History is filled with nations colonizing other nations. Conquest is almost an historical given. Villages invading villages, clans invading clans, nations invading nations, laying siege to bounty, conquering and pillaging. And the spoils, …. power, wealth, land, riches, natural resources, technology, culture.
It’s all fairly logical really; as one grows and expands there seems to be no way to stop it. One group outgrows itself and needs more resources so it stretches its borders to accommodate this or they simply get crazy and desire to be all powerful.
Like it or not conquest seems to be a part of our essential makeup. It’s been of late a much more subtle endeavour, but colonialism has reached epic proportions over the last few hundred years. Colonialism is more or less an act of invading and subjugating other lands and if necessary, the people living there. For reasons of need or greed or merely insane megalomania this delightful little practice is very much with us today even in our ever so educated, sophisticated and technologically advance world. Conquering states either destroy other nations or put them under pressure to conform to theirs or some specific way of life that suits them. The dominant aggressor pressurizes the weaker to essentially submit to their own value systems whatever these may be. The conquering invader extracts the bounty of the new conquest, exploiting it for themselves, often hauling it away. Usually this is done with little or no regard for the defeated and now plundered natives. These days it is cloaked in politically correct terms like ‘foreign policy,’ ‘democracy,’ freedom of speech, etc. If the natives are not utterly destroyed they are usually stripped of their culture and their sovereign dignity. These days the stripping is very cleverly and subtly applied (just reflect on the pervasive, globally saturating western culture and capitalism and of course democracy and you should get a fairly clear picture).
It is my view that in this present time we are doing the same to and with God. We in the church might not be all that bright, but we can see a good thing when it comes around.
There is tribalism based conflict and clan faction fighting everywhere in the church and we even run our systems like a military machine with generals and storm troops, intelligence agencies, and of course, the expendable infantry or ‘foot-soldiers’ …. but I digress, that is for another blog (so watch this space folks!!!!).
On perhaps a slightly more lateral angle I want to suggest that we have, whether wittingly or unwittingly, started defining God by our own symbols, by our own meaning, and ascribing values to him that are essentially our own. To my mind this is very much like a subtle form of colonialism. Having begun as a noble species created in the image of God, we have returned the favour and subtly started creating God in our own image.
Let me try to explain what I mean….
A quick glance over church history reveals how trends and culture shifts in the way we practice our religion as well as what and how we proclaim the truth (all the while declaring passionately that ‘truth’ is absolute and immutable). However, these shifts are clearly evident. (As a humourous side note: in the 1980’s we used to chuckle about the way that the sounds of the languages of “speaking in tongues” was specific to the age of the speaker. We felt that we could even predict when that person had their ‘encounter’ in this regard).
It does not take too much digging to see just how closely these shifts in theology and methodology are linked to the conditions in the world at the time. If there is a prevalent need in the time our views of God seem to amazingly shift to accommodate us so that God can meet our needs. (This may not seem like so bad a thing, but its effects are deep and extremely long lasting). It’s pressure and pain that is most often the mother of invention, but that sort of creativity can go almost any way, good or bad.
Now we do believe that God is constant and we base this view on scriptural texts that state that God is the same “yesterday, today and forever,” yet the religious trends and shifts are clear in history. So, who changed? It couldn’t be God, could it? If so, we would need to at least be honest and admit this, which we can’t.
We can’t see ourselves changing so we’re not being intentionally deviant and much like the proverbial frog in slow boiling water we don’t see the change coming at all until it’s usually too late. Yet every ‘season’ of theology has its own set of generals who believe emphatically that they are correct and prophetically mandated, able, confident and obedient ambassadors of God in all truth. This too may not seem all that important or even bad, but it has caused so much pain, trauma, division and even destruction in the lives of so many.
I started off by saying that God does not speak English. Well, God is aligned to no language actually. God is in us and with us, but he is for himself. Yes, he extends himself towards us with unimaginable grace, but he does not compromise who he is to make us feel better. I’m sorry to inform you that God is not here to meet your every need as the evangelists told us all those years ago. You see, God does not change, we do. God’s perspective does not change, yes, you guessed it, but ours does. And lastly, God’s ‘word’ does not change, but sadly, ours does.
The reality is that language changes. It changes all the time. We need to be aware of this because we use language to define our world and even more so as we advance so rapidly as a species, especially in the arena of technological development. And let’s face it, change is not only here to stay, but change is increasing exponentially all the time. Change is virtually the only constant we have these days.
Language is as much a casualty of this change as anything else. We also use this same changing language to understand God so it is not surprising that we find that we tend to attempt to stabilize ourselves by digging in to some form of understanding that leaves us inevitably well behind the pace of reality. We also use this ever changing language to communicate with each other about God, life and meaning.
Language is merely an attempt at putting agreed upon symbols down in understandable form to represent a perceived reality that provokes a need for understanding and definition . It is when the reality (or ‘truth’) becomes subservient to the symbols originally created to define or understand it that we experience real problems, and in my opinion even violation. This is true for the sciences and humanities as well as for our understanding and communication of God.
When we even unwittingly place the cart before the horse in this manner we can lock God into a humanly defined, textual prison. At the end of the day we suffer the consequences ourselves. The rise of fundamentalism in all religions is an example of this. Unwittingly we end up making God speak our way, according to our own language. God begins to act like we do, feel like we do, think like we do. When we are attacked, God is attacked. When we strike our enemies back, God is striking our enemies back. If we justify our actions, God justifies our actions. God becomes like one of us. He even looks like us. He even speaks English.
In all of this we tend to start defining the infinite by our limited, finite perspectives. In froggy land no one does things on purpose, things just happen. In froggy land the temperature remains constant.
My concern is that those of us who so sincerely desire to honour and love God for everything that God is could be breaking down the relationship and banishing ourselves to dark little boxes without lids, peep holes, or clean, fresh air to breath.
So, sorry folks, God does not speak English, we do (unless of course, you don’t speak English, but then how on earth are you reading and understanding this?)