Sunday, September 2, 2012

God and the Fantastic

I have been reading Ezekiel for the last couple of days, as part of a Bible-in-a-year program, and I am trying to imagine a four-headed beast with faces like an eagle, a human, a lion, and an ox. I can't even imagine a wheel in a wheel, so you can imagine how I do with the four-headed beast.

There are plenty of scriptural images that make little sense. The four horsemen. The transfiguration. The burning bush that does not extinguish. One reason scripture can be difficult to wrestle with is that there are things within it that just seem to make no sense. So you have three options.

First, you can just give up and say, "this is ridiculous," and put the book down. Plenty of people make this choice, though I am not convinced that those who complain about the fantastic in the Bible have actually done enough reading to have an idea of what is actually contained in scripture. So one issue with these fantastic images is that they give ammunition to those who wish to shoot down faith as something based in fantasy, as if the whole point of the Christian faith is to destroy the one ring to rule them all.

Second, you can just accept the fantastic as literal and move on, as if God is in the habit of sending crazy things down to earth just for fun. You ought not be surprised to learn that this way of looking at some of the more difficult images in scripture is insufficient for me. Accepting these images as literal and simply moving on does not do justice to the glory of God, for when you just read through the description with a blase "hmm" before moving on to something else, you miss the ways in which something so seemingly crazy breaks up the human words that make up scripture.

I choose a third way of understanding these fantastic images, which is that I look at them as a scalpel that cuts through our human words and shows us a glimpse--however brief--of the majesty of God. It as if for just a moment (for this is all we can take!), the page opens up and God's glory breaks through, reminding us that though words are important, God is beyond words.

I hope you don't hear me questioning the authority of scripture. Far from it. In fact, I believe so in the authority of scripture that I am willing to let it point past my own understanding and towards the heart of God. The fantastic reminds me that the Christian life, in the final analysis, is not about understanding or knowing the right answers. The life of faith, made manifest in Christ (who turned dazzlingly white, whatever that means) is a life that can be described in words but must be lived beyond words. Faith must be larger than itself, for the Being to which it points is larger than our attempts to describe it.

Words are important, for they point to Truth. But they do not contain it.

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