Weak Writers, Strong Source

David manic-depressive? Peter OCD? Paul suicidal? The mere possibility would have rocked my world once. The idea that my heroes of the faith, the inspired authors of Scripture, could have been influenced by mental or emotional “disorders” would have left me squirming uncomfortably. Why? Perhaps because those who raise these points often do so in order to discredit the inerrancy of their writings. Perhaps because I want to think of these men of God as above such human frailty, serenely transcending the storms of life and passing on pristine truths that teach us how to do the same.

For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’sake. For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
2 Corinthians 4:5-7

But the fact of the matter is, God chose real, messy people to write His Word. When we lay aside our rose-colored glasses and read their words the way we would read a letter written by anyone else, we can’t help but hear their messy emotions, their heart-rending cries, and their dangerous questions. These were men and women who struggled the way we do, and whose human frailty was completely intertwined with their writings to and about God. Whether we slap disorder labels on them or simply chalk their occasionally frenzied condition up to their particular life circumstances, we have to come to terms with the fact that they were real people struggling with real issues.
So does the mental and emotional frailty of the Biblical writers make what they wrote any less true? Only, I suppose, if Scripture’s authority hinges on human aptitude. We would all be in trouble if it did. Thankfully, human limitations do not constrain God. If anything, He seems to specialize in making His lofty, unchanging truth known through the weakest, least-likely candidates: shepherd boys, fishermen, and former terrorists.

God specializes in making His lofty, unchanging truth known through the weakest, least-likely candidates.

My own life struggles have pushed me to embrace the messiness of the Biblical writers. As long as my life was simple and straightforward, I was content to read the Bible as a series of propositional truths that I was meant to believe and obey. My modernist mind searched the Scriptures for abstract truth, valuing it as more valid when it stood completely apart from any particular context. But that approach to the Bible simply could not hold water when life experiences left my soul riddled with holes. Broken, confused, and desperate for God to speak to my troubled heart, I went back to the Word with new eyes. There I found a whole community of people as messed up as I was (some, shockingly, even more so). What they had to say about God resonated deeper and rang truer because of the difficult circumstances in which they said it.

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me… Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:7, 9

Far from being a threat to their credibility, the Biblical writers’ life stories provide a fitting frame for the truths they wrote. It is one thing to write about the sovereign goodness of God when He is orchestrating our lives according to our expected patterns; it is quite another when He turns our world upside down and seems to be in no hurry to make it right. We like singing hymns written by people in such desperate circumstances, but are we content to build our theological towers on the writings of depressed, conflicted invalids? If God can accomplish the transmission of His inerrant Word through their messy lives, I guess there is hope for us, too.

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6 thoughts on “Weak Writers, Strong Source”

  1. You can omit “guess” from the very last sentence! Indeed, we truly do have hope!
    Romans 5:2 “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

    1. You are right, Christie. Far from disqualifying us, our suffering-induced weakness teaches us to place our confidence in God, not ourselves. I used to really struggle with that verse, wondering how Paul could claim that hope does not disappoint when my greatest disappointments have usually come on the tails of my highest hopes. But I was hoping in the wrong things: specific outcomes rather than the certain Source. Instead I am learning to hope in His love (Rom. 5:5), trusting that to determine how He intervenes in my specific circumstances. This is the hope that has not let me down.

  2. The one thought that came to mind as I ponder what you say: how often I find myself believing the lie that unless I fit “the mold” (which can’t possibly include being manic-depressive, OCD, or suicidal) I surely can’t measure up to His pattern for my life! Thanks for the reminder that God can and does use even messypeople!

    1. Thanks for your honesty, Monika. I think that is a lie we all struggle with. Feeling like we need to “have it all together” in order to glorify God resonates with our own wrong ideas of what pleases God and what makes us valuable to Him. It is also socially perpetuated in Christian circles where those who fit the mold are honored and those who don’t are marginalized. What a relief to discover that He puts the Biblical spotlight on people whose personal shortcomings display His overcoming grace.

  3. Praise God that “human limitations do not constrain God”! I am also thankful that God uses the less than perfect people to be the conduits of his grace and mercy! Thank you, Tiffany for speaking truth and encouraging the hearts of those who don’t “fit the mold”! Much love to you, my sister in Christ!

    1. Thanks, Annette. God’s delight in using messy misfits has long been my personal comfort and hope. May you continue to experience the joy of shining the light of His glory through your cracks.

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