Friday, 26 February 2021

A meaningful phrase for the greatest mystery!

Reading my June copy of Progressive Voices a phrase sprang out and hit me so much so that I am indebted to Ian Lovett for writing his Lockdown Thoughts, in which he was encouraging his readers to look to a future beyond the Lockdown. The phrase that really hit hard and made me stop reading was where he wrote: 'The notion of God as a verb and not a noun, can open up a new horizon for spirituality.'

I have heard many descriptive phrases attributed to the God we honour and try to serve. Our lecturers at Manchester University and the theological colleges did their best to teach and to get us to understand something of the nature and being of God. It became clear that so much of what we learned had been influenced, some things more strongly than others, by the various theologians from different schools of thought. Each generation produced its own. So often it was a case of the men of the Church (and it was almost always the men) producing new teaching to strengthen the fight against heretical belief or to promote theories that explained away difficulties or at least attempted to encourage some kind of understanding of the mysteries. So much has been said over the years to get us to understand and accept the person and teaching of Jesus. The quest for the historical Jesus continues and any attempts to get back to the original are debated continuously.

From the old catechism used in Jamaica years ago we were teaching that God was omniscient, all-powerful, ever-present and everywhere. In more recent years 'He' has become 'She', depending on how one regards God and whether one finds it necessary to think of Him/Her in anthropomorphic terms of personality.

The doctrine of the Trinity has caused endless difficulties for some Christians and also for those of other faiths as I discovered in India when friends were trying to understand the Christian teaching about three in one, and one in three, and I suppose there have been just as many attempted explanations as there have been problems. I do remember one given by a lay preacher who was an electrician and he spoke about a three-pin plug and three wires, positive, negative and earth - all three being needed to provide one source of safe electricity. That seemed helpful.

The historic Creeds were produced to provide a way of knowing about God that could be learned by heart if not always understood by mind and even the most basic, whether Apostles' or Nicene, became a cause for division. The many creeds and doctrinal statements were drawn up by those ancient councils of the church in an attempt to promote universality of belief and be a symbol of Christian unity.

So what do we have today? I would suggest we have a real mix up of ancient and modern, of old-time and progressive thinking. I accept the need for each generation to work out its thinking and understanding about the nature of God. Even the Bible, our word of God, is the basis on which some depend for literal truth and its teaching was produced over many centuries and often throws up disagreements and has little or nothing to say about modern day problems.

Now in this mix up of newer thinking and half remembered, and often outdated, teaching it is not surprising that so many give up on the church and some, sadly, even on God. I do appeal for a growing simplification to succeed the years of complication which developed as teachers of Church doctrine produced all their attempts to define God. The old, and original, creed said simply, but very acceptably, 'Jesus is Lord.'

From my studies of grammar I learned that a noun is a naming word for a person, place or thing and a verb is an action word or something one can do. I believe many of us have put God in the noun category as a majestic being, high and lifted up - and out of reach - when we should have been thinking of him as a verb, living and active in the hearts and minds of all his people.

Br John McOwat

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