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F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Advent 4 - Dec. 20, 2009
Is. 52:1-10; Ps. 25; Rom. 15:4-13; Lk. 21:25-33
Advent IV - 09/12/20 Lessons & Carols
Imagining God??? Well, as we say, "Imagine that!" when we are surprised about something. If someone said, "I can imagine God...," many, maybe most, people would have some doubts about the matter. Doubt is not the Biblical view. God is a Somebody, a Person, whom you can get to know, with whom you can have communication. Someone therefore whom you can indeed imagine.
People will reply, "But God is a mystery, beyond our ability to reason about". God does not think so. He keeps telling His people that He is available to them, that He has intelligible words for them, that it is not His "being unimaginable" that keeps us from understanding Him, it is our sins, our rebellion, our ignorance.
Are there then no mysteries? Of course. We do not know all there is to know about even a grain of sand, and may never know all there is to know about it. How much more about God. But if I had asked you whether you understood what sand is, you probably would have said, "yes". You would be able to describe it, know where to find some, and how to use it. That counts as knowing what sand is.
God keeps saying over and over in many different ways, that we can describe Him, that we can know how to find Him, and that we can know how to relate to Him. That counts as knowing God. And, is not that true of any personal relationship?
The real mysteries of life are
those very things which we can get to know the best of all -- other persons.
I am often a mystery to myself.... Really!
The first and greatest casualty of the Fall was our own human-race understanding of the Image of God, the Imago Dei. We lost contact with who God was, we no longer knew Him as Adam and Eve had before they rebelled, a loving, compassionate, creator who would meet them in the cool of the evening, and walk and talk with them. We fell into thinking of God as distant, unloving, and probably angry with us. We should cringe before Him, not climb up on His lap.
The problem is not that we cannot imagine God, but rather than we do imagine Him, but in a terribly mistaken and perverted way. Almost all atheists who reject God use as one of their reasons that God is a mean, unjust, and unlovable being. Not a one of them, so far as I know, rails against a God who is too loving, too compassionate, too faithful. They apparently cannot image God as anyone they would want to live with. And the God they describe and reject is not beyond imagination, He is rather all too imaginable, too commonly experienced by the human race.
When missionaries traveled around the globe in the late 1800's and early 1900's, they found primitive tribes all over the world with ancient, almost lost memories of a God they had once worshipped, a High God of the cosmos, but whom they had offended and who now rejected them -- a history almost literally reflecting the Biblical story of the Fall. A local pagan priest or shaman in Africa was asked about this God, to which he replied that, "That God is too far away, and besides, he does not like you." That was what I met with in my Christian upbringing -- and spent decades undoing.
More people are more haunted by a hostile, distant, unfriendly God than no God at all. But it is true that in the West, the deep secularization of culture has produced for some an empty cosmos, a barren, lifeless cosmos in which no God exists at all. We live, they think, in a dead, mechanical cosmos, which, as they say, does not have you in mind. That is because it has no mind, it is totally impersonal, uncaring.
Yet even in the midst of that,
at least in America, the great majority say they believe in God of some sort.
The question is -- what sort?
The Incarnation of the Son of God is God's testimony that He is available to anyone who is of an open spirit, who has not seared his soul -- so that he is incapable anymore of being touched by anyone at all, not even God. If there is anything left of honest curiosity, anything left of the willingness to admit that I might have it wrong, that I might be mistaken in all this, any part of me willing to hear another view of the matter, willing to allow the possibility of God speaking to my needs and desires -- then God will show up and prove His own case to me. God will personally show up in a manner which makes sense to me, that is convincing to me.
It requires of me only an honest willingness to pursue the truth of the matter, both intellectually and experientially. Elijah (900 BC) confronted his people on Mount Carmel (in I Kings 18), "How long will you go limping on two opinions??? If Baal be God, then follow him. And if the Lord be God, then follow Him." That was a powerful appeal to logic -- either/or, not both/and -- because the two choices were mutually contradictory.
And then the empirical evidence: he says, Now that we have two choices, let's find out which one is God, by setting up the experiment with the bulls on the two altars. The alleged God who showed up and lit the fire under his bull on the altar was the true God.
God was saying through Elijah, "If I cannot show up and prove my own case, if I cannot make my claims imaginable, then you owe Me nothing!" God holds Himself accountable to both truth and morality, and aims to present Himself to us - as when He says, as in Isaiah 1:18, "Come, let us reason together." Does not "reasoning together" mean each side presenting its case to find out the truth of the matter?
In the Incarnation, God is presenting Himself to the whole human race, and saying, "Now test me. Put me to any test you can think of."
Most of the Jewish leaders refused the invitation. They did not want the truth, they wanted to keep their unjust control and authority over the people. They wanted their exalted station in life more than the truth. And they understood that an open, honest truth-seeking would mean the end of their domination.
The Incarnation, Christmas this week, says that God is making Himself both available and knowable, that we can indeed imagine God as He really is -- that we can describe God, that we can know where and how to find Him, and that we can know how to relate to Him. Is not that knowing God???
Those aspects of God are not a mystery, an unknown. Jesus said that He no longer called His disciples servants, but friends. So they knew Him well enough to confidently give their lives to trust and obey him -- through life or death.
That is why Jesus comes again, and again, and again, into our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. God is still able to make Himself imaginable, knowable, and therefore one whom we too confidently can trust and obey -- through life and death.
Lord, make us that kind of people.
See also, Incarnation & Heaven - Can You Imagine That?
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