George is a good communicator. Sometimes, when I am working at my desk, he will come into the study, put his head under my arm and knock it upwards off the mouse or keyboard, onto his head as if to say “Hi! I’m back. I just had a great time outside getting a drink of water!” with all the excitement of an eight year-old child describing their adventures in the garden.
Well, that is what I imagine he might be saying. Over time, I have realised that I may be wrong. I know he is communicating, but my interpretation of it can be quite off-beam. I look at his actions in human terms. However, George is a Great Dane, and he is at his doggy happiest when I respond in ways that I would not dream of doing in a conversation with a human, reassuring him that he is the dog, and I the one in charge. Then he will lie down next to me, knowing that all is right in the world … and I will be able to get on with writing the next Minister’s Message.
Often we come across statements about communications with non-human things, land, sea, sky, trees and the like (Psalms 19: 148). We recognise that they don’t use human language, and that the “sound” of their “voice” is different from ours, but we often don’t take this approach to interpreting what they are saying. It may be a mistake to cast it as what a human would say.
The same thing applies with God. Central to Christianity (and other religions) is the claim that we are in a relationship with God and as part of that relationship, God communicates with us. The foremost communication has been through Christ, which has been recorded in the Bible, along with other words from God. Often at some particular time and place we may have a feeling of God’s presence – that God is near, God is here.
God is present, but what is God communicating to us? That’s where problems can arise. We are at risk of imagining the content as if from a human, of confusing God’s voice with a human voice and God’s words with human words. For instance, humans often desire to acquire things, to possess them and imagine that God has given them (“God has given us this land” has been a common cry over history, often followed by “and those other people don’t belong here.”). However, God’s nature is to share, not hold onto, things (e.g., Philippians 2).
Another example is provided by the human wish for payback, ranging from raw revenge to a sophisticated justice system, from a vague hope that the car that ran the light was caught on a camera to a riot over a perceived insult to a deeply held belief, from penalties imposed on drug dealers to terrorist acts.
Yet the clear evidence from Christ and recorded in the Bible, is that God does not seek payback. In the life of Jesus, revenge is not high on the priority list, to say the least. His death was followed by a resurrection that created a community intent on welcoming others, not a war against perpetrators. Reconciliation and forgiveness are key words in our faith. When we come across statements in the Bible that talk of payback, it is reasonable to wonder, if at this point those recording the event were letting human thoughts slip into their accounts.
This month sees the start of Lent, in our tradition, a period of reflection. Perhaps this year, it can be an opportunity to reflect on God’s presence in your life and to listen carefully and with discernment to what God might be communicating. Rev Dr Peter Trudinger
© Scots Church Adelaide Ph. 08 8223 1505