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Conversing with a Dangerous God April 2, 2009

Posted by dan snyder in Bible: Old Testament, God.
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The Raft of the Medusa

The Raft of the Medusa

Even a cursory reading of the Biblical Prophets uncovers some rather bold and stark images for God. My notion is that the degree of this boldness is proportional to the degree of “spiritual blindness” in those first hearers. Flannery O’Connor, when asked why she creates such bizarre images in her stories, replied, “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock, to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.” If we don’t think like this we can be tempted to sit in judgment of the writers since some of these images seem reckless and negligent.

The prophetic metaphors are presented to Israel in the context of “spiritual blindness” symptomatic of decades of idolatry and missed Sabbaths. Augustine famously stated that humans are restless until we find our rest in God. And G.K. Chesterton continued this train of thought by saying that when we “cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.” This practice of erecting God substitutes makes a person “blind” to God. The eyes of the heart focus on everything but God. Though stated in the negative, God’s assignment to Isaiah implies that the purpose of the prophetic message is to restore spiritual hearing and seeing:

“Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;

be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’

Make the heart of this people calloused;

make their ears dull and close their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears,

understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

(Isaiah 6:9-10)

challengingpropheticmetaphoDr. Julia O’Brien in the book Challenging Prophetic Metaphor identifies three metaphors for God that are not simply bold, they might be considered “toxic”: God as (Abusing) Husband (Hosea 1-2), God as (Authoritarian) Father (Jeremiah 31, Isaiah 63-64), and God as (Angry) Warrior (Nahum). She writes,

“I believe it is important, even ethically mandatory, to recognize and resist dangerous thinking wherever it occurs, including and perhaps especially in the Bible. To be faithful, I believe, demands recognizing the problems of biblical texts, how they participate in a web of power relations that are toxic. As long as the Bible . . . carries weight in the church and in the culture, I believe it has to be read responsibly, with eyes wide open . . . But I also maintain that these books should be read, that they have value for the life well lived. [W]resting with these books has led me into deep reflection on intimate relationships, parenting, anger violence, politics, the power of language, and the responsibility that Christians have for the way that they think and talk about the divine”

Reading the Bible responsibly includes examining all the images it contains – even the ones we don’t like because they make us uncomfortable or we cannot explain them. Responsible readers do not avoid texts that are difficult to understand. They do not try to soften sayings that shock. Neither do they apologize for things that offend feeling like they need to defend the Bible. Maturity is the result of this kind of responsible reading. Maturity allows readers to doubt with courage and converse with God about what the Bible says.

Many Christians have not matured beyond a “Sunday School” faith. Avoiding honest dialogue about metaphors like the ones O’Brien deals with in her book contributes to this immaturity because people maintain a selective understanding of the Bible and a constricted knowledge of God. The only option these people have in this condition is the idolatry of which the prophets warned hearers in the first place.

“Looking North” – fixing our eyes on Jesus – must mean being informed by every piece of revelation we can get our eyes on. Will you trust the “Good Shepherd” to keep you and lead you as you pursue knowing the fullness of this God?

What images and metaphors are in the Bible that you have struggled with throughout your Christian experience?

Visit Dr. Julia O’Brien’s blog at Amazon.

North Star 1.5 – Genesis 1:4 November 6, 2007

Posted by dan snyder in Bible - Meditation, Bible: Old Testament, NorthStar 1.0 (Gen 1).
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Light is separated from the darkness. The darkness existed prior to light. It was over the face of the deep mingling with formlessness and void of pre-voiced creation. Darkness was a dominant pre-Creation feature. It was not bringing God pleasure. It had ‘cloaking’ qualities that would hide God’s Creation from view. It was dominant to the point that it could not be pushed back or overcome.

Only the voice of God creating a counterpart could conquer darkness. God creates light. And then separates it from darkness. He sets it apart for a God-determined purpose. And, now in its separated condition it fulfills God’s idea. Its holy function now makes a holy opportunity for darkness. By separating light from darkness, darkness can serve a purpose and be given a name – an identity.

Jesus calls us out to be holy – to serve a clear, unique, God-determined purpose. When we do this purpose we make opportunity for others to serve their unique purpose. All Creation is awaiting, even depending upon, our being set-apart for holy service. Jesus separates us – calls us out.

[see entry – Prayer Poem: O Greatest King (a servant’s prayer) category:art]

North Star 1.6 – Genesis 1:5 November 2, 2007

Posted by dan snyder in Bible - Meditation, Bible: Old Testament, Jesus Christ, NorthStar 1.0 (Gen 1).
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God names the light and the darkness. Naming conveys honor and instills value. Day and Night now have a place of honor in the story – God’s meta-narrative. They are declared “intended”. Without names they may go unnoticed. Or, at least, we would wonder if God knows, sees, and intends what is now known and seen by all of us (light and dark are hard to miss). but when god names them He gives them their place in the story.

Naming also establishes God’s place. He is the generative character behind all that He names. He is keeper of what He names. He is above all that He names. He is the idea, the dreamer, behind names.

Most of us were not named by God at birth. Attached to my name is a story (and perhaps the stories of those who share my name). But God will change my name – give me a new name (Rev. 2:17), a name that conveys a new relationship, a new intention, a new place in the story.

Notice the priority in verses 3-5: God creates, God delights, God sets apart, God names. In Jesus each of these actions can be real to us each day. But only naming is expected to be permanent and stable. God will find new voids in which to create, new things to declare his delight over, new tasks to which we will be set apart.

But we are named once. May we listen and live into this name.

North Star 1.4 – Genesis 1:4 November 1, 2007

Posted by dan snyder in Bible - Meditation, Bible: Old Testament, NorthStar 1.0 (Gen 1).
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God declares His Creation “good”. He makes this declaration after “seeing” it. But this “seeing” of good is far more than inspection. This is not simply quality control inspection that results in a pass/fail approval rating. Certainly He does see the quality of His creation; but He looks deep into what He creates and sees its purpose and its future. He sees His Creation being and, therefore, doing what He intends. He sees this in its fullness.

When God says that His Creation is “good” it does indeed imply quality, but even more it implies satisfaction. God delights and is satisfied by and in what He sees. He is pleased with Creation – it gives Him pleasure in this holy, righteous state of fullness and potential.

Jesus delights in His Creation. Declaring and delighting is His priority after the act of creating. He gives created light His focused attention and announces His pleasure and delight. Likewise He gives all of His Creation His focused attention – He “sees” its fullness. And this fullness is pleasing, satisfying and delightful to God/Jesus. May we have ears to hear – “this is good, you are good, I am well pleased.”

North Star 1.3 – Genesis 1:3-5 October 30, 2007

Posted by dan snyder in Bible - Meditation, Bible: Old Testament, NorthStar 1.0 (Gen 1).
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For most of our projects light is generally assumed. When we assemble the materials we will need to create or renovate, rarely do we think of the necessity of light. At the very least it is not one of the materials on our list.

But light is God’s step one. He creates it rather than simply turning on what is already there. The idea of illumination originates with Him. He wants Creation to be on visible display to all. Nothing hidden. Everything out in full view to be seen, observed and reveled in.

The pre-eminence of light shows God’s priority on openness. He wants all to be unveiled and revealed between us. He does not create and then turn on the light to show off a final product leaving us to guess at process. We are shown everything and thus invited into discovery and participation.

The light is outside of us and inside of us. Thus we are illuminated, energized, on display to God from the inside out. This light shines on the beauty of His Creation. But it also invites participation in His renovation of the world around us and the world within us.

Jesus is the Light of the World. Relationship with Him, receiving this Gift of Light – the Light of Life, opens us to a promise of true revelation, and true, honest, authentic living. Only in Jesus are we fully known and can we know fully.

North Star 1.2 – Genesis 1:3-5 October 29, 2007

Posted by dan snyder in Bible: Old Testament, NorthStar 1.0 (Gen 1).
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God’s choice action for creation is speaking. His voice and words bring light to darkness, order and meaning to chaos, life to dead-space, fullness to emptiness.

Through speaking He initiates relationship with creation. If He had simply fashioned it all by hand or used tools without speaking, God would have distanced Himself from creation. But by speaking He invites reciprocal participation. He honors the creation by treating it with respect as something that can hear, understand and respond in return.

Jesus is the Living Word. He is the agent of Creation. Jesus is the means (agent) of relationship between God and Creation from the beginning. The Cross – His demonstrative loving act of restoring relationship – is simply an extension of this ‘transmissional’ work.

From the first words, God establishes a way of rescuing Creation from death, darkness, chaos and emptiness. He establishes not only His desire for relationship, but the priority of relationship for Creation to live and glorify Him. Left to its own, Creation would remain formless and void. Jesus Christ, the Agent of Creation, the Word, is ‘voiced’ into creation in a pre-eminent way. All spaces – especially human hearts – that receive this Word should expect this salvation/creation effect. And all places (ears) to which this Word is directed can treasure this invitation to relationship with Creator God.

North Star 1.1 Genesis 1:1-3 October 29, 2007

Posted by dan snyder in Bible: Old Testament, NorthStar 1.0 (Gen 1).
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Before God speaks all is formless and void. God is present. The framework is in place. But creation at its best prior to the voice/intervention of God is “chaos”.

Chaos in Genesis 1:1-2 is not the random beauty of the creation we see today. An uncultivated forest is random, but it is not “chaos”. Chaos is the absence of order. Chaos is frenetic confusion. It has no form or shape by which to invite participation. Chaos is empty and meaningless. It is dark and attracts no attention – no one even notices what is not there.

This is the stage upon which Jesus Christ enters. He is the firstborn of all Creation (Colossians 1:15-20). As the first upon the scene all eyes are upon Him. Everything from this point onward takes its cue from Him – lines up around Him. Meaningless chaos now has meaning. The hollow emptiness is now filled to capacity with Him. Everything that is created from this point onward will literally be in Him. There is no space in the universe with unfilled space. He fills it all. And fills it to capacity. Creation fits into space already touched by His glorious Presence. From now on when something is created it shares space – molecules – with Jesus Christ. All Creation gets its life, its existence, from this Source of Life – Jesus, the Firstborn over all Creation.