Posts Tagged ‘mystery’

God the Father, Part 1

 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. Genesis 1:1-4

One person of the Trinity, the one probably most often associated with God, is God the Father. This is the eternal creator, the mysterious one working behind the scenes, constantly making all things new in ways inconceivable to us. This is the face of God seen most often in the Old Testament, appearing, for example, as a pillar of cloud leading the Israelites out of Egypt. The people believed if they looked upon this God they would die. When Moses asked this manifestation of God for a name, God the Father said, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14).

Mysterious. Unknown. Unknowable. When these terms are used to describe God, they often refer to the person of God the Father, although the terms can be applied appropriately to any manifestation of God. From a human perspective, unpredictable, moody, and frightening are also apt descriptors. God the Father, in actuality, only appears this way to us because this manifestation of God is the one we are least capable of relating to in a personal way. Psalm 139:6 says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high I cannot attain it.” This is the face of God that places and holds heavenly bodies in their orbits, that sets atomic particles in motion, and sustains every part of creation in between. This aspect of God is simply incomprehensible to us, completely beyond anything we can imagine, not to mention being indescribable with words. Yet, we try.

In C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the God-figure is a full-grown lion named Aslan. Aslan is described as always good, but never safe. The message is that, from our perspective, there is a wild, untamed aspect to God that will threaten everything we hold tightly to for safety, security, and stability. Of course, the reason God seems so threatening is that there is no safety, security, or stability outside of the love of and trust in God. We dare to believe God the Father is always for us, but we also recognize that this life can cause immense suffering until we fully trust that God will always make all things work together for good.

In the opening verses of the Bible, God sweeps over the waters and speaks creation into being. And God said let there be… God then breathes life into creation. It is instructive to look at speaking and breath and to remember that the word used for breath is the same word used for spirit. When we speak, we use our breath to set our vocal chords in motion, vibrating in specific ways that create specific sounds. Those vibrations create sound waves of particular frequencies. Waves of sound at specific frequencies will rearrange matter. On a large scale, this is what happens in an earthquake or a tsunami, which are vibrational waves with the power to recreate, albeit in destructive ways. Think of lithotripsy, where inaudible sound waves break up kidney stones inside the body. A violinist playing notes over a table will rearrange grains of sand into patterns consistent with the wave frequencies emanating from the violin. Sound waves manifest in infinite variety and intensity, well beyond our limited ability to hear them, so we only perceive a tiny portion of the infinite range of vibrational possibilities. This, then, is the image of the biblical account of creation. That God spoke, or that creational vibrations emanated from (and continue to emanate from) God to shape and reshape earthly elements into all created things. God’s spirit then hovered over these shapes and breathed life into them. This is not a scientific explanation of creation, nor is it intended to be. Whether we believe in a seven day creation or a big bang is irrelevant. The miracle of God speaking, shaping, and breathing life into being is beyond comprehension, both to scientists and theologians.

God the Father’s fingerprint marks everything that is; God is present in all things, and God is forever creating and recreating. Nothing is safe because God’s creation is in constant motion. Nothing is safe because no created thing remains the same. In its changing, however, everything is drawn closer to its true image and likeness in God.

Note: this is the 30th in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God.


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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 24: Truth is Paradoxical

 Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. John 11:25c-26a

A paradox is something that seems contradictory to popular opinion or common sense. The good news is that paradoxical reasoning does not trouble most of us too often. The bad news is that it should. The Bible is full of paradoxical bits of wisdom – nonsensical statements that seemingly contradict themselves. Jesus was a king of paradox. Here is a sampling:

But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Mark 10:31)

“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39

“Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” (Luke 17:33

Jesus taught with stories, or parables, few of which gave clear answers and many defied common sense. What Jesus understood about truth is that it is inherently paradoxical, and that is a constant obstacle for many of us. Much of what we hold to be true is actually only partially true, or at least not entirely true. We separate light and dark for our own understanding when they are actually manifestations of the same reality. We cannot know darkness without first knowing light, and darkness is simply the absence of light. Other examples of single realities include bliss and sorrow, life and death, right and wrong, good and evil, happy and sad. Each is defined by the other, and neither can be known except in relation to the other. They are two ends of a single continuum, but we treat them as distinct realities. We try our best to be good and are disappointed when we act in not-so-good ways. What we thought to be right turns out to be wrong in another circumstance. What we assumed to be virtuous turns out to be evil from another vantage point. When our sports team wins a game we are excited; but our thrill comes at the expense of fans of the other team who may be devastated. The game is a single reality experienced from two different points of view – one positive and one negative. In his book, Yes, And,…, Fr. Richard Rohr writes, “You and I are living paradoxes, which everybody can see except us.” (p. 391)

Our entire existence is held together by a tension of opposites that characterizes every aspect of our lives. It is nearly impossible for us to reconcile these opposites in a meaningful, understandable way. And therein lies the key to dealing with mysterious realities – we cannot reconcile the paradox. Our challenge is not to solve the mystery but to transcend the seeming enigma and transform our experience and understanding of it.

Chief among the paradoxes we must transcend is our understanding of life and death. Death is an inextricable part of life. Death does not mean the end of life but a new beginning. In his cryptic way, when Jesus tells us we must die in order to live, he is not referring to our physical death. Jesus is speaking of a transformation of our life into one consistent with his. We are not asked to give up our life, physically, but to enter into a new version of that life which transforms our former priorities to new ones. We cannot understand Jesus’ teachings about new life with our traditional understanding of life and death. It is a paradox – an irreconcilable enigma – when seen through our old eyes. Life is more than we can see, hear, feel, and touch with our earthly senses. As we learn to engage our spiritual senses, the formerly paradoxical becomes perfectly understandable.

Truth is paradoxical. How did I miss that?


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Life Notes—August 15, 2013 

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?’”  God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”  Exodus 3:13-14a

A friend of mine once gave a sermon with this theme: God is not a question to be answered.  It was a powerful message for me, capturing a fundamental concept of truth:  Try as we might, we will never figure out God.  Let me explain.  Figuring God out is not the purpose of scripture or prayer or church or spiritual growth.  The purpose of spiritual practice is to build a connection with the Divine. The Hebrews of the Old Testament were squeamish about naming God, and for good reason. When we name something we limit its nature.  Naming establishes boundaries for what a thing is and is not.  When we say, “This is a maple tree,” we establish it is not an oak.  It is not a house, a car, or a person.  We name because it is useful to categorize and describe what we encounter.  It is also helpful in sharing our experiences with others. However, God is distinctly different.  God, by nature, cannot be limited by a name.  God is limitless. Further, God’s nature transcends language.  Language is a useful tool for communication; but just because we name something a maple tree does not mean we have captured its essence.  This is especially true with God.  We use the name God, but what that name implies is as varied as those who speak it.  No human name can capture the essence of God.

In Exodus 3:1-15, Moses encounters God as a burning bush that is not consumed by the flames.  God promises to deliver the Israelites from their slavery to the Egyptians.  Moses asks who he should say is the giver of this promise and the reply is, “I am who I am.”  The original word has been interpreted in different ways, all of which are vague and mostly uninformative to our need to define and categorize.  A common application of this name is in what I learned as the Doxology: “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.”   The Doxology is a translation of the name God gave Moses to share with his people.  Although Moses asked for God’s name, God refused to become a question for us to answer.  Thus, God is not a being to be named.  I am leery of those who act as though they have God figured out. I believe the Bible confirms in numerous ways that God is beyond our ability to fully understand or name.  I think what is helpful, necessary and possible is a relationship.  Even so, we can never get too comfortable in our familiarity with God.  We do best to keep our minds and hearts open to the possibilities, trusting in God’s love for us. It is a love we may not fully understand, but a love that is reliable.

Tom will be preaching downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Enter and explore the mystery with us!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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