about Him — our personal relationship with the Author. If we feel that God is an angry, stern Judge Who’s quick-tempered and wrathful, we’ll hear the Scriptures completely differently than someone who views God as the perfect embodiment of patience, mercy, and love. Same God and same Book, but completely different to the hearer.
When I was younger (ie, before twenty-nine), I never quite understood why people were encouraged to daily read the Bible. I mean, it’s just another book, right? Isn’t once or twice enough? Other books aren’t read over and over, so why should it be different for religious books except for memorization? As far as the Bible goes, the content hasn’t changed in 1900+ years and probably won’t be changing anytime soon, right? (Yes, I’m being facetious!).
The reason why daily Bible reading is important is because of US – the readers. We’re encouraged to read the Scriptures daily because of what’s happening in our lives and our hearts and in those around us. While the Scriptures do not change (nor God), we as humans are embroiled in nearly constant change. What may just be little more than letters on a page in one minute may become the most profound, life-changing thing we’ve ever read the next. Sometimes this is the result of experiencing something traumatic or sometimes merely over the process of time. Either way, how we hear the same text may be completely different at different times in our daily lives, particularly as our relationship with God grows and matures.
Whether intended to or not, at first glance the early chapters of Genesis – along with significant portions of the Old Testament seem to portray God as this angry, wrathful, distant Being. Such is the impression from those who do not know Him well or those who have an agenda, such as skeptics or critics. However, the more personal you become with God, the more His voice seems to change: it becomes softer, kinder, and more loving. As you draw closer to God in the whole context of Scripture – especially after studying the New Testament – that same angry God of wrath becomes a loving, gentle Father.
What really changed with me as to how I heard God’s voice was after studying the book of John, the most personal of the four Gospels. Curiously, John begins his book with how “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That’s rather profound when you stop and think about it; up until that point, no one had ever seen God and all we had was His Word. But after Jesus came, now we can see, hear, and touch the Word Himself — in the flesh. Jesus sets the tone for the entire book, not just the Scriptures that were written after He came.
Jesus is THE embodiment of God’s Word and everything that goes with it. Because of God coming in the flesh, now we know with what mood and tone much of the rest of the Word is meant to be read and interpreted: with Jesus directly in the center. The rest of the New Testament confirms and reinforces the tone of His Word, and provides the voice with which we should read the entire Bible. With Jesus placed in the center, suddenly a holy, angry God of wrath becomes a holy, loving Father. Not only that, but Jesus goes so far as to say that He wants to be our friend. Think of that! God actually wants to be our F R I E N D!! That’s simply unimaginable in the whole of religions across the world throughout history, that God wants a personal, growing, intimate relationship with us!
Consider how radically our interpretation of the Scriptures can change when we put Jesus – the Word Who Became Flesh – in the middle of them. Recall the first time man disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. What does that scene look like if the character and person of Jesus is placed in the middle of it? Instead of this terrible lumbering giant stomping through the Garden bellowing “Where are you?!” after they sinned, I see this sorrowful, brokenhearted father seeking after his beloved children who were suddenly hiding from him. While His holiness is indeed conveyed in that passage, His wrath and anger are not. After all, He both clothed them “properly” and then protected them from partaking of the Tree of Life which would make their fallen state eternal and their redemption impossible.
The same with Cain after he became angry and murdered his brother, and also with Job after he demanded an audience with the Almighty Himself. God could have poured out His wrath and holy anger upon them yet did not, though He did respond to their actions/demands. God is holy and just and owes us nothing, but does allow us to reap the consequences of our decisions, or as in Job’s case, allows bad things to happen to us. But even then, there is mercy, protection, and even tenderness to be found in Him. Even in the passages leading up to the Flood – when read with Jesus in mind – paint the picture of a brokenhearted Father who must uphold justice in the face of centuries of long-suffering and unspeakable violence and cruelty all over the earth. The God of Life withstood as much as He could as the earth was turned into a never-ending nightmare of violence and death.
One sentence in the book of John that stood out to me in writing this is in John 14 in which Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Keep in mind that they’ve seen Jesus do all sorts of miracles for three years and ate, drank, and lived with Him. I picture Jesus slowly turning to Philip with pain in His eyes and hurt in His heart as He quietly replies, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you still don’t know me, Philip?” Sometimes I imagine Him saying those same words to me when I’m reading the Bible and don’t hear Him the way that I should or that I think I’ve disappointed Him one too many times: “After all this time I’ve been with you, don’t you know Me, Chris?”
How much different would we hear the Scriptures if we read them with the ears with which God had intended them, with love and mercy and fellowship? Maybe that’s why Jesus repeatedly declares, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” How much closer would we draw to Him in His Word with His desire for friendship, fellowship, and a growing relationship with us in mind? How much more intimately would we walk with Him when we know that His great love and compassion for us drips off every page of His Word?
“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” — John 5:39-40