I am editing and rewriting the fifth novel of my science fiction series. The society (the Snow People of Shushimee) the travelers encounter in this book had a written language at one time and, because it was associated with rituals they no longer understood, they had come to see it as evil. They knew the symbols, but no longer understood what they meant.
In this excerpt, the chaplain is getting ready to speak to his congregation. (Andez is his Chaplain’s assistant. Cooper is the Transport Chief who holds a particular grudge against God.)
As Andez conducted the early parts of vespers, Craig let his thoughts wander “We’re not much different than the Snow People. We don’t understand so many of the old society’s symbols anymore. We don’t understand the Shepherd, or the planting and sowing, or the patriarchal society. To the first believers it was comforting to think of God as father. And we think it’s as bad as it is good.” He looked around room and caught a glimpse of Cooper leaning against the chapel’s door jamb. “At least half these people don’t even know their fathers.” Andez took his seat, ready for Craig to speak. “God help me tell them about you in terms they understand.”
As I revisited this paragraph I returned to a subject I have been wrestling with for a while. It has to do with the changing view of God and how we deal with it. Here are a few reflections. And this is in no way a complete discussion of the subject. Hope they start your own thought journey.
When humanity lived in violent times, God was understood in terms that matched the violent times. King, ruler, God was judged by how much power his followers had. How strong they were. The things that symbolized strength to them were used as symbols for God. (The right hand, the horns of animals.)
When the world’s most valued institution was/is the family, it was/is natural to understand God as a loving father figure.
When success, getting ahead, making something of one’s self and acceptance by society is most valued, God is viewed as helping us achieve these goals.
And when individuality is uppermost in value, God is understood as a partner in a relationship.
When law and civil order is most valued, the symbols of God reflect those values.
When head knowledge, and education are most valued, theology becomes most important.
We cannot forget (yet we often do forget) any way we speak of God is symbolic. We cannot understand the magnitude and breadth and depth and multi-dimensions of God as a Spirit otherwise. The total otherness of God escapes us.
Because of their function, symbols have this habit of slipping in to God’s place. We worship the symbol instead of God:
Ritual and words,
The blood of Christ,
The shroud Christ was covered with,
The trappings of theology, as well as theology and dogmatics themselves,
Traditional symbols such as father, mother, shepherd, sower, reaper, king, ruler, provider, sustainer, power source,
The symbols and style of worship,
Victims, (as the symbol of Jesus’ teaching of the strong empowering the weak instead of oppressing)
are but a few symbols we deeply care about.
When Jesus was sent to earth, God provided the ultimate symbol of His love. He sent his son. Something all humans understand and relate to. So, the family symbol has been most enduring.
However, today many people no longer understand the Old Testament view of God. When we try to apply our values as a victim oriented society to their understanding we question the authority and actions of the Old Testament God. Yet, there are societies that have not been part of the world’s journey and understanding as people and society have put into practice the lessons Jesus brought with him from God. Some still see God through the eyes and symbols of conquest and dominance of the strong over the weak as it was before Jesus was sent into the world.
And even, as people and societies who try to put Jesus’ teachings into practice, we stumble and fail in the application of them. Sometimes our symbols are faulty. Sometimes we try to make God fit the symbols we love. And that may be okay in certain instances. Illustrations are often valuable to help us understand things about God we could not otherwise. And Illustrations often grow into symbols.
Having said all that, we must also understand if we change the symbols for God we do not change the essential nature of God. For instance, God as a mother symbol does not change God, it merely helps us understand the nurturing action of God.
If we can grasp that each symbol illustrates a specific part of God instead of the whole, we can comfortably use the symbols. In fact, I think God does things the way he does because he tries to use the things we understand. He speaks to us differently because we are all different people.
I understand God as a loving father because I happen to be have been blessed with a loving, mischievous, thinking, teacher and pastor of a father. Imperfect though he was as are all humans, he was a good model for God as father. But I don’t have to look very far to see people who cringe at the idea of God as father, or even male. And many cringe at the idea of Mother God.
Music speaks to me. It’s part of my very soul. God can get into my heart and grab my attention quicker by using beauty than any other way. Music as a symbol for God makes sense to me. My mother is tone deaf…a monotone even. God as beauty and music makes very little sense to her.
What are your symbols? What are the things in contemporary life that can become symbols to people who no longer understand ancient symbols? We need to go back and understand the ancient symbols before we can translate them for our new generations.
Do not be afraid when someone else’s symbols are different from yours. God is God. Even when called by another name or symbolized by a not-male or not-female Spirit instead of male father or female mother or a relationship partner instead of authority. We can examine each symbol and see what part of God it is speaking of. We can check it out with the Bible and see if that which the symbol is trying to bring to light is really part of God’s nature. Then we can accept or reject it.
But we do not have to live in fear of the changing world and its symbols.
…God did this so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast, and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
In a study about heaven, I came across a new idea about the anchor. As you may know, the anchor is a powerful symbol for me. I put the picture I took of a side anchor of a bridge driven deeply into the side of a mountain on the cover of my devotional book – “People of Faith in a Changing World.”
Anchors are about hope. Not the kind of hope that says “I hope I don’t fall,” or “I hope it doesn’t (or does) rain tomorrow,” or “I hope I didn’t hurt you.” It’s the pinning or driving our confidence into a framework of the magnitude of a huge mountain.
The hope is heaven (verse 14) and the sum of all the good that God has sworn to be for us in Jesus. “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul” can be restated as “What anchors our soul is not our subjective confidence, but the sure objective reality that God has promised. This is our anchor…” The anchor is sure and steadfast. It is the finished and purchased work of Jesus, our high priest.
Okay, we are convinced that God through Jesus Christ as our anchor.
But what if that anchor is firmly secured to heaven and Christ but the other end is not firmly attached? What if I have let go? Or if I have never really grasped the end dangling down from heaven? What if it is no longer hooked into the matching notch in my soul?
The anchor is not secure until it is fastened at both ends. It would be like laying a heavy-duty anchor on the deck of a ship and not attaching the chain to the ship. The possibility of it helping can be reassuring that it is available. But when crises is upon the ship, there may not be time to stop and connect the anchor before the crew needs to throw it overboard. And someone aboard needs to knows the proper way to connect the anchor to the ship.
Our “expert at hooking up the anchor” is Christ. He points the way. He provides the means – we call it salvation. Then he gives us ‘the enabling power to hold fast.’
So we lay hold of the hope and live our lives hooked into heaven.
I got a picture of millions of chains or ropes dangling down from heaven. Ready. Waiting. Inviting. Waiting for us to lay hold of the rope of hope. Let us lay hold and remain as steadfast on our end as it is on God’s end.
And so we pray: Our God, give us the courage lay hold of your hope and steadfastly attach our souls to your promise and presence. Help us live out that hope in the presence of all around us. Help us understand we don’t have to follow everyone else’s ideas swirling around us when they push and demand that we need to replace that hope with something we can touch and hold and prove. Remain steadfast In our lives and help us remain steadfast in our hope.
Inspired by and quotes from a sermon by John Piper called Hope Anchored in Heaven (Web Site: Searching for Christ)
See to it that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your body is full of light and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp is upon you.
I spent this summer having eye surgery. I did not get much writing done because my eyes got tired very easily. However, I never lost the ability to see well enough to read music and play piano except for the actual recovery time. For you see, I had developed a cataract in my right eye so thick and opaque light was no longer able to get into the eye. As soon as that was removed, and even before the eye healed, the amount of light that was suddenly flowing through the eye nearly restored my vision to my mid twenty’s level.
I began to have a new idea about the ‘light’ scriptures. This particular one talks about our whole life being lit if Christ’s light is in our life. Another scripture speaks of the eyes being the source of light for the whole body, referring to our soul being lit with Christ’s light results in our whole life being filled with light.
My doctor promised color would come alive again, and indeed it has. “Great vision is ahead for you!” I hardly believed him. But I could begin to believe as the light streaming into my eye for the first time in years became tolerable and vision cleared through healing. Most of that had happened even before I had surgery on the second eye.
The lessons God has reminded me of start with the fact of my unawareness of what was happening. Quite a while ago, I was informed that cataracts were beginning to form, but it would be decades before I would even know they were there. It has not been decades, but even at that I could not tell I was losing my awareness of bright colors. Just in the last two years have I gotten worried about my vision. Still I could not believe a cataract of such severe nature snuck up on me.
And the faith lesson is obvious. We drift away from God, really quite unaware our spiritual awareness has dimmed. Then something happens and we turn, hands out and blindly feel for God. Darkness has crept into our lives as we compromise with the darkness around us. What that looks like for each of us is different. Sometimes we have sunken so low we can no longer believe change is possible. We can’t get a grip on God’s love, presence, and constant forgiving grace. Sometimes we even quit believing.
The light of life is gone.
I had not realized how tentative my life had become as I automatically adjusted to limitations. I no longer enjoyed driving and getting out by myself. I, unthinking, turned down opportunities to play piano because confidence faltered. I assumed it was all stress and the need for rest as my life’s situation had changed. That was partly true, but now I see, I just could not read music fast enough to keep up. God did use that to force me to get very much-needed rest, but once I could see better, confidence returned.
And, as we put out blind hands and encounter God, life slowly returns. Then, one day, full life is again possible. Christ’s light comes back into our souls, and once again we have light to shine onto those around us who look to us for illumination.
Of course, the answer to that is always be aware of and take care of things as they come into our lives. I had indeed taken steps to keep cataract development slow. I addressed the sugar thing that was heading toward diabetes and other physical things that are known to foster eye problems, yet I wasn’t quick enough. And as humans, we get sidetracked, by even good things, so easily. May God help us to identify those distractions as they are beginning to get the upper hand instead of waiting until we have lost the light from our spiritual eyes.
Jude 1: 9-10
9But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” 10Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct— as irrational animals do— will destroy them.
I DON’T GET IT
In seminary my husband had a teacher who told them while they were preaching not to refer to obscure references as illustrations because they would lose the congregation’s understanding. This scripture is a perfect illustration. No one knows what Jude is referring to. No where in the Old Testament is Michael recorded arguing with the devil over the fate if Moses’ body. There are some traditions advanced scholars have flushed out such as God hid Moses’ body to keep it from becoming an idol, but even those ideas are scarce.
We understand Jude Is making a contrast. Even Michael when doing something as important as protecting the great Moses’ body did not stoop to slander. But we feel left out because we do know about the incident to which he refers.
Now we know how many people feel when we speak “Christian -eeze.” We understand what we mean. Perhaps people of our own denomination and church understand what we mean, but the further we get away from the church the less people know the illustrations.
To me this passage is a challenge to study and understand what the terms and illustrations (examples or references) we use originally meant so I can reword them before I use them outside the church.
Our traditions are rich. We don’t have to abandon them. But as society around us grows more secular, we will have find new ways to express our faith so we remain Christ’s representatives today, not merely yesterday’s symbols. And we need to teach people the traditions, what they mean. We need to keep teaching what the symbols mean. We need to teach the Old Testament to understand how we can expect God to relate to us today by seeing how he related to them. We cannot assume even our own children understand. These days life changes radically from one generation to the next. We all must teach by what we say and what we are.
God does not change. The way he relates to us, his love for us, his understanding of us will not ever change. I relax in he presence as I become convinced of that, but the way that relationship looks changes from society to society and generation to generation. We need not be frightened of that.
I had taken a year off to work part time because both of us were working full time.
I explored part-time work.
Thought I might contract with a funeral home in OKC.
Everyone was set. They needed no one.
Plan set aside.
Loierrty-years (Hand covering mouth so you won’t know how many) later
God handed me the opportunity to do that very thing.
I’ve just finished the one book I had to write (People of Faith in a Changing World) based on my journals
I’ve gotten health problems solved
And God took care of another dream – to regularly use my piano playing professionally.
I told someone just when I face reality and say to myself, “This is it. What is here is what I will be content with.”
God comes along and says, “I’m not done yet.”
“I put this idea in your head a long time ago so when the opportunity came,
You would be ready to accept.”
Same thing happened when my husband had the opportunity to
Move from the pastorate into chaplaincy.
It tells me God is a living, active spirit in my world.
It tells me God doesn’t play with my life.
It tells me God is the author of my dreams as well as gives me abilities,
And just because the dream doesn’t happen now, doesn’t mean they never will.
It tells me I will always have something to contribute
No matter what else changes in life.
I rejoice as I realize God can and will continue to use me.
I am here, God, take who I am
The abilities you have given me,
For the comfort of others.
May I never tire of service,
May I always rejoice in serving.
May you all find peace and love throughout the Christ of Christmas. Blessings.
Review People of Faith in a Changing World
By David Ramous
I love devotionals (hence why I’m writing a whole series of them). A good devotional is like ahealthy snack The author has to really understand what they want to say and then communicate the truth in a short, digestible means – one that is also powerful and true.
This book does that extremely well.
Now, this book is not a short one. It’s300+ pages with literally hundreds of devotions ranging across all of Scripture. The author writes clearly, and I felt recharges as I brought this book with me on my recent trip to Georgia.
The book contains both honesty and variety. I never got bored, and there was a nice mix of stories, poetry, deep theology and much more.
Anyone looking for a large anthology of devotions should definitely check this book out.
Thank you to David Ramos for the kind words. I have been following David’s blog and he has written a book of devotionals called Climbing with Abraham. I have ordered it and read most of it. See a review on my page ‘Book I read’. It is worth your time.
I Corinthians 13:10
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love
Squeezed between faith and charity is that little word, hope.
I have come to believe the shape of the world today is because so many people no longer have hope. People (with the exception of those who kill to obtain a place in heaven) who fall into addiction and are incited into violence because they think that’s all there is. There is no future, and they might as well as live for today’s pleasures. And then there’s the anger that grows into hate that becomes disdain for society and life. I wonder if it starts with people rebelling against feeling hopeless and helpless.
I do understand in this world of complexities, that might be just bit simple. But it holds up in a lot of instances. Many insightful people in the secular world are looking for ways to give these disenfranchised young people hope so they can find their way out of their present nothingness.
That life can be different
That I don’t have to repeat the mistakes of my parents.
That I can be a person of consequence.
That I might be lovable and loved.
That I might make a difference because of being here.
When that hope is pinned upon help from governmental agencies, education, important people I know, family, money, marriage or career, hopes can get smashed very quickly. Many people despair, thinking life cannot be different. Help can be found in all the agencies we have in place, and people’s lives have been changed by them.
But even after we have received the help we need, there still are times of strong support and times when everything seems to desert us at once. Where is our hope when the hard times return?
My hope is in the Lord.
But stronger words never spoken.
Because I have prayed and asked for guidance and wisdom, I have hope:
That I can make wise decisions
About where I put myself
The people I let influence me
The career I follow
The way I spend money
The choice of spouse I make,
How I relate to people around me.
All those things affect the way I end up living my life and the benefits I reap because God makes me into a better person. And when I fail, I find forgiveness and hope that I can start again.
God doesn’t run out of his funds of love or strength or grace or opportunities like people, careers or agencies we put our hope in run short of resources. It is the steadfastness, the all powerfulness, the love that we place our hope in.
And because God never fails, our hope never wavers.
So I Pray: God of hope, give me the wisdom to live my life in a way that reflects the hope I have placed in you. Help me be a representative of what hope can give people the courage to try. By my example, help people understand that in God’s hope there is the possibility of a different life.
“Much of what I know today will not be so tomorrow….” This quote from a devotion in “People of Faith in a Changing World” reflects the uncertainty of our world. Jo Bower has kept a journal through the changes in her life, and shares some 200 devotions based on those journals.
Encouragement, God’s faithfulness, growth, unity, asking ‘why,’ balance, change and overcoming are all themes readers will encounter in “People of Faith in a Changing World.” Seasonal Devotions are also part of this collection.
This book is available at Amazon.com, Kindle, and you local bookstore can order from Ingram Distributors.
Message from the author: It is my pleasure to share the book I’ve been writing my whole life. The I hope you glean as much from the devotions as I have in the living of them in God’s presence. Enjoy them and blessings to all.