The perfection of God's Word is a multifaceted perfection, not a monolithic one. Too rich to be harnessed in a single utterance-God is lord, shepherd, rock, eagle, bear, lion, lamb, king, horn, and consuming fire-God's truth is displayed in the prism of 66 books and several genres. Neglect one, as I recently did, and you may get into trouble.
C.S. Lewis had a circle of friends self-styled the "Inklings." When one of the group died, Lewis thought he would be able to help himself to more of his other friend. He found instead he had less of him. The departed companion, in his unrepeatable uniqueness, had had access to a part of the third mate that Lewis did not. That dimension now lay interred forever in the dead man's bones. When you lose a friend you lose a universe.
I once thought perfection was seamlessness, but I don't think so anymore, and that's because of the Bible's own structure-Psalms, but Proverbs; Ephesians, but Ecclesiastes. I had thought one "boiled down to" perfection, or reduced it to undifferentiated essence. What I found was that to approach perfection is not to draw down to less parts but to add more parts.
I was stuck on one dimension. A friend called it, ungenerously, "Presbyterianism," though I thought I was more than that. Still, I evidently needed to learn something about the immediacy of God's voice, for God brought me into the company of believers called "charismatics" who listen for God's voice like you listen for the cellphone ring. My friend would hear from God in the shower.
It was a new world for me, the land of "the living God" (Deuteronomy 5:26; Joshua 3:10; 1 Samuel 17:26; 2 Kings 19:4; Psalm 42:2; 84:2; Jeremiah 10:10; Matthew 16:16; Acts 14:15; Romans 9:26; Hebrews 3:12; 9:14; 10:31), God drawn closer by the elimination of distancing and interposing layers of what I used to call "wisdom." God without committee chatter. I'm talking about immediacy like this: "And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left" (Isaiah 30:21).
It seemed to fit with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who told me that whenever I read the Bible, I must think that here and now God is speaking to me. I love that. I shared it with a professor friend and learned I was a Barthian. Which puffed me up a little; I hadn't thought I was intelligent enough to be a Barthian.
But I dropped the book of Proverbs from my diet somehow. It didn't fit my new spirituality. It insists on bringing up cautions, things that might break the confident stride of a budding charismatic. It keeps saying look around, cultivate "judgment" (1:3, NKJV), get "discretion" (1:4), "hear instruction" (1:8), "pay attention" to what goes on "in the open squares" (1:20, NKJV), don't be "simple" (1:22). It conceives of wisdom more as a persistent search than a Gideon fleece (2:1-8). It invokes the hard evidence of experience, track records, patterns of behavior, outcomes of life choices. It says look at how the ruler acts (chapter 23), how the harlot acts (chapter 7), how the lazy man turns out (10:4).
Fascination is watching a good counselor at work. She takes in disparate data and then lays out a choice word, "apples of gold in a setting of silver" (Proverbs 25:11). It looks like a stab in the dark but is much more; it is the distillation of reams of Scripture and rivers of experience. Don't you think Solomon had seen enough whores to know his sword gambit would work in the courtroom?
Then the dark side of the new teaching shows up. The person who told you last month that God revealed to him you two are to be best friends now tells you God has revealed to him that you two are not to be best friends. Perhaps the will of God was confused with desire.
The pendulum swings back again-but not all the way. I'll watch track records, but I'll believe in "a new creation" too. No formula here, just faith working out in fear and trembling. And yes, I do listen for God in the shower.