Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Why Contemplative Christianity Is Neither Contemplative Nor Christianity: Part Deux

In this second installment, I want to argue what Scripture argues for itself--namely, that it is the knowledge and application of Scripture that suggests Christian maturity, as it is the exclusive medium by which we must know God and His will. God cannot be known through direct experience. Hence, it is only through God's revealing of Himself that one can come to a mature knowledge and life in Him.

Hence, the Scripture teaches what I call "Sinai Theology" that serves as a foundation to understanding God and His will for our lives.

Although many focus on the great miracles in Exodus, the core of Exodus is actually what is often assumed to be that much more boring section concerning the law and tabernacle. The law is set down by God and then instruction for a tabernacle are given. The narrative is interrupted by the Israelite rebellion in making the golden calf. After judgment, the text describes the execution of the instructions God gave concerning the tabernacle, along with the building of a chest to hold the tablets upon which the covenant is written.

Now, you may be asking, "What does all of that have to do with Scripture?" Well, here it is. The law through Scripture, represents all of God's written revelation (Second Temple Judaism even considered unwritten revelation given via tradition as law). It is God and His will revealed.
The interesting thing about that is that God instructs the Israelites to build a tabernacle, which is a moveable temple representing Mt. Sinai, the place where God gave His Word to the people and met with them.

Like other deities in the ancient Near East, God can be met at the tabernacle. His presence is mediated there. But through what is it mediated? Temples are for idols. There is no idol. Or is there?

The very reason why God has the Israelites construct a temple is because He does have an idol. It is the medium through which the divine must be known. But it is not an idol that one can merely approach and experience physically. It is not an idol that leaves one to contemplate his own views of God and the divine will. It is, instead, a written idol, an idol of words, to which one must incline his ear rather than his eye, and to which one must bow his mind rather than his knee. He must submit his own opinions, gained from finite experience, to that which is externally told to him.

This is why the giving of the Word and the tabernacle are juxtaposed to the Israelite sin of making the golden calf. Notice that Aaron does not say that they are worshiping another god, but rather that, once the idol is made, there will be a feast to YHWH. The sin here, therefore, is not a sin of explicitly worshiping another god, but of implicitly worshiping another god by attempting to worship YHWH through a medium by which neither He nor His will can be known.

Hence, by the time we get to Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History (something the Exodus narrative, having been written later, assumes), God warns the Israelites with the strongest language possible to listen to what He has spoken rather than seek to experience Him through some other means. This is why the high places are condemned and the temple is central in Deuteronmistic theology. It is only through the Word, and therefore, in the temple where the Word is housed, that God can be worshiped. This was not meant to be something in terms of a Jewish Mecca, but rather yet another physical picture to teach the Israelites, and the Church to follow, the centrality and necessity of Scripture in having a relationship with God.

Hence, the Psalms lift up the Word of God as the pure light by which God can be known, as opposed to the generic revelation of creation by which only a display of His glory is seen in light of His Word. This is why Proverbs tells us that a path seems right to a man but the end thereof are the ways of death. This is why the prophets decry the use of idols. And this is why John then applies this theology to Jesus, who is the Logos "Word" who reveals the Father through His teaching, sends the Spirit of Truth to sanctify His people in God's Word, and alone has words of eternal life. This is why God must be worshiped in Spirit and truth, and that the words Jesus speaks are bread and life. And this is why He calls His body the temple.

This is why Christians, who have the Spirit of God dwell in them once they have the Word placed in their minds, and why the community is also a temple being fitted together in which the Spirit dwells, i.e., because the revelation of God is revealed and interpreted therein.

You see, therefore, that what is often falsely called "bibliolatry" is nothing more than faithful Christianity. It is biblical religion as opposed to idolatry that seeks to experience God apart from His own revealed, spoken truth. Actual bibliolatry is practiced when one venerates the Bible in theory but does not contemplate its truths, but rather ignores them for what is deemed more valuable pursuits (whether worldly or "spiritual"). It is when one kisses the physical Bible but ignores its message. It is when one speaks of it as God's Word but treats it as secondary to his own experience. True mature worship of God trembles at His Word (Isa 66:2). And it is within that individual that God comes to dwell and commune.

Hence, the Scripture tells us to meditate upon it day and night, that a young man can keep his mind pure in proceeding to maturity by focusing his thoughts on what God has said, and that it stabilizes one's walk in life and light as opposed to children who are at play in the dark.

It is through Scripture that God's people come to know Him in the first place (faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God), the middle place (sanctify them in truth, Thy Word is truth), and the last place (until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head). 

Some sought God through idols. Some sought Him through conjuring up the dead. Some sought Him through omens. But we seek Him through His Word, because hearing requires trust in the One who is heard, and this is our primary submissive act toward God.

Christianity without this understanding isn't Christianity. The Word is always central in our relationship with God, and it is only the paganism of the old self that leads the immature in the faith to consider other pathways to know and worship Him. 

The hidden things belong to the LORD our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law." (Deut 29:29) 

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