Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Third Person, Singular

Can we see the wind?

Well, we can see what it is doing to the trees and the direction it appears to be pushing them.

As an unseen force, I like the image of wind as the breath of God, or the Holy Spirit. The third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, might be the hardest one to understand, but it is the one which gives understanding, power and life itself.

I don't particularly like the image of the Holy Spirit as a dove. In the Genesis account of creation, the Spirit of God existed with the Father and the Son (the Word) in the Beginning:
'Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the water.' (Genesis 1, verse 2)
This is the only occasion, I think, when the Spirit is described as being in a waiting and apparently motionless state, but I suppose 'hovering' does imply a bird-like activity. The Hebrew word used here for 'Spirit' can also be translated (and is elsewhere in the Old Testament) as 'Breath' or 'Wind'. So in the creation account of Adam, ' the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life'. In Job 33, verse 4, Elihu says to Job, 'The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.'

Of course the New Testament gives us the whole picture of the Holy Spirit, not only in the Pentecostal experience of wind and tongues of fire at the birth of the church, but before (in the teachings and promises of Christ), and after (in the teachings and experiences of the Apostles).

I used to think of the Trinity as being the same thing in 3 different forms - a bit like water being liquid (normal water), solid (ice) or gas (steam), but the parallel breaks down if it is taken too far, and stops being helpful. Sometimes you can hear a hymn sung hundreds of times before particular words strike home with a new understanding. This happened recently to me with the hymn "Breath on me, Breath of God. Fill me with life anew." At the same time I came across Jesus' own illustration of the Holy Spirit as being like the wind in John 3, verses 6-8:
'Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at me saying, "You must be born again." The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.'

We are all control freaks as far as being in control of our own destiny is concerned. It is hard to trust and obey an unseen God when it means letting go and sailing in faith with the Wind. But if I don't and just drift along with the earth's flow, where will I end up?

Yes the question deepens, and we have all the gifts of the Spirit, baptism of the Spirit and so on. But then the denominational wrangles emerge and create a storm of their own. I think it's best to keep it simple so that you can actually feel the breeze that is directed at you.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

In the Beginning, Christ ...?

I passed a bookshop yesterday that has a 'new release' book called "CHRIST IN GENESIS". I haven't bought it yet, and don't want to until I put down my own thoughts first - just in case I get accused of copying!

Some folk will think this idea is out of sequence: surely Jesus wasn't born until the beginning of the New Testament? But most Christians will think straight away of the beginning of John's Gospel:
"In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. ...
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."
The idea that Christ was one with the Father before creation, and was the agent of creation itself, is certainly a part of orthodox Christian theology. But I was thinking of something else - the idea that Christ's purpose in coming into the world was prophesied in the Old Testament, and 'fore-shadowed' by the events described.

The story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4) always puzzled me. Yes, of course Cain's jealousy and murder of his brother was wrong, but it all came about because God rejected Cain's sacrifice of his 'fruits of the soil' in favour of Abel's 'firstborn of his stock'. After all, Cain worked the soil and Abel tended flocks. Only with the benefit of hindsight (i.e. the New Testament) do we understand the symbolic significance of blood sacrifice.

But the story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son Isaac (Genesis 22) to God's inexplicable request is even more striking. When the 'angel of the Lord' called out to Abraham at the last minute to revoke the request, the Lord provided a male sheep caught by its horns in a nearby thorn bush as a substitute.

The significance of this event as a fore-shadowing of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the Cross really hit me the last time I read this familiar story. Not the climax - but just before, when Abraham had taken the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on the back of his son Isaac for him to carry. I had not made any connection before with Jesus carrying the wood of his own cross to the hill at Calvary.

When they arrived, Isaac said to his father,

The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?

Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."

We used to have an embroidered text on the wall at home when I was a small boy. It said "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found". It is certainly true when you read Genesis.