We are told by surveys and the media that more and more Australians no longer believe in ‘god’. Yet, if you asked them what the ‘god’ that they don’t believe in is like, I would have to say that I don’t believe in that ‘god’ either. For most people, god is a being who is a long way away, living in something like heaven, which most likely is ‘up there’ somewhere; this god looks down in a very critical and judgemental way upon the earth, condemning most people and what we/they get up to; occasionally he does intervene and does miracles; he sends ‘bad people’ to hell and allows ‘good people’ to spend eternity with him in heaven. But the vision that lies behind this understanding of God, is not Christianity, but 19th century Deism, which is itself the fruit of Enlightenment thinking. It is so unfortunate that this seems to be the most common understanding of an idea that is so much richer. For if you understand God only as a watchmaker, who sets the world in motion and then allows it to run its own course, then that god quickly becomes irrelevant and disappears. No wonder so many people say they don’t believe in that god!
In the Judaism that Jesus of Nazareth was born into, God was so much more than this. Judaism is monotheistic, but it is a belief in a creational and covenantal monotheism. The sovereign one, who revealed himself to Moses as ‘the one who is’ (or YHWH) was the creator or maker of all things who remains in close and dynamic relation with his creation; and this God called Israel to be his special people. Five ideas interplay in the Jewish understanding of God: the Spirit of God brooded over the waters of chaos in the story of creation; God’s word was creative to produce new life; God’s law (Torah) guides and forms his people; God’s presence or glory (Shekinah) dwells with the people in the fiery cloud / tabernacle / temple; and finally, God’s wisdom (which is one of the feminine ideas about God) was his handmaid in creation, the first of his works and the instrument for fashioning all things – especially humans. These five ideas revolve in a dynamic and active dance that allows for a simultaneous sovereign supremacy and an intimate presence and an unapproachable holiness and a self-giving compassionate love. The early church began to realise after the events of the death and resurrection, that this is the God who was revealed in the baby born in Bethlehem.
Recorded at St Paul’s, Vigil of the Nativity (6’44”)