GOD OR THE BOOK?

rainbow

Rainbow – Oxbridge Biotech

I’VE SQUARED UP TO A BIT OF A CRISIS about words in recent months. Does humankind sometimes (too often?) mistake humanly shaped words and phrases for GOD? Does the Bible take precedence over the “still, small voice of calm” or “the breath of life” [come] “sweeping through us”?

I’ve loved the Bible for as long as I can remember. The words about God between its covers have guided my life, provided comfort and sustenance, and the proper chastisement that we may “hear” when we company with Wisdom.  Words about God fill my bookshelves, my contemplation and my writings. Words about God fill the silent poetry and prayer of my heart and soul and mind and body. But at the end of 21 chapters St John needed to report that

… there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written – John 21.25

Much the same might apply to the lived lives of any and all of the human race. Life is an ongoing, perpetually unfolding project.

Poets amongst my friends will understand my very great love for the (Anglican Common Worship) phrase in one of our eucharistic prayers, a line that speaks, eloquently, of

the silent music of your praise …

Silence is golden

Latterly I’ve found myself disinclined to heap the contents of my febrile mind upon people of goodwill. Especially when I’m depressed about the painful, tangled machinations of the Church I love, and the world I love, and have loved long.

Sometimes, and more frequently with every year’s passing, I yearn for silence in my own soul – even whilst loving, needing, and recognising the importance of words. Would that we could make a better poetry of words together: humankind, I mean. Co-creators with GOD THE WORD. Would that we could make a better poetry, a living poetry, a better creativity, of our words.

Religious machinations – like The House of Bishops Working Group on human sexuality – the Pilling Report – continue to leave me gasping for air. Even whilst there are pages and pages of great stuff in this one it’s the implications of church-crafted power over other people’s lives and loves that troubles me. Two of Jesus’ own apostles once asked “shall we call down fire upon their heads, Lord?” (wrong-thinking Samaritans in this case) and then spent the rest of their lives reflecting upon their Lord’s rebuking them! (Luke 9.54).

I’m trying hard to bring a bit of order to the thousands of loose words flying around in my head – because I need, and always and everywhere really do NEED, to ask just one question of contemporary Christianity, and it’s this

WHO’S THE LIFE and hope of the world? Is it GOD – the “still small voice” who “praises” in Creation silently? Or is it the Bible – humanly set down words – however poetic or inspired?

To be clear – I believe that the Christian tradition (or any faith-in-God tradition) is on a hiding to nothing if by GOD (or worse – “what GOD wants”, or “GOD longs for”, or “GOD says”), is meant a BOOK – even a world-bestseller of a book.

Salve in silence 

The silent Shalom of GOD is where salve for the world’s wounds is to be found: in faith and hope and love. And faith and hope and love are uniting facets of the breath of God in every human person – indeed in every living thing – without exception.

That, surely, was and is the message of “the anointed”, the Christ, the Living Word, whose Body now on earth we’re each and every one of us – the knowing and the unknowing – made to be. I believe that the Church needs to be encouraging silence enough, often enough, that the inner Word at the heart of all life be heard and lived. If GOD’S every word, on every subject, for all of life, for all of time is to be found only in the Bible (and particularly, according to some, the “Christian Bible”) then I’m dumbfounded. Why would Jesus of Nazareth ever have needed to encourage the people of God to pray?

How dearly I thank God for the millions that make an altogether better job of being God’s anointed in the world, ministering to the lives of the world’s forgotten people, living and loving in ordinary and unsung ways, than some who have claimed for themselves, as though it were a medal, the description “Christian” – catholic or evangelical. God is not absent where the Church’s pursuit of power and control over others finds no foothold.

Prophetic retort! 

For GOD’S creative sake, let us put an end to these weighted reports and pronouncements and LIVE the gift of life’s spectrum – softer, rounder, wider, more generous, more glorious, more grateful. Some of the world’s imaginative youngsters speak just exactly the kind of concise and prophetic word the Church needs most to hear today:

“get a life!”

GOD is not a book. The Bible is not inerrant. GOD is the Source of life’s spectrum – of every thing that is. And God the Eternal, silent, unwritten Word – is not disappointing.

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Nelson Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom

4 thoughts on “GOD OR THE BOOK?

  1. “How dearly I thank God for the millions that make an altogether better job of being God’s anointed in the world, ministering to the lives of the world’s forgotten people, living and loving in ordinary and unsung ways, than some who have claimed for themselves, as though it were a medal, the description “Christian” “……………

    Thanks for this point, Simon- and very well said! I am increasingly convinced that Philippians 4:8 has a lot to say to us- and that “whatever is true…right….noble” is indeed the work of God, which can be and is being done by any or all of us. When I was at university, my college chaplain often talked of the “divine spark” deep within us (with reference to our being made in God’s image and likeness)- and I often think back to his fervent belief that this is central to our understanding of the way God can work through all of us. Two examples that have struck me recently – one in my own life, one in the wider world. First, my (atheist) mother, caring for my (Methodist minster!) father, in the later stages of aggressive cancer. I asked her whether it was wearing her down, and she said to me “No, I’d do anything for him. I love him. I just feel so sorry for him.” And second, I was delighted when my church youth group, when asked to think of modern-day saints, inspired by God, came up with the name Malala Yousaf. How right they were. (And how encouraging to hear young Christians implicitly recognising that they, and their Muslim brothers and sisters worship the same God.)

    On a related point, I worry that too much Christianity focuses solely on the Cross (and especially on penal substitution). I read the other day (post by a facebook friend) that Christmas isn’t about santa, it’s about “God coming to earth in order to die- because we are messed up”. But for me, it’s not really about that either! it’s about the mystery of the Incarnation- of God coming to earth in humility and vulnerability, in order to show us how to live. And then, Good Friday is about the God whose example of suffering love shines out from the Cross, and forces us to turn from our selfishness, and look again at the world in love and humility- AND then to act in a way that is “true…right…noble” – AND to recognise and celebrate when others (of all faith and none) are also acting in such a way.

    Forgive my ramblings but it’s great to read someone who seems to be on a similar wavelength to me- I am regulalry encouraged by your blog!

  2. Thomas: thank you very much indeed for writing. No forgiveness necessary for this. I enjoyed and appreciated your “ramblings” and appreciate your taking the time to read and reply to mine. Stay in touch.

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