This past week I spent at new student and mentor orientation at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis with our soon to be shared vicar (shared with Beautiful Savior Lutheran), Shaun Adams. The week involved a flood of information about the program, training for me, a servant event for him, and much more. Shaun actually started his first class, and I was expected to sit in on some of the lectures too. It struck me that in one of those lectures the professor wanted to share with us a scripture passage and to do so he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket to read it to us from his phone.
I completed seminary a few years before Apple invented the smart phone, so this was a shocker to me. I don’t know that it should have been, I’ve been using my phone Bible app in Bible Study, and in hospital visit’s, and in Sunday night Spirit & Truth Worship for years. Yet it still struck me as a little different to see a seminary professor do it. It made me think.
Here’s what it made me think. We live in an age of the “virtual” Word. People don't need to hold it in their hands anymore. God’s Word is not just something on the printed page. For someone like me with fond memories of my daughter at nearly two years of age on my shoulders singing the “B-I-B-L-E Yes That’s the Book for Me” at the top of her little lungs while we took my sister and brother-in-law on a walking tour of Pikes Market and the Pier in Seattle (only she could not spell, so the song came out more like “Da B-O-B-O-B...”; but you get the picture) it’s startling to realize that the B-O-B-O-B is not just a book anymore! (Excuse me, I meant to say the B-I-B-L-E.) Then again, perhaps we have God to thank for that.
We might bemoan a “virtual” Word as being somehow less “real” than a physical Bible, but then again what is it that makes God’s Word “real”? Is it the ink dried on paper? Is it the letters on the page? Listen to what the Apostle Paul said in one of my favorite letters, 2 Corinthians 3:3 “you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
It seems God always meant His Word to be written on something more permanent than paper to begin with, and with something more substantial than ink. For the first 1500 years of Christianity most people never got to read God’s Word from a page (a few did in worship and scribes did in monasteries). The same is true for the Old Testament saints. Instead, for the vast majority of the history of the world the average believer in God listened to the Word with their ears and they put it in the only place they could, if they were going to carry it with them, in their hearts.
When we think of God’s Word, perhaps it’s time we stop thinking of something physical, and start thinking of something virtual. Not as in “less real,” but as in “stored up”. Listen to this definition of “virtual” (which my Apple smart phone gave me)
Virtual: carried out, accessed, or stored by means of a computer, especially over a network.
Now listen to what Psalm 119:11 has to say, “I have stored up your word in my heart.” Human hearts are the network on which God has always intended to store His Word. That’s why when His Word came to earth He came not in a book, hard bound, soft cover, or even e-reader. He came with a human heart in the person of Jesus.
So use your e-reader. Use your phone app. Use headphones to funnel it right into your ears. Or, use your good old-fashioned hard cover Bible if you prefer. Yet, make it your aim to put God’s Word where it belongs, in your heart. After my little shake up this week, I intend to do the same. Thanks Concordia Seminary!