Posts Tagged ‘Word of God’

PSALM 47

Clap your hands, all you peoples;
    shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome,
    a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us,
    and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us,
    the pride of Jacob whom he loves.Selah

God has gone up with a shout,
    the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
    sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth;
    sing praises with a psalm.

God is king over the nations;
    God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather
    as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
    he is highly exalted.

It is a real effort for native citizens of a liberal democracy to relate to metaphors of God oriented on monarchy. Kings, thrones, and shields, trumpet processions and coronation events – these don’t ring rich with meaning as they must have once upon a time. Indeed, “once upon a time” in storybooks and Hollywood movies is about the only places we encounter this way of organizing life in the world.

It’s not that the words don’t make sense, mind you, but that their meaning isn’t very relevant to our daily experience. For many of us, kings and queens are odd anachronisms and exotic (maybe less advanced) symbols of government from another time and place.

Where we live, the aggregate effect of individual wills participating in dialogue and voting their preferences is how politics is done. In fact, breaking free from the tyranny of monarchical dynasties and taking a risk on the sovereign will of individuals electing their own leaders is how “the West was won,” as they say.

So isn’t it strange how we have struggled, sacrificed, and built our way of life on the rights and responsibilities of liberal democracy, and yet in our religion – particularly in our church sanctuaries on Sunday morning – we glorify God as a king on his throne, ruling over the nations? We fight for our freedom across the seas and defend our rights to property and protection against “big government” (the republican equivalent of the royal despot), while our mythology, theology, hymnody and worship exhort us to obeisance, submission, and obedience!

But what choice do we have? It’s there in the Bible, and the Bible is our ultimate authority on God-talk. Right?

However unacceptable it may sound at first, it is possible to see the Bible as both a timeless revelation and a very time-bound expression of the human quest for security, meaning, and destiny. It is timeless in the way it might bring us close to (but without containing!) the divine mystery, and it is time-bound because its metaphors, stories, and teachings were produced out of specific historical contexts.

It just so happened that the artistic and literary production of certain periods in the past was preserved, collected, and later canonized as sacred scripture. As subsequent generations progressively lost confidence in their own ability to seek and know God for themselves, they relied increasingly on these earlier efforts and agreements. We may be encouraged to pursue and cultivate our own experience of the divine mystery, but then we are expected to talk about it using a vocabulary more than two thousand years old!

Does God have to be a king sitting on his throne up there in heaven? Does God have to rule over the nations, or sponsor our nation over others? Does God have to be a male authority, a lord of all? Does God have to be personified at all?

How can we, today, express the present mystery of God in a meaningful and relevant way?

JOHN 1:1-18

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

This hymn to the Divine Logos, the creative Word of God, comes directly out of the mystical stream of New Testament spirituality. If we should try to interpret its meaning using the binary logic of orthodoxy we will be thrown onto the rocks of paradox – for how can the Word be both with (alongside and separate from) God and identified as God?

Admirably, orthodox Trinitarian theology has respected the paradox by refusing to resolve the apparent contradiction in the language. But when we listen from the place of a more mystical spirituality this poem moves us into the farthest reaches of space and time, and into the essential depths of being itself.

One of the astonishing claims of the poem is that this Divine Logos is inherent to the very structure of existence itself. The idea is not simply that God spoke this Word ages ago, but that God is speaking it now. To continue in being, the cosmos must be brought forth constantly from the Void by the generative will and intelligence of the Divine.

This metaphor and analogy have a deep history in the wisdom tradition of the Bible, and we find them throughout the cultures from Asia to Africa, from ancient Greece and Old Europe to the Americas and Australian subcontinent. What we find in this perennial and universal contemplative philosophy is a sustained and imaginative reflection on the cosmic order, the mystery of time, and the harmony of existence.

Human happiness and well-being, according to this Great Tradition, is a function of living by an elevated awareness of how all things fit, flow, and flourish in the one Community of Being.

                                                                                               

So where does Jesus fit into all of this? Although it may seem a minor point to us at first, the author is careful not to draw a simple equation between Jesus of Nazareth and the Divine Logos of eternity. The technical distinction is between the essence or inner reality (the Logos) and its expression in temporal form (the man Jesus).

It’s not that Jesus is accidental to the central revelation of Christianity. Indeed, without the humanity of Jesus there would not have been a revelation to speak of. As clearly as we can manage to put it, Jesus was the manifestation in flesh of the Divine Logos that is the creative power and organizing principle within all things. The individual personality of Jesus became sufficiently transparent so as to reveal the inner reality of our human existence, of existence as such, and, beneath even that, of the very mind of God.

This myth of the Incarnation would later be developed into a full-blown doctrine of such abstraction that one might wonder whether its original insight has been all but lost on the orthodox dogma. It can often sound as if Jesus descended into this world from somewhere else, “put on” the disguise of a human appearance, did whatever he came to do, and then returned to the heavenly realm from which he came.

More consistent with John’s Gospel, and with the wisdom tradition in which he stands, it is rather that Jesus became such a clear window into the deeper mystery of being itself, such a pure voice for the primordial Word of God behind all things, and such a perfect manifestation of God’s will for the human being, that everything was seen to turn around him.