Tuesday, 1 April 2014

I Am

Curious, that passage in Exodus 3. God is described as a fairly typical god - suddenly noticing that the Hebrews are in trouble, remembering that - didn't he have a covenant with someone in the past?  Oh yeah - Abraham and Isaac and co. Resolving to do something about it. Nipping down and manifesting Godself to Moses in a burning bush. All a bit Zeus-ish. I realise that some liberals would probably argue that what actually happened was that Moses just got confused by a pyracantha. But then they should probably figure it's easier to decide Moses never existed. At least then they can get back to singing "Lord of the Dance".

But out of this fairly normal, god-wandering-about-occasionally-interfering-with-life-on-earth stuff - God as superhuman, superhero, big father-figure with normal residence a cloud - comes a different conception of God entirely.

It's the name gives it away, innit? "I am what I am" - or any of the many other ways of translating it. Moses, brought up in the Egyptian tradition of multiple gods - unless, of course, step-dad was the Heretic - realises that this God isn't a god. This YHWH isn't one among many, to be played off against each other. This isn't a god created in the form of human beings - natural and understandable as that is. Sky, Earth, Sea, Sun, Moon, Life, Death - this is the One who Is - revealed in all of these, yet captured in none of them.

And later the story of creation, of forming from chaos - was transformed from a fight between dirty, sexy gods that are actually just us, but big - into an act of sheer will. No fight, no monster - just God and a desire to create light and trees, polar ice caps, black holes and people.  Sure, the author of Genesis 1 didn't know about black holes - but I don't suppose he'd have been shocked to find God made them as well.

This God who isn't a god turns out not to be a being,  but to be Being.  The old analogy of artist and art is useful only to a point - as the art can outlive the artist.  But this artist simultaneously transcends the picture, yet is unable to stand back from the picture.

Because the art comes from this artist - because beings depend on Being, I expect to find things about the artist from the work. The scientist finds consistency, predictability, and yet wonder. The poet finds dreams, hints of other things. The religious find both beauty, awe and terror - and a call to a moral law, based on that consistency and truth, that we still work out.

And the Christian comes away convinced that the artist is actually painted into the picture. Apparently, like Hitch in a film, as an extra, in the corner of a scene. It's only when you can see it right that, like the skull in Holbein's Ambassadors, you discover in fact the artist is the focus of the whole work. And was all the time - "before Abraham was, I am."

And in fact, if you look really closely, the relationship is even closer than that. Turns out we are written indelibly - maybe even carved - on the palms of the artist's hands

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