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2.22.2008

# 96 God in Us

So There I was...

Front row center for the first week of Seminary - Beginning Greek class to be specific. I was all jacked up for this class because though I do not have any great giftedness for languages I did have interest. I was one of those geeky little kids who tried to learn Elvish after my first reading of Tolkein. I had self-taught myself a little Latin. I went to a college where they made you read Sophocles in the orginal. Now, many years later with a much rustier brain I was going back into the Greek to read the New Testament. I knew that Jesus himself probably did not speak in Greek to the disciples - most likely Aramaic, or Hebrew in Temple - but I was about to get a lot closer than to his words than the King’s English would ever allow. I was excited.

I noticed that some of my fellow students seemed nearly as stirred up but their excitement looked more like agitation to me.

We were in the First Chapter of the Gospel Of John.“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is some of the most beautiful poetry ever written, and some of the simplest Greek in the New Testament. Which is why our brilliant teacher had taken us there on the first day. She knew that she could get us through it and that we would feel like translators right off the mark. She wisely also let us bump right into the frustrations of translation on that first day. The bigger words were easy. The verbs she just gave to us on that day, but she let us struggle a bit with the little words, the propositions, ‘in,’ ‘with,’ ‘among.’ She explained to us that many of the words had multiple meanings and that the translator had to use, wisdom, discernment and context to decide which word to supply to the text.

This is when some of my fellow students started to get nervous. They also were there to get closer to the words of Jesus, but they were hoping to ease their frustration with the multiple English translations and find out what the ‘correct’ answer was. They were searching for certainty, and the professor kept bogging them down in discenment. And they were discovering fast that the little words could change the meaning in a big way. "The Word became flesh and dwelt AMONG us." can also be translated "The Word became flesh and dwelt IN us.”
In fact, IN is the more common translation of the Greek EN than AMONG. The students saw the theological conundrum of the choice almost immediately. They asked the teacher for the right answer. She told them why most translators chose ‘among’ over ‘in’, but allowed as how ‘in’ was also a correct choice. Some of my fellow students started to breathe funny. They did not like the idea of two correct choices. They had not come to find a deeper level of mushy, they wanted solid. She gave them ‘context’ and ‘translator’s choice.’ Smoke started to come out of some of their ears. Some of them had spinners for eyes. Some of them started making plans right then and there to transfer to the Baptist seminary across town. I watched them for a minute with amusement, fundamentalists often amuse me. But them I got lost in the theological possibilities.

Prepositions of place count. Whether God is near you, or in you matters, a lot. Since babyhood I had been told that Jesus was near me, knocking on the door of my heart, wanting to come in. John the Evangelist seemed to be implying in a big way, in many places, that God, and Christ were already in me, in everybody, and had been since I came into the world and possibly before. That Jesus had planted the seed of Himself in me, in everyone, and was sitting there waiting for the right conditions to germinate.

This started a bout of thinking that continues in me to this day. You have to be in a kinda strong and grounded place to work on this puzzle. You have to be pretty comfy with paradox. The Apostle Paul talked about riddles wrapped in enigmas viewed in murky mirrors – yeah, that kind of clear.

Here is the problem. The kingdom of Heaven is in me. It was in me in some form before I recognized it, and with my intention, called it to quickness. But it is also all around me, I can see it and observe it in my garden and in the stars. And is it also among us – in community with all its frustrations and foibles. I couldn’t get more than a heartbeat away from the kingdom if I tried, it is that close.

And yet, Jesus said that He stands at the door and knocks, waiting, beyond some kind of barrier. The door is a metaphor for some kind of barrier. My fundamentalist childhood said that I was depraved. Fallen. That evil was inside me and that Goodness had to ask to come in.

In the theological metaphor that is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” The Apostle Joss sets things up where Vampires/evil cannot walk into the home/heart uninvited. Humans carry their glory and sin and possibility of redemption with them wherever they go. God is already in the house, he came in with you, evil has to ask. Joss is fairly Gnostic. Joss could be burned at the stake in certain inquisitions.

Me too. I am a Quaker.

When I face theological conundrums, I try and hold them as precious and deny none of it. But when I have to make a functional decision, my experience of God trumps dogma and exegesis. And this I know to be true. When I first called out to Christ as a knowing adult, and sought His presence, He answered not from a place external to me, but from inside my soul. I work for the Kingdom, I fight the Lamb’s War with the presumption that Christ is ahead of me working IN everyone. All I have to do is find where He is working and assist.

I have met evil, but I have never experienced it as internal. It is always dissonant. Always wrong. Always against who I was meant to be. Evil talks to me from outside. Christ talks to me from inside. I do have troubles sometimes with my listening, but I don’t have a problem confusing the two.

This has made some startling differences in the way I do evangelism.

I cannot “Bring anyone to Christ.” He is already there. No one is “lost.” He knows precisely where they are and what they need. I don’t have to spend any prayer time, any worship time, inviting Him to come – we can just get on with it. I do not have to beg Him to hear my prayer, He cannot fail to hear it. Do you know how much time this saves?

So what can I do? I can preach the Good News. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. As close as your own palm print actually. I can fan the burning embers of desire for faith into crackling little flames. I can tell people the truth about who they really area and what they were put here to do. I can participate in the laboratory of sanctification that is spiritual community. I can walk the roads of my vicinity looking in the ditches for the wounded and dying. And sometime I can stand out on the porch with the vampires and back them off a bit so that the people in the house can enjoy their redemption and do their work in peace.

And I have found that the paradoxes and conundrums become precious mysteries to explore when I have time, not problems that cause my hard drive to smoke.

It’s a good deal.


Comments:
This speaks deeply, deeply to me:

"I cannot “Bring anyone to Christ.” He is already there. No one is “lost.”
 
tell me we're collecting these.
LL
 
I love sitemeter. It lets me see where people are coming from (literally) So I found this referrence to my blog on a chat site where some folks are doing some very detailed exegesis - thanks for the link!
And I LOVE being labelled a heretic...


"...I would have let your comment go as saying enough in itself if I had not read a blog by one of them heretical Quaker preachers, a lady for whom I have a GREAT deal of respect, who stated simply, "I am a Quaker.
When I face theological conundrums, I try and hold them as precious and deny none of it. But when I have to make a functional decision, my experience of God trumps dogma and exegesis."

Emphasis on "experience." You would do ok as a Quaker if you din't mind being a heretic.

In His Love,

xxxxxxxxx

PS. Her blogspot is http://sillypoorgospel.blogspot.com/ if you wish to endanger your standing as a good Catholic by reading such stuff.
 
Sneaky.

I reread this post and have to laugh about those who feel so out at sea......and then I think about how much of the trouble in the Christian world has to do with so many who simply have to have something written in stone to live by. I guess that wouldn't be so bad if they did not also seem to have to impose their perceptions on others.

In His Love,
Nate
 
I'm glad you wrote this and grateful that I had an opportunity to read it.

Blessings,

David Carl
 
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