We do not stand only on our thoughts, but on the follow through of our reflections. That’s where the word of God most intimately transforms us. It may be frightening to know God sees into our heart, scanning where our imagination, desires, and conclusions take us. So much so, I’m certain that people object to this scanning as a violation.
Is love really a violation when we can walk away from it? Perhaps, because God remains persistent, insistent, and if necessary he wields a sword of truth.
Image by giselaatje
By John Pearring
The word of God is living and effective,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
penetrating even between soul and spirit,
joints and marrow,
and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.
The gist of today’s scripture excerpt basically says the word of God, living and effective, is able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. The duality of the word (living and effective) reaching into our reflections and thoughts is poetic. So, the author of Hebrews goes the extra mile to explain what he means. It’s not very clear. It’s a mile that takes us from one confusion to four.
What space is there between our soul and our spirit? And why does God penetrate between them in the same way he sees between joints and marrow? What’s this scripture trying to tell us?
We can correctly assume a message in the metaphors is building here—sword, soul, marrow, and thoughts. Integrated things (two sides of a sword, our spiritual soul, and marrow-filled bones) are compared and shown as powerless and indefensible from the reach of the word of God. And that reach cares, somehow, about the difference between reflections and thoughts of the heart.
Sheesh. It’s the stuff of ascetic riddles. But, I think we can parse it.
There is first a two-edged sword wielded which reveals the unyielding force of the scriptures. That’s within our grasp. Next, soul and spirit, two conjoined things that make us similar to God, can be penetrated and seen for their differences. Not quite sure why, yet, but let’s go on. Joints and marrow, bone and their innards can be invaded by the word. That hints at the obvious, our bodily structure is infused with the word of God. But finally, the “word” identifies and distinguishes between reflections and thoughts of the heart. That, my friends, is a most disturbing scan of our conscience.
Each of these connected contents of creation comes to us tied up and linked with inseparable properties. Since these things work together intimately—two sides of a sword are inseparable—Hebrews hits hard on imagery. The soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and reflections and thought are all basically inseparable.
We can deduce this. God's living and effective words are so accurate and good that deceit and evil are extinguished at the root of creation’s construction. No matter where badness, anguish, and rebelliousness exist, the word can go there and rip them out. That’s an acceptable take-away, but almost too simple.
The author of Hebrews wants us to understand God and his revelatory books of scripture as beyond mere words. They are alive, immortally so. They do not have an expiration date. The word of God is living. And it’s coming to get us with speed, invisibility, and a wrenching fixation upon what needs to be repaired, replaced, and removed.
The words of scripture are effective in a way that goes beyond logic. They sear into creation with a permanence that reveals true things without confusion. The living words reveal clarities that astound us. The effectiveness of their clarity will explore and explode our minds, and go places where we cannot hide. The author here provides four metaphors as unforgettable measures. Whether read, spoken, or heard, the word of God resets order the way God wants things to be.
A two-edged sword, sharpened on both sides, cuts through every living thing in its path. The violence of the image is essential. I had an argument about God’s word being violent with a friend, but the sword of truth wording is inescapable. We hide, we obfuscate, and we distract from God’s word. God reacts appropriately. Fabricated constructs, even institutional ones, cannot stop a swinging sword of truth. Every emotional wall, deceitful thing, and trauma that impedes the truth of scripture is sliced open by God’s living and compelling scriptures.
The next tethered thing Hebrews writes about is, practically speaking, two parts of the same thing. The “soul,” according to our Catholic Catechism, signifies the spiritual principle in man. The soul is our spirit. The wording is “spiritual soul.”
The word of God, this scripture says, reaches into and between the fine lines that separate soul and spirit. How thin that distinction must be, because our Catholic Catechism tells us the spiritual soul is one thing. In fact, when joined with a body made of matter, the spiritual soul creates a living, human body. “Spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.”
The spiritual soul is formed by God. “Every spiritual soul is created immediately by God and not "produced" by the parents. The body is creation’s accomplishment, but the spiritual soul is God’s work.” I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on this imagery, but for a purpose. We know our body dies. Our spiritual soul does not. The body is temporary. Our soul/spirit is immortal.
How, then, does God penetrate between that immortal essence of the spiritual soul as two things—spirit and soul? That’s the author’s point. Even in their indistinguishable connection, God can see them as distinct. He made us this way and therefore can penetrate into the spiritual, essential part of us. We do not escape God.
Joints and marrow are a little better for us to see as separate, but not by much. They’re integral to each other, too. Marrow grows cells, feeds blood, and fuels the bone as the living element of our skeletal body (Thanks for the detail on that, Pete Tysdal). In every miracle Jesus performed, he penetrated the damaged person’s body in an instant. Their bones, innards, organs, and senses were made right, true to their purpose. Our body’s errancy can be invaded and repaired by the word of Jesus, who is, to coin another inseparable truth, the Word.
The last is the most fantastic target of the word of God. Our thoughts, the foundations of our mind’s categories and principles, dogmas and doctrines, are no match for the word of God. Our reflections upon thoughts play as important a role in the transforming power of God’s word as the thoughts we have.
In our Wednesday discussion on this reflection, Steve Leininger aptly described the difference between thoughts and reflections by noting that thoughts are instants of awareness, of seeing the world as it is. He paraphrased Winnie the Pooh’s pondering on a stump as the times of reflection. Taking thoughts and chewing on them.
The word discerns our thoughts and the subsequent pondering of reflection. Hebrews sets up how our mind works similarly to the makeup of a two-edged sword, the mighty design of spirt and soul by our creator, and the living integration of bone and marrow.
We do not stand only on our thoughts, but on the follow through of our reflections. That’s where the word of God most intimately transforms us. It may be frightening to know God sees into our heart, scanning where our imagination, desires, and conclusions take us. So much so, I’m certain that enough people object to this scanning as a violation.
Is love really a violation when we can walk away from it? So much so, I’m certain that people object to this scanning as a violation. Is love really a violation when we can walk away from it? Perhaps, because God remains persistent, insistent, and if necessary he wields a sword of truth.
The creator, though, isn’t just trustworthy in his love. That’s what Hebrews tells us. He’s intimate. He’s concerned for our welfare at the cellular level, the intellectual framework of our minds, and most specifically in our understanding of his power and desires that we allow him to transform us.
His word supplies us with more than letters on a page and historical conundrums. It’s the most effective vehicle for discernment as a living, effective companion, which when we allow him to reside in us, supplies our heart with the living Spirit of God.