Monday, February 1, 2021

The Lost Art of Learning About People Through Their Letters

Technological advances have changed our lives dramatically, including how we communicate. We have social media, email, voicemail, texting and messaging. We Zoom in to connect with groups of people, and use apps like FaceTime and Skype to see folks we’re talking with. 


Cable TV offers a programming expanse unimaginable a generation ago, and information moves instantly around the world online, including this blog. Who knows what the digital wizards will dream up next?


We’d like to say, “it’s all good,” but in reality, it’s not. (And I’m not referring to misinformation and social media abuses.) Some once-cherished communication forms are being lost, or underused. One that few people are talking about is the time-honored art of letter writing.

Is that so bad? Writing letters takes time. That’s exactly the point. Handwritten letters show someone has taken care, consideration, energy and time to write them. Unlike hastily written emails that don’t require much time and – as some have ruefully discovered – can be executed without careful thought.


More than that, letters reveal what a person’s like, who they are and what they think about. I’ve been fascinated by documentaries that told about thoughtful letters soldiers have written to loved ones during wartime. The depth of emotion, the transparency they show, touch the heart.


When I was in high school, for a year or more I corresponded with a “girlfriend” I had met in another state. Those days predated cell phones, so my parents wouldn’t let me call her on our home telephone. Long distance calls were costly back then. So Jeanne and I relied on letter writing, telling each other about our lives, our joys and our struggles.


Our correspondence eventually came to an end, but I still remember the excitement of receiving one of her letters, which generally went on for several pages. An email from an old friend might create a similar sensation, but there’s no comparison to letters of paper and ink, sometimes even smudged a bit, and the idea that someone took the time to write it.


I often feel the same way when I read passages from the Word of God. To me, the Scriptures comprise the Lord’s love letters to humankind, not just telling us what He wants us to do and not do, but also revealing to us much of His character and His nature.


They don’t come to us in handwritten form today, but the 66 books we call the Bible originally were composed with paper and ink, then passed down through the centuries. As 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” 


And 2 Peter 1:19-21 explains, We also have the word of the prophets as confirmed beyond doubt. And you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation. For no such prophecy was ever brought forth by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.


What these passages affirm is the Word of God is reliable and directly inspired by Him to communicate Himself and His truth to us. We can see this throughout the Scriptures. Starting with the first chapter of Genesis, we learn about what the Lord has done – and why He did it. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good…” (Genesis 1:1-31).


In the Old Testament, the Lord not only sets His standards and gives His commandments, but also shows His utter hatred of sin – man’s willful, conscious rebellion against God. As Psalm 7:11 says, God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.”


At the same time, we also read about His mercy and forgiveness. “Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things. Who, O God, is like you? Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up” (Psalm 71:19-20).


This is encapsulated in the familiar words of John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”


If there is any doubt that the Bible is God’s love letter to His people, consider these words from Jeremiah, hardly the most uplifting of the books: The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness’” (Jeremiah 31:3).


What is God like? What does it mean to be “Christlike”? All we have to do is open this holiest of books, turn to any page, and read what He has provided for us, priceless and exquisite words He desires for us to ponder, meditate upon and digest. He’s written a very long, comprehensive, amazingly personal letter. He wants us to read it. Over and over again. 

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