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The Rev. Larry Hollon

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First Thoughts - The Living Word of God

The Rev. Larry Hollon
March-April 2015

When our son Matthew was moved into hospice care, I came to understand the Bible in a new and more real way than I had known before. Matt was born with a genetic condition. Because he lacked an enzyme to process complex sugars, those sugars were stored in connective tissue. Over time, this is harmful to vital organs, tissue and joints. It is a degenerative disease that causes early death.

I was in another state participating in the funeral of my father when the doctors spoke to my wife about moving Matt into hospice care. We were devastated. This was the lowest time in my life, and it was the first time we had to come to terms with the reality that we had forestalled for so long. This disease would take his life.

Upon returning home, likely in a state of shock, I turned to prayer, family and the Bible. I wasn't looking for answers. I was looking for a way through this worst of all nightmares.

What loving parent would not give up his or her life for their child, if by doing so the child's life could be spared? But this was not to be, of course. We were in for a period of excruciating, painful waiting.

It was during this time of grief that I discovered the humanity of the biblical writers. I was seeking to understand and to be understood. Much of Scripture is about this search. Even as they were written in a specific time to a specific community, the words of the biblical writers transcend time.

I discovered these writers have known the pain and fear that I was experiencing. For example, I came to fear the coming of the night. I happened upon a psalm that told me someone had experienced this long ago. The psalmist (Psalm 91:4b-5a, NRSV) wrote:

Under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

You will not fear the terror of the night.

We were going through this together, but in the throes of grief, I often felt isolated and alone. Even with my loving daughters and wife sitting next to me, there were times of aching loneliness. I could understand the feeling of being utterly forsaken. In one of those moments, I found in the poetry of Isaiah an assurance that was more than a balm. It became a bedrock on which I could rest:

But Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me,

my Lord has forgotten me."

Can a woman forget her nursing child,

or show no compassion for the child of her womb?

Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.

See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.

(Isaiah 49:14-16a, NRSV)

I have continued to grow in my understanding and appreciation of the biblical texts. I do not look for inerrancy or infallibility, but for truth and wisdom. The utter humanity of the biblical writers reveals both. After Matt passed and I was able to process the experience of loss, I came to realize I was in a conversation with God.

I was hearing the voice of God, not an audible voice, but silent interaction as real as a conversation. As I sought understanding, the conversation became more interactive, challenging and inspiring. More real.

In the heartache, pain and grittiness of life, God's words become meaningful and relevant. For me, they leaped from the page and became alive. And it was then that I understood:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. ... And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-5, 14, NRSV).

The Word lives.

The Rev. Larry Hollon is publisher of Interpreter and general secretary of United Methodist Communications. Read his FAITH MEDIA + CULTURE blog at www.larryhollon.com.