Research seems to suggest that in our communication a very small percentage of what we convey is verbal. The vast majority is nonverbal. Facial expressions, body language and other seemingly intangibles seem to convey the bulk of our communication. Context, culture, possibly physical proximity, maybe even smell, touch, voice tone, physical appearance, all these seem to be in there in larger chunks than our spoken, articulated speech and the exact meaning it is intended to convey.
We live in a predominantly textual world where written communication is so prevalent and indeed, important. Precision, articulation, definition, accuracy, reference, all these are extremely important to us.
Thousands of years ago a man called Moses is recorded as climbing up a mountain and spending a very large amount of time alone with God. He allegedly brought down the exact detail of this time speaking with God and what he heard was later written down also in exacting detail, and these teachings have influenced the world possibly like no other in history.
Interestingly, the only small section of this dialogue that was written whilst up on the mountain was that which has come to be known as the “Ten Commandments.” These words were written down by the hand of God himself, chiseled out on tablets of hard stone. The biblical narrative tells us that these two stone tablets were thrown to the ground and broken by Moses in a rage at the disobedience of the people waiting at the base of the mountain. Shortly after this event a duplicate was re-chiseled.
This duplicate is now lost.
Now, if I had stood in front of you and instead of writing (or typing) these words, I had instead spoken them to you and then suddenly asked you to move immediately away and under strict examination conditions I had asked you to write down in exact detail what you have just heard from me I am convinced that most would get a very low mark. Possibly much less than 40% would be totally accurate. If the test was repeated 30 minutes later the mark would very likely be even lower, maybe 20%? what about a repeat test a day later? In a week? a month? in a year? Now this is not because you are stupid or uneducated, but simply because you are human. You and I are made this way. This is the way we are and it reflects the reality of the limitations we have in the way we process and retain information. Vocal (non-literate) cultures utilise repetition and combine this with various physical acts like dance and song, story, myth, drama, etc. to optimise retention, entrench values and history and successfully preserve culture. The Hebrew people, even though they were a literate culture (also having spent hundreds of years in Egypt), did a lot of this kind of thing too.
However, from what it appears Moses walked down the mountain to join the people with what God had said. It was conveyed that the exact detail of all the words given to Moses had to be adhered to under fear of death. Even to this day the same devotion to detail is present.
I cannot help but marvel at the events just spoken of. Without trying to appear being disrespectful I wonder how realistic this all really is? Some questions and thoughts immediately spring to my mind. Without dishonouring or insulting anyone it might be interesting, and I believe very helpful to entertain some of these (and possibly many others) and see how it might impact us.
What happened up there on the mountain? What was done? How did God speak to Moses? Did Moses just listen or did he also speak? What about the fact that Moses was human just like us, with the same basic communication skills and biological makeup? Surely Moses processed communication like we all do (with only a small percentage being accessed and absorbed through verbal communication)? I’m really not trying to be controversial or disrespectful at all here but what else did they do? Did they dance? Was anything actually said verbally? If it was, what would have been Moses’ limitations? Surely God knew that Moses was made like he was? I mean, God made him didn’t he? Moses is recorded as being up there for days, even weeks at a time. That’s a whole lot of communicating especially if it was all speaking and listening. I’ve said that Moses was up the mountain with God for a long time. It doesn’t take weeks to read through every word that is recorded in the teachings of Moses. It would take less than a few hours even if one reads quite slowly. So what happened the rest of the time? Maybe they just hung with each other? Did Moses sleep a lot? or at least a whole lot more than usual? Did he dream a whole lot? What form did the communication take? was it conceptual? abstract? linear? random? lateral? Like the process of osmosis was it absorbed?
Elsewhere in the biblical narrative it is written that God personally spoke to Moses face to face and not in dreams and dark sayings like he spoke to others. What was this ‘face to face’ communication process? Did it entail dialogue? Did they discuss the details of God’s legal requirements? How much if any of the detail was Moses’ idea? Did God ask any questions? Did Moses give any advice? Were they good friends or did Moses sit very, very still and not dare say a thing? Was it a monologue or a dialogue? Did they laugh? Could God have been far less prescriptive than we could ever imagine? As a lateral example, could the chiseled ten commandments have been all that God actually prescribed and the rest given to Moses to take the liberty of filling in the gaps, thereby building up a culture of honour around God and what Moses had ‘absorbed’ about God and his ways whilst up on the mountain? Like Adam was included in the process of designating the animals was Moses included in the cultural outworking of God’s spiritual requirements?
This may seem like meaningless speculation to some but what could it possibly suggest or possibly say about the way that God might want to communicate with us? It may seem to some that I might be trying to suggest that Moses simply made up some stuff and told the people that God had said specific things and that it is all a hoax, well, not at all. What I am saying is that to my mind approaching these possibilities very possibly expands and amplifies the beauty of the biblical narrative and explodes all manner of possibilities into so many wonderful arenas. It could serve to open up the way we hear from as well as speak to God and each other. Instead of digging our heels in on the textual specifics we could rather explore and experience just what Jesus might have meant when he said that if we are set free by him we would be free indeed. Surely the freedom Jesus spoke of is not explained by the way the present day church has embraced the singing of popular rock songs in worship and going to church in informal attire? Surely God’s liberty is not summed up in his children being able to copy the pop culture that surrounds them and embrace high-end technology as a legitimate form of worship rather than the old pipe organs and acoustic guitars?
In our modern social culture we focus on such a literal medium of information transfer. Most of our communal gatherings are dominated by a single speaker who delivers a non-stop monologue for as much as an hour or even more. How effective is this really in terms of information transfer and retention? Is this really God’s choice pattern? One talking head and a multitude of nodding ones? Is this what happened up on the mountain?
What really happened up there on the mountain? Who might have the courage to try explore the possibilities?
Now that the mountain has been removed and cast into the sea shouldn’t we be asking what could be happening now?
When Christ’s work was done on earth the veil was torn from top to bottom. This was clearly not done by the hands of men. Could it be that we have been unwittingly sewing it up again?
Why, if Jesus was and is the fulfillment of all God’s promises to mankind and the exact representation of God Almighty as so many devout followers believe did he not personally write down detailed textual instructions for us to follow? Why did he speak and teach in the way he did? If anyone had the right to be legally and literally formal and meticulously demanding it was Jesus, yet the gospel narrative paints a very different picture. What message might this contain for us?
What really happened up there on the mountain?
What is really happening on the mountain right now?
Who might have the courage to boldly try explore the possibilities?
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