Science. Mathematics. Sociology. Language. Philosophy. Logic. Probability. What do they all have in common? The speech of God.
That answer won’t make much sense to those who haven’t delved into the treasure trove of Vern Poythress’s work. But for those who have, the answer is as clear and beautiful as church bells on a cold winter morning. God’s speech permeates and pervades; it governs and guides. It rules over all rebellion and raises up the meek and faithful. It’s infiltrated our souls, wrapped itself around our minds, and set in place every cell and fiber of our bodies. God’s speech is all.
Is it true in the corridors of science, where forces and formula reign? Yes. The God of grace is still the God of gravity. Regularities and rules of nature are coherent sentences spoken by the God who governs all. “Scientists describe the regularities in God’s word governing the world. So-called natural law is really the law of God or word of God, imperfectly and approximately described by human investigators” (Redeeming Science, 15). The laws of energy and thermodynamics are fitly spoken in a patterned world, upheld by a patterning God. People mistake the patterns for principles. But patterns never come from principles; they come from persons. The patterns in our wild world proceed from the persons of the Godhead: the Father speaking his Son with the breath of his Spirit. We can hear it, and we affirm it simply by walking through the world.
Does it echo in the equations of mathematics? Oh yes. Simple math equations are the white water beneath the deep currents of God’s eternal attributes. Take God’s transcendence and immanence, for example. “2 + 2 = 4 is both transcendent and immanent. It transcends the creatures of the world by exercising power over them, conforming them to its dictates. It is immanent in that it touches and holds in its dominion even the smallest bits of this world. 2 + 2 = 4 transcends the galactic clusters and is immanently present in the behavior of the electrons surrounding a beryllium nucleus. Transcendence and immanence are characteristics of God” (Redeeming Mathematics, 17). Simple addition is more profound and revelatory of God’s presence than we often think. Even numbers nod to the truth of God’s engagement with us, for God’s speech specifies and establishes the truth of numbers with his speech (p. 24).
Does it linger in the laws of logic? Yes. Reason may seem to be a cold set of calculated theories to some. But the children of God know better, even when reading the story of creation. “Logic or reason is an aspect of God’s speaking. We can see this is true when God created the world in Genesis 1. His speech includes logical self-consistency and rationality. The same truth holds supremely for the eternal Word of God who is God. This eternal Word is the eternal speech of God. He is therefore also the eternal logic or reason of God, as an aspect of God’s speech” (Logic, 71). The laws of logic are echoes of the eternal logic of God’s Son, whose rationality far surpasses the logic of Lilliputians. We are smaller than we think, and God’s reason is greater than we dream. In the realm of logic, God’s speech still reigns supreme.
Is it permanent in the products of probability? Of course. All the endless possibilities and probabilities of so-called random events are directed and decided by syllables of sovereignty. God’s “speech specifies both the generalities and the details, the predictabilities and the unpredictabilities. He specifies it all. And because his word has his power, his specification is effective. By speaking his will, he brings about what he specifies” (Chance and the Sovereignty of God, 104). What are the odds that it will rain as you read this? I have no idea. But God not only knows the odds; he’s ordained the actuality. He’s spoken what will be.
Does it sing in sociology? So clearly! In our morals, God’s speech “specifies right and wrong in human attitudes and behavior” (Redeeming Sociology, 37). All we do as humans—what we make, how we interact with each other, what we say and don’t say—is governed by the speech of God. Even a boy hitting a baseball is immersed in the speech of God. God, after all, “created the atmosphere and the force of gravity that influence the path of the ball. He ordained the structures of cause and effect, and he himself is continually at work as primary cause. He specifies the structures in such a way that the boy’s action enjoys an analogy with God’s action. Analogy comes with the very possibility of human personal action” (p. 186). Every muscle movement, every brain synapse, every handshake, every business venture—they all yield to the shaping and shepherding speech of God.
Can we find it in the fibers of our language? Perhaps here more easily than other places. God is the triune source of language. “The ‘Word’ in John 1:1, that is, Christ before his incarnation, was the source of the speech of God in Genesis. Christ is thus the origin of language itself” (In the Beginning Was the Word, 12). And lest we forget, God was speaking to himself before we spoke to each other. In reflecting on John 16, Poythress reminds us, “Not only is God a member of a language community that includes human beings, but the persons of the Trinity function as members of a language community among themselves. Language does not have as its sole purpose human-human communication, or even divine-human communication, but also divine-divine communication. Approaches that conceive of language only with reference to human beings are accordingly reductionistic” (p. 18). Reductionism—the enchanting bane of human thought. But we can reduce some complexities of language down to a simple truth: the speech of God has everything to do with the intelligibility and effectiveness of our own speech.
Is it there in every figment of philosophy? In ways we often overlook. As Christians, we hold to a metaphysic of divine speech, whether we’re conscious of it or not. “God’s speech specifies everything. He specifies that certain things will exist: light, the expanse of heaven, the sea, the dry land, the plants, and so on. He also specifies how they will exist. The plants will grow on the land. They will reproduce ‘according to their own kinds’ (Gen. 1:12)” (Redeeming Philosophy, 105). Even the reality of a honey crisp apple is upheld by almighty utterance. “The apple derives from divine speaking. Divine speaking specifies not only that the apple will exist, but also that it will be what it is in relation to other apples and in relation to human beings. The divine word is foundational for the entire structure” (p. 143). Even apples attest to holy language rolling off holy lips. Our world is spoken.
The speech of God, reader, is beneath every word in this little article. It underlies your morning routine, and your car tires, and the bar of soap in your shower. It shapes our actions, shepherds our unwieldy faith, and calls us to communion with Father, Son, and Spirit. The latter is the greatest end for humanity.
Of the many things I’ve learned from Vern Poythress, the pervasiveness of God’s speech is without question the greatest and most mysterious truth. The God we serve is a speaking God. Far from being a dated platitude, that statement paints the world in colors almost too rich to take in. It fills me with juvenile wonder that I won’t ever shake. Divine syllables stand beneath every part of reality. We live in an uttered place and worship an uttering God.
What can we do with a truth so heavy? Something basic, I think: speak back. The life of prayer in our time is often the life of distraction and interruption. We spend 2 minutes in prayer during the morning and think we’ve reached our daily quota. Could we really think that with this God—the God whose speech governs all, whose Word broke into the world and said salvation for all to hear?! Who are we fooling? God has laid out his speech for us in Scripture so that we can benefit from his beckoning voice at our whim. As we hear him speak from the pages of Scripture, we can commune with him in the speech of prayer. Nothing should be more basic to the Christian life than this. Nothing could have greater implications for our spiritual formation. And nothing has been so frequently neglected by us!
This isn’t a guilt trip. It’s a reminder. Vern Poythress taught me that God’s speech is not secluded to segments of redemptive history. It’s ever present, ever faithful in the world around us. But in Scripture we have special speech, redeeming speech, saving speech. In Scripture, we encounter not just God’s word, but God’s word to us. It’s the balm and bandage for our souls. It’s the constant call to communion. It’s the lighthouse of the Christian life. It never goes out and always draws us in. For the love of God, speak and be spoken to—for more than a few minutes. Your ear canals and vocal chords will do more to shape your soul than a thousand books of men.