I remember about a decade ago it was thought that Canada Post would soon be obsolete with the dawn of the electronic communication era. Today the online shopping revolution has meant that Canada Post (and other carriers) are busier than ever. One reason, despite the rising cost of stamps, is that in our digital age people are actually reverting (or advancing?) to sending letters. Think how impersonal a text or email can be; they’re surely easy to send and free. Not so with a letter. You need to pick out a card or paper, you need to take the time to write something with real ink, your hand and eye being intricately involved in the process. Then you need to seal the envelope, buy a stamp and then get that letter to the Post Office (It then travels about and a real person delivers it to you). While still a relatively simple form of communication it is actually an involved process that breathes connection and relationality. The impersonality of our electronic age is seeing letters make a return. I’m always delighted to receive a letter, especially from overseas.
In the ancient world, to write a letter, on parchment or papyrus (costly resources because of the time involved in preparing them) was a very intentional thing. There was no whiteout or delete buttons. Every word mattered. The intentional inspiration of Scripture is therefore a wonder, especially when scroll lengths are considered.
In a sense letters are actually a thing divine for through them God chose to reveal Himself to us.
We’re presently reading one of them—Revelation—which is a letter to the Seven Churches!
I first became interested in Biblical letters, ironically, not through the Epistles but through a letter Elijah wrote to Jehoram (2 Chr 21:12) Here Elijah challenged Judah’s idolatry. While difficult or sensitive matters are usually best reserved for in person conversations, sometimes they can be effective when written in the right spirit (they give people something to come back to) or when in person conversations may be impossible. John Newton once had to write such a letter and said he sought to, “play the part of a friend by letter.”
Perhaps most famously were Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. He actually wrote several letters, only two making it into the Bible. Having founded and pastored the church, it became shipwrecked. He wrote a previous letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 5:9), then 1 Corinthians, followed by a visit (2 Cor 2:1), followed by a “sorrowful” letter (2 Cor 2:3) and then 2 Corinthians. Sometimes difficult letters are necessary and effective.
However, in person meetings are ideal. This is what John expressed, though in more positive circumstances, when he wrote in 2 Jn 12, Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
One day, there will be no need for difficult letters and time will abound to fellowship with the saints; until then, however, the Lord has given us letters.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.