Sadly, I have caught myself doing it. When opening up the Bible and discussing a passage with someone I can find myself saying something like:
What Jesus was trying to say . . .
What God tried to communicate . . .
What the Spirit was attempting to convey . . .
And I have come to realize that even when embraced innocently (and thoughtlessly) such ways of thinking are fundamentally flawed.
Because those through whom God spoke weren’t situated in life when and where we are, and because Jesus wasn’t directly addressing people standing in time and space where contemporary readers are, there is a sense in which we must go from the “there and then” of the Biblical text to the “here and now” of our lives. But it is wrong to think that Jesus (or the Lord God, or the Spirit) “tried to communicate” something. Because the implication is that somehow the communication fell short.
As recorded in the Gospels, Jesus said what He said because He intended to say exactly that. When the prophets spoke through the promptings of the Spirit, they said just what the Spirit wanted them to say. And when God spoke–either in a burning bush or in a dream or from the heavens–He was not “trying to communicate.” The living God does not mumble, does not get confused in what He is saying, does not have trouble verbalizing what He intends to say, is never at a loss for words.
If there is a problem in “getting” what God is communicating, it isn’t that He tried to communicate and didn’t do it effectively. The problem is either that we aren’t attentive or we do not know how to grasp what He says.
So, I am trying to leave behind all such “trying” language. When I am struggling with a text–either on my own or in conversation with another–I want to think more along the lines of:
God has spoken clearly. He said exactly what He wanted to say in the way that would best convey what He intended to convey. How should I attend to and listen to His word so that I grasp what He was actually saying?