Between 1700 and 1500 B.C. the Phoenicians (for the first and only time in human history) developed an alphabet. All other alphabets in the world derive from the Phoenician. This is why the first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet are: aleph, beth, gimel, and daleth; and the first four letters of the Greek alphabet are: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. The Semitic and the Indo-European languages share the Phoenician alphabet. Before the development of the alphabet, we had only pictures with which to communicate.
One only has to look at the picture writing of the Egyptians, a powerful and advanced culture, to understand how insufficient picture writing is to communicate much. Certainly little of a personal, abstract, or theoretical nature can be communicated with picture writing. The alphabet makes possible communicating with words – it makes possible the writing of David’s psalms, the prophecy of Isaiah, the theology of the book of Hebrews.
In the thousand years following the fall of Rome, when the great cathedrals were being built, art was used to communicate bible stories. Mosaics, stained glass, murals, and sculpture had to make do for a largely illiterate populace. We know the breadth of ignorance this desert of words produced. It was only when common people could read the Bible, and have access to the Bible that they were able to decide for themselves to follow it.
It seems now we are reverting to picture writing, instead of using words. The pictures have none of the grace of the Lascaux cave paintings, the stylized beauty of Egyptian picture writing, or the grandeur of the great cathedrals. These pictures rarely rise above the level of a winking smiley face with a tongue hanging out.
I do not understand the attraction of emojis. I know I am an old guy, but to me they look stupid. I could elaborate (and will if you ask me) but I have a different point to make today.
My grandfather drilled into me, from early childhood, that to understand the Bible one had to read it – great swatches of it at a time. Otherwise there would be no context. He taught me that “proof-texting” taking a verse or phrase of the Bible out of context, was no substitute for actual proof. One had to read the book and the chapter to understand the verse.
We are in an era of reduction regarding communication. We’ve gone from letters to emails to texts to tweets to emojis. We are programming our brains to digest smaller and smaller bits of information. We are losing context, and with it anything personal, theoretical, or abstract.
I’ve lived long enough to know that tides cannot be reversed. But we can identify the tide. We can be determined to study the word deliberately and deliberatively. We can choose to communicate it in the same way. An emoji will never communicate John 3.16. Tweet-sized portions of scripture will not provide spiritual nourishment. So whether we open a book, or a tablet – let us read meal-sized portions of the Bible at a sitting – and let us think and pray about what we have read.