Monday, 9 February 2015

In deep water

Here is a  moment in theology that we are asked to step out of the shallows where we have been paddling and wade out into deeper water where we run the risk of being knocked off our feet by strong waves, or  swept away by various currents or even drowned.
But it is out there in the deep water that Paul bids us to follow him. So let us walk out into the dark choppy waters. We quickly find that much of our language, our symbols and our analogies are inadequate, but we have no other way to express them.
Consider Paul’s opening verse here. “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”
Most sane people will now have backtracked and be wading back to the shallows. Give me a good old fashioned miracle to explain rather than this kind of thing. But Paul invites us to stay with him.
Christ is the image of the invisible God. Well someone or something that is invisible plainly can’t have an image so with the water up to our waist now that statement comes at us like a strong wave that nearly knocks us off our feet ...and yet we kind of understand what Paul is trying to get at here.  We understand that he is trying to convey a family likeness, that in some way Jesus exactly reflects the attributes of God.
Now that likeness is certainly not a physical resemblance so therefore Paul must be alluding to a spiritual, a moral likeness, a unity of will or purpose perhaps.
Many centuries later it was Archbishop Michael Ramsey who articulated well what Paul says here when he said “God is as Jesus is”.
We know what God is like because we know what Jesus is like. We Christians make all sorts of statements about God –
We say that God is loving, that God is forgiving, that God is compassionate, that God is just and true. But how do we know that God is like that? The answer is simple. We know God is like that because Jesus was like that and Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. Jesus is the one who reveals  God’s nature and purpose.
Without ever saying anything so overt and bold as “Jesus is God” Paul says something that comes close yet still retains that distance between Jesus and his and our Father. Paul says about Jesus “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Sublime use of words there. “In Jesus the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”.
Paul sends another wave crashing over our heads as well making us gasp for air, “For in him all things in heaven and earth were created”
We are now getting into the kind of ideas that quite rightly make our heads spin. But logically we know that at the dawn of creation when nothing existed except the infintessimally small piece of matter that exploded to create the universe billions of years ago there wasn’t  a First century Galilean carpenter standing there.
And if he wasn’t what or who was? Because all things were made through him according to Paul.   
Something or someone spiritual, not physical was there and they worked alongside God in creation.
Now this spiritual entity though whom all things were created has a name in the Bible. It is called Wisdom.
Now in the Hebrew Bible the relationship between Wisdom and God is a bit like the relationship between Jesus and God that Paul is trying to articulate. In fact it is the same kind of relationship. Near, overlapping, doing the same work but not identical to God.
Proverbs (8:22 - 9:1) . In it "Wisdom" is speaking......    
"The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up,  at the first, before the beginning of the earth.  When there were no depths I was brought forth,
   when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped,
   before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,  rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world
   and delighting in the human race.
‘And now, my children, listen to me:  happy are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,  and do not neglect it. Happy is the one who listens to me,  watching daily at my gates,  waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life  and obtains favour from the Lord; but those who miss me injure themselves;  all who hate me love death.’ Wisdom has built her house,  she has hewn her seven pillars."
Identifying Jesus Christ with Holy Wisdom is not new – far from it. For centuries the greatest Church in all Christendom was dedicated to Christ and it was called the Haghia Sofia – The Holy Wisdom of God. Jesus is the word or the wisdom of God made flesh.

So we have waded out and now we are getting out of our depth so we can now make our way back in to shallower water, but the more often we go out into deep water the more confident we become and eventually we may learn to swim and swim strongly in the deep water of our faith, but to do so we need to keep getting out there. 

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