‘The Word of the Lord endures forever’ (1 Peter 1:25 NIV) – It’s a fairly well-known verse, at least for those of us who’d consider ourselves to have some level of Bible knowledge. Indeed, it’s a Truth reflected across the pages of the Bible – Jesus Himself said, ‘My words will never pass away.’ (Matthew 24:35 NIV)
But it was all brought home in the most amazing of ways to a small church in West Virginia this past Sunday. On the morning of March 3rd, the congregation woke up to the news that their small building was on fire. The pastor, Phil Farrington, was called out by the emergency services and, in his own words, “I sat down on the ground and cried and watched it burn.”
We can only imagine how devastating that must have been to a small church community; no doubt many of the current congregation or their families had sacrificed to enable the building to be built, and to see it all reduced to rubble must have been heart-breaking.
And yet, in the middle of the pain, something remarkable was discovered; once the blaze was under control the firefighters tried to salvage whatever they could for the church community. There wasn’t much left – hardly surprising, given that at one point the fire was so hot that the firefighters had to leave the building. But there was one extraordinary discovery; across the charred remains of the sanctuary were a selection of Bibles and three wooden crosses still intact.
Despite being scattered around the building, in the backs of seats and even on the pulpit, these Bibles survived the devastation!
My attention was drawn to the first picture I saw because I recognised the exact types of Bibles. They’re paperback versions of the NIV provided by our great partners at Zondervan. And yes, while, I noticed they were NIV’s, I was much more struck by the fact that they were paperbacks! There’s no human reason at all why they should have survived a fire of that magnitude and yet, there they were, somehow protected from the flames. I’m sure there are all kinds of skeptical responses ready to be offered but there’s really no human explanation.
Actually, I’m not sure that finding a suitable explanation is really all that important – those who don’t want to believe won’t be convinced. But for the congregation, and for many who have been impacted by their story through the media, this has been a significant event. It’s almost as if they got a nod from God Himself to point them to something higher in the middle of their pain.
But hasn’t that been the experience of generations of God’s people? Hasn’t He continued to reveal Himself in so many ways in the middle of the most trying circumstances? Many of us can bear witness to the truths of Scripture impacting us in what can only be described as miraculous ways, as we’ve been drawn to passages that seem to have been written for the very moment. As our friend, Mart Green (an heir of Hobby Lobby) regularly reminds us: ‘This book is alive!’
The writer of Hebrews described the Word of God as ‘living and active,’ and was right; as we surrender to it, we find it speaking to us in the middle of our life situations. How else can we explain that the same passage speaks to us in different ways depending on what is going on around us?! The same Spirit who breathed the life of God into the original writing – what we refer to as inspiration – still works today, breathing that same life into the Word as we engage with it. It’s not just a record of what God ‘said’ all those years ago – it’s what He is still ‘saying’ today.
It strikes me that this small congregation in West Virginia have been given the most remarkable illustration of that truth, and as they gathered together all the remaining Bibles in their youth center when they met to worship, it’s hardly surprising that there were a few tears! Somehow in the middle of their pain God stepped in and drew them in close to Himself.
From our perspective at Biblica, it’s a wonderful example of what we and our Bible agency partners live and work for – that everyone around the world will have the opportunity to hear the voice of God in His Word, in the language that serves them best. I can tell you this: across our own team, even today as I write, there’s a spring in our step, taking this story from West Virginia as God’s encouragement to us to keep doing what He has called us to do!
Washington Post Story – https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/03/05/churchs-ashes-firefighters-find-unexpected-survivors-bibles-untouched-by-flame/?utm_term=.02bc1b3b8c94