Scot McKnight is doing a series of posts on Psalm 119. His comments today reminded me of what a mystery it is for us to come to a place of “understanding” when it comes to scripture and the things of God.
Doug and I have good friends, John and Ann Goldingay, who often entertain students in their home. Ann suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, and is confined to a wheelchair. She long ago lost the ability to communicate through speech. At times she will make eye contact and noise, and respond to people’s presence. At other times she is silent. The first time we were guests in the Goldingay’s home, we were there with our Pentateuch class from Fuller Seminary. Prior to our coming, John had taken some time in class to share about Ann and their journey together, and the ways her MS had clearly impacted their lives. He also shared with us very practically about how we should interact with her when we are in their home: greet her, speak with her, touch her. She may not be able to respond verbally but that does not mean that she is not able to comprehend and receive. He shared with us that with language, it takes a certain amount of work to “decode”, to take something in, to digest it. It takes a much greater amount of work to “encode”, to be able to put thoughts and words together and send something back out. So, while Ann’s “encoding” abilities are severely deficient, there is no way to know what her ability remains for decoding. “Talk to her as if she understands you,” he said.
It was beautiful that first night to see my classmates sit beside Ann, talk with her for lengths of time, laugh with her, etc. I so appreciated John helping us to know how to be her guests that evening.
What does this have to do with Psalm 119? Scot’s comments today remind me of my own inability to see things “unveiled”; to hear and read with understanding. I can often feel like I am stumbling around with my eyes sealed shut, unable to truly see the things of God. And I think that perhaps all of us are a bit like my friend, Ann, in this way. We have great capacity for decoding: do we not feast on sermons, books, journals and the like? I know some people who listen to multiple sermons online every week! We are good at ingesting. But the remarkable work comes when the things that we hear take on life inside of us, and we are empowered to encode them with actions and “words when necessary;” with lives that bears witness to the Mystery.