God is Simple (2)

Life is Dynamic - a Process

Just as Jesus drew his vision from the Hebrew Scriptures, so he is likely to have derived his strategy from his hearing, reading and reflection upon the Torah, the prophets and the writings. These describe the redeeming and renewing activity of God in terms that are holistic and multi-dimensional.[1] God deals with individuals, groups, the nation, the peopled earth, the cosmos. God engages with our bodies, emotions, minds, wills, spirits. God addresses both the personal and the political. And often, God connects with all these dimensions more or less at once.

This complex activity can be understood in different ways. We can see each description of God's work as a singular intervention, occurring across many dimensions at once: one action with many different consequences, capable of being seen from different angles as it takes effect in different contexts. This is appropriate because so often the suggested timescale of God's action is compressed, as in descriptions of the "Day" of the Lord. This way of thinking tends to focus our attention on the results of God's activity: on the product of God's work. It also tends to assume that we are observers. We are awed by God's activity and offer our worship, but we are not otherwise involved in what has happened, or we are only involved to a very limited extent.

Alternatively, we can read each description of God's work as a series of interactions, a process of transformation in which many small events occur in sequence. Each individual step or change might be tiny, but the process as a whole can move rapidly, sparking chain reactions in many directions, and have far-reaching consequences. This is also appropriate as a way of understanding God's activity, because even where the prophet wants to emphasise the urgency and immediacy of God's action, there is also the suggestion of one thing leading to another.[2] This way of thinking tends to focus our attention on the process by which God works among us. It also tends to assume that we are participants. Our worship and service enables us to become fully engaged in God's work in the world. We are servants; junior partners; even, to some extent, co-creators with the divine.

How do these two ways of imagining the activity of God affect the way we read and apply those Scriptural passages where the prophet speaks of God changing the peoples' hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, pouring out the spirit on all flesh and teaching humanity to obey his statutes and ordinances?

If we are inclined to view God acting through singular events, we are more likely to find ourselves waiting for a dramatic intervention that creates a "once and for all" transformation. Because this conversion experience or revival event is so dramatic, it is easy for us to assert that it is the work of God. However, the disadvantage is that these events occur - when they occur at all - in a manner and at a time that is beyond our control. We can neither anticipate them nor prepare for them: we can only wait, passively, in the hope that God will act. At the same time, every other action of ours is judged by the same absolute rule: by whether the results can be clearly understood as a dramatic intervention on the part of God.

On the other hand, if we are inclined to view God acting through processes and dynamics, then we see many minor steps, and all these steps blend and blur into one another. Because what we are describing is dynamic and active. It is alive. It is energy. It is life itself. It is on the move. Indeed, it is on the leap.

Describing life is as difficult as describing the action of a dancer or an athlete. We can slow down a recording of their activity so that we can analyse their movements frame by frame, and this makes it easier to describe, but doing this is, in one sense, artificial - like arresting a gymnast half-way over the bar - and cannot capture or convey the grace, beauty, life and power of what we are seeing.

No, whatever Jesus' strategy was, it was a way of evoking and conveying the grace, beauty, life and power of God's life, the Spirit, the abundance of God: evoking and conveying life so that people could collaborate with that life. Encapsulating and passing on abundance in a way that enabled others to imitate and replicate, enlarge and magnify the Spirit's life.

To convey the full meaning of life, to describe something that is animated, to reflect upon the nature of that life, we have to think in terms of process, not product; dynamics rather than results; movement and direction rather than outcomes. Even then, we have to resort to metaphor, image and story to convey the scale and scope of what is possible.

We could say that this does not matter: that our task is to worship the mystery and no more; that it is not our place to seek to understand the Spirit's ways; that we should be content to be passive. I do not agree. I believe that it is our task to worship the mystery by imitating Christ; that he anticipated and collaborated with the Spirit and taught his disciples to do the same; and that it is our place to live as Christ's Body in the world.

[1] See, for example, Ezekiel 36.22-38.
[2] See, for example, Amos 5.18-20.

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