From the Pastor’s Study – “The Written Letter Remains”

From the Pastor’s Study (9/8/19)

During tax season earlier this year I went to the bank to make a transfer from my savings account to my checking account. I owed the IRS some money, and was arranging to pay it. I know, I could have done this electronically without a trip to the bank, but I am an old curmudgeon and sometimes prefer the old fashioned way.

A couple of weeks later I received notice that my payment to the government was rejected for insufficient funds. In other words, my checks bounced. When I went back to the bank to rectify the situation, the bank teller told me that there was no evidence of an earlier transfer. The computer had no record of it. However, I did. I produced a printed receipt of the transfer I had received on my earlier bank visit. The teller stared at the receipt in disbelief. She called for the branch manager. They studied both the receipt and the record displayed on the computer screen. Their facial expressions told me this situation was something extraordinary. Finally, the branch manager apologized to me and told me that the problem would be fixed, and that the bank would be responsible for any fees or penalties I might be charged. I was very glad I had a printed receipt.

Last month, the New York Times website ran a headline story about the president’s response to a shooting in Texas. Evidently, the headline was not acceptable to many opposed to the president and his politics. A flood of protesting tweets and emails descended upon the New York Times, which responded by changing the headline to one more critical of the president. Although the old headline was preserved by someone who had taken a screen shot or screen capture, it was no longer available through the newspaper’s website. The old headline was essentially gone.

On the seal of the National Archives and Record Administration in Washington D.C. is a Latin phrase, “Littera scripta manet,” which means, “The written letter remains.” The printed word has a value beyond communication. There is also preservation. It remains.

I enjoy historical biographies. I have often marveled at the scholarship of contemporary authors such as David McCullough and Edmund Morris. They chronicle not only past events and conversations, but sometimes also motives, and thoughts. How can they know such things about people who lived long ago? Correspondence, journals, newspapers; written records from time past. By meticulously studying written records, these authors compose accurate accounts of people and events from previous centuries.

I fear that we who live in the present digital age will leave far less for future historians than prior generations did. Phone conversations, emails, texts, tweets, and website headlines that can be altered will not remain as useful resources to help document our times. Strange. There may well be a more accurate historical record of earlier centuries than of this technologically advanced 21st century.

In II Chronicles 24, Shaphan the scribe brings to King Josiah a long-lost copy of the law of God that was found in the temple. For generations that law had been disobeyed and disregarded. But somehow in the providence of God the written letter remained. It was read and a great revival came to the land of Judah.

Writing or printing is more than just another means of communication. It is the method God ordained to publish and preserve His truth. God Himself wrote His law on tables of stone on Mt. Sinai. On Mt. Ebal Joshua covered a great stone altar with plaster and wrote on it God’s law. Israel’s kings were commanded by God to write out His law and keep the copy by them and read from it all the days of their lives. Under inspiration, prophets and apostles wrote down God’s word. We possess it today as the Bible.

Through the centuries men have sacrificed and some have died in order to copy, distribute, translate, and preserve the Bible. While there is nothing wrong with recordings or digital versions of the Bible, I think Christians should be very cautious before we surrender publishing it on the printed page. Remember, the written letter remains.