All language about God is allegorical

Frances writes on next Sunday’s readings :- When we look carefully at our readings we realize that although on the surface they appear to be about human beings in relation to God, they are in fact about God and his relationship to us which is a rather different thing. Our gospel, in its shorter form, (in the longer too if your church reads it), Luke 15:1-10 or 1-32, is about the mercy and love of God for us. This gospel helps press home once more the importance of understanding that all our language of God is allegorical; it serves to indicate through picture language the mysteriousness of the God we worship yet cannot see and whose only true image is brought to us by the incarnate Jesus. Clearly Jesus used this kind of language frequently when speaking of God the Father and our relations with him. God is not like us only a lot bigger or smarter, but within the language of the shepherd’s (God’s) diligent search for the one lost sheep (some of us) and the joy evinced by his finding and return with the animal on his shoulders; not we see kicked or driven, we find something of the divine will for us and the gentleness of God.

Here is a God who wants to relate to us and who will go to immense lengths to secure our wellbeing and attention. Again when we see God imaged in the fastidious and clearly not well off housewife searching for the lost coin and her great rejoicing at its recovery we are not meant to think of God in exactly those terms but rather of his infinite, even scrupulous care and his delight at our recovery of faith in him.

Our reading from Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14 again illustrates the dangers and great limitations of literal readings of the bible. In this passage from Exodus we should not focus on the alleged ‘anger’ of God but on the loyalty and devotion of Moses seeking a return to the Covenants God made with Israel via his patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the renewal of the faith of the people in their deliverer God. The story is clearly more about the faithfulness of God to us, his patience and persistence, if such we can call it in the face of the petty and pathetic betrayals of God by humanity. Almost without distinction, time after time this was Israel’s experience of its relationship with God, sure, the scenery changed, their mode of unfaithfulness varied, but Israel’s experience had taught them that God would be with them and they would return to him time and time again. The divine promise of superabundant offspring and land would be the seal of their relationship with God which would outlast all the changes and catastrophes which befell them. Patriarchs and prophets we discover are those somehow ‘open’ to God, people who can penetrate the mystery of God and live within it to such an extent that their interchange of language with the divine can be very confrontational, even abusive or heart-renderingly on the edge. Theirs is the job of representing man in all his potential and folly before God somehow confident that they do have his ‘ear’ and that what he desires above all is our response.

This is surely what we see in Paul’s letter to Timothy 1:12-17 where what Paul records, in the face of his own sin and rejection of Jesus is the mercy of God towards the unreformed apostle. Rather than speak of God’s wrath at his behaviour Paul speaks of his own ‘ignorance’ of the truth until God’s grace acts as the vehicle of his faith and love. God does not keep issuing words of reproach or threat but rather acts so as to gently encourage and entice the would be believer. The result of this action by God is unity, God unites us to himself, not just as sharers in a holy project, but as sharers in himself for this is what God is and how he works and to know him, even in this life, even if only in shadows and uncertainty as we experience now, is nonetheless to meet God, nothing else and nothing less. So when Paul speaks to Timothy of the love of God we see that this love is not a disembodied thing but rather the love that is in Christ Jesus. It is the love which made the universe and redeemed it, the love between Father and Son and Spirit; it is the person of God himself! When God loves he gives himself totally and completely to the object of his love. God‘s nature and being is such that he cannot give in small measure, circumspectly but only as He is, in all his fullness. This kind of idea will frequently be found in Paul: 1 Cor 2 we are those who have the mind of Christ, or in chapter 3, you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.

A totality of knowing and commitment then which transcends words and description which our language can only gropingly record. Granted, in the face of such beneficence Paul can never forget his persecution of the infant Church, but this memory too has become not a thing of shame, but of blessing, it is because Jesus Christ meant to make me the greatest evidence of his inexhaustible patience for all the other people who would later have to trust in him to come to eternal life. Faced with such a knowledge of God – mystical knowing, rather than information all Paul and we can do is praise. To the eternal king, the undying, invisible and only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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