articulate

We have trouble expressing how God works in our lives. When the job of explanation gets difficult we like to simply chalk it all up to


God told me...
God gave me...
God led me...


But there is great ambiguity in these type of statements and the language we employ when speaking of God’s work in our lives is open to more than one interpretation. Commonly, our descriptions are unclear and inexact because a choice between alternatives has not been designated. When you say, “God changed this or that,” what do you mean?


Take, for example, popular beliefs surrounding scripture. We say with confidence that the Bible is “God’s word” but what does this gigantic statement intend to convey? When the prophet’s accounts were written were they (themselves) deliriously incoherent, in an acutely ekstasis state? Or think of Paul, orally dictating one of his epistles to an assistant; was he standing completely outside of himself? Was Paul self-transcendent, in a mystical religious trance? When we talk about scripture “coming from God” must one understand the interaction as God overriding humanity?

Or characterized another way, some prefer to defend the Bible as a “divinely inspired” document. Such individuals might defend or express their faith through reliance on a notion that God long ago spoke by seizing some obscure personality, paralyzing his arm, putting a fiery pen in his hand and forcing out the chosen words. One might helpfully insert here a Ghost phenomenon, a kind of Patrick Swayze/ Demi Moore body borrowing episode or something of the like. But it’s interesting to note that early writers (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen) never appealed to this idea of “inspiration” to prove or establish the authority of the text. And it should be relatively obvious for us to understand their hesitance, after all, anyone can say anything by way of claims to divine inspiration, God having told or shown them. And many of us have seen how dicey, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous such claims may be.



The other day a friend asked me how we, as Christians, can put so much trust and emphasis on a [Bible] that has been tampered with by so many humans? It is an excellent question. In fact, it’s connected to a whole series of other questions like: what makes the Bible authoritative, or how do you decide or know what is scripture?

The answer to these questions is not much unlike the question we must all ask ourselves and answering them requires great care in articulating how it is we understand the action and influence of God’s work in our lives.

But Christians are so used to having the Bible around that we tend to speak and behave as though it was written before time. We overlook the fact that centuries and civilizations past lived without written scripture. And we often forget that those authors who's writings are compiled between two covers never knew they'd be contributing to what we call the Bible. They had no idea how widely they'd be read. Their audience, as far as they knew, lived then not now. But we forget these things. It’s a classic case of great familiarity breeding even greater unfamiliarity. Early Christians understood the Bible to be true because it taught them then the rule of faith. It spoke to them about who God is, what God is like and what he did through the life of Jesus. We call these writings our “canon” because they are for us a means of measurement, a standard by which we judge, form opinions, discern meaning, and draw conclusions. So when we talk about the authority of the Bible, what we are really talking about is our acceptance of it’s particular judgments, and those things we believe to be normative to our faith.

Our scriptures are not God-breathed insomuch as God overtook human beings by uncontrollable force. Our scriptures do not have to be imagined as magically appearing like a cat from a hat or mystically arranged in the night out of a cloud of smoke. Rather, we are given the freedom to see it as God acting within our very humanness. The beauty and mystery of our Bible is found not in sanitized scriptures, emptied of all humanness, but in God’s having worked through real, living, cognizant people. The coupling of human words with God's is not a weakness of the scriptures, but a strength. These human/divine words are the expressions we have. These are the truths we hold. And this is the authority we claim. If you believe in the gospels, you must believe the words of the human beings who witnessed the events and believed before you. Their accounts cannot be removed, nor need they be.



At some point in your life, God has worked. Of this you may be confident and secure. But when you say that God told you, showed you, gave you or led you; when you say that God changed your mind, fight aggressively to express what you mean. Did God alter your DNA; did God physically relocate you through teleportation; were your hormones chemically conformed to his? Or did something much more nuanced in the common, and real transpire?

When you put words to your interaction with God you need not feel pressured to overindulge in vague notions of psychological suspension. You need not pretend that God’s action in your life, his quiet voice, touch or calling require circumvention of yourself or a hostile Swayze-like body-swap by God.

For centuries Christians have understood and accounted for the power of God in the midst of all their humanness. The mystery and the ridiculous absurdity of his presence in our lives is that he somehow, in some way, prefers to work with, in, and through people--amidst all our frail and unreliable humanness.

When we talk about scripture coming from God, when we speak of God’s work in our lives, or anytime we think about the mystery of God’s divine interaction with humanity, we need to fight to be articulate and honest (best we can) about what is going on. The human encounter with God--our expressions and those found in the Bible--is mathematically miraculous. One-hundred percent human. One-hundred percent divine.

May we all find words. May we all find freedom; the words and the freedom to express with sincerity and transparency the truth and mystery of God's work in our lives.

3 comments:

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hiscrivener said...

I agree. This is my first time to frequent your blog, and I shall be back.

If you fancy God at work in the news, check out 'The Writing on the Wall' (http://hiscrivener.wordpress.com).

Peace.

Michelle W said...

I am absolutely stunned that I found your blog: I searched on google for "black and white dance photo" and got sent to your blog. I am a Christian and want to move to Chicago, and I keep gettings signs like this that it is indeed where I want to move. God bless!