God's Word on Sunday: God is beyond all our descriptive words

  • June 6, 2019

Trinity Sunday, June 16 (Year C) Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

God cannot be contained within any word, concept, image or symbol. 

Humans grope for ways to describe what is ineffable and infinite in terms that we can understand. We must speak in metaphors and symbols. When we are too narrow and rigid about our God language, we are guilty of trying to control and confine God. 

The Scriptures contain a wealth of metaphors to express the broad range of divine qualities. The Wisdom tradition is one of the richest, arising in a time that the Hebrew tradition encountered Greek thought, especially speculation on creation and the cosmos. 

In the reading from Proverbs, Lady Wisdom describes herself as having been at God’s side from the very beginning, before the world was created and before anything existed. She was present and at God’s side at every stage of creation — the establishment of the heavens, the deep, the sea and the foundations of the Earth. 

These are all reminiscent of the series of questions God fired at Job from the whirlwind in Job 38. 

Only one who was present really knows God and is qualified to speak. Lady Wisdom was a master worker, assisting God in creation. Not only did she rejoice and delight in God, but in humanity itself. 

This metaphor was eventually readapted and associated with Jesus in the first few verses of John’s Gospel and several verses in Matthew, Luke and Colossians. 

The Wisdom tradition challenges us not to shrink from thinking of the divine in feminine terms as well as masculine. As we move into a new century and millennium with its many challenges, we might be bold enough to deepen our understanding by using other metaphors to think about God. This is not about changing doctrine but transforming the images that reside in our sacred imagination. 

Since we view the universe in evolutionary terms, perhaps “master builder” is not so helpful. Several theologians have already begun to reframe God language in ways that take account of our scientific understanding of creation. Even gendered language in reference to God is being debated. 

But we must always remember: God will always be far above and beyond any descriptive words that we ever use.

In human terms, wisdom is life-knowledge and God-consciousness that flows from our earthly experience, especially suffering. Jesus has opened the channel of God’s grace for us and given us the hope of sharing the divine glory. By our response to and interaction with suffering and challenges, we grow in character, endurance and hope. This prepares us for the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit and the sharing of God’s glory.

Jesus did not cease communicating with us after His departure from this world. In John’s Gospel, Jesus assured His followers that He would always be with them and would continue to instruct and guide them. He would accomplish this through the Spirit of truth, which He would pour into their hearts and minds. 

He still had many things to tell them, but He did not want to give them more than they could handle at the time. 

What is striking is His insistence that God had given Him everything and that He was willing and eager to share it all with us. This Spirit of truth is not the possession of particular individuals but is the birthright of all who believe in the name of Jesus and have been gifted with His Spirit. 

The Spirit instructs the entire community and speaks to and through all who are willing to be open to its gift. That is the catch: The Spirit cannot instruct those who are unwilling to be taught, especially those who think they are already in possession of the absolute truth. 

We face many challenges today: environmental, political, economic, social and religious. These challenges have polarized our societies. Most people are not listening to others and very few are listening to the Spirit. 

God continues creative activity in the world and still delights in us. God has not walked off and left us to our own devices. We have tried the human way of running things and the frightening world in which we live is the result. 

Let us allow the Spirit to pour God’s love into our hearts so that we can listen to our divine teacher.

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