Friday, January 29, 2010

GOD is an Undocumented Alien

Many years ago, I sat in a small apartment with a Russian family that was new to our country. In time, they would become precious members of our church. That day however, they were just confused and disoriented. The grandparents had been in prison for many years. The father had served time as well. They had been persecuted for their Pentecostal faith. Now, at last, they were allowed to go free – to America!

But the father was upset. As it turns out, the church here was not at all like church in Russia. This particular day, the divisive issue was our communion service.

“Everyone drank the wine from those little cups – like shot glasses that unbelievers drink whisky from. Why? Why was there no chalice?”

I explained how Protestant Christianity in America had continually changed the order of traditional worship and how this had affected the way we received communion in “low church Protestantism.”

I thought this might help: “Americans get grossed out with a chalice because it requires them to drink from the same cup.”

“But the alcohol content helps with germs and all, “he replied.

“Well, yes, but we used unfermented grape juice. It wasn’t real wine.”

When my words were translated, my new Russian brother become very agitated.

“What? What? The Lord Jesus used wine. Passover used wine. All Christians in every country and in every century have used wine. Why gave you the permission to change what Jesus used into what you think it ought to be?”

I explained about the Prohibition and how many American churches had decided then to use grape juice. I tried to say it didn’t matter. But this was a man who had gone to labor camps rather than to submit to Russian officials. He paid dearly for taking a stand for the faith and here he was in a new country where Christians seemed to be changing the faith to suit ourselves.

He wasn’t going to have any of it!

My Russian friend was an alien – not undocumented; he had permission to be here – but he was an alien to our country and its ways, including the ways of his fellow believers in this county.

Of course, we were alien to him as well. That is what culture shock is about; entering into a culture’s alien aspect. It can be an utterly disorienting experience.

This is one of the most important concepts a believer has about God. That He is alien, strange, and “other.”

And yes, God is indeed undocumented. He does not recognize or honor our borders because He was here before our government came into being.

Why is it important to recognize God’s “otherness?”

Let me explain.

Ancient Hebrews and Greeks would not have understood our English word “God.”

The reason we use that word to describe the Being we worship is simple: early English-speaking Christians employed their language’s traditional word that roughly corresponded to the Hebrew concept of “Yahweh,” or “Elohim.”

Unfortunately, modern English-speakers now use that same word, “god,” to refer to any deity of any religion. The result is that our word “god” does not communicate the same thing to everyone.

Socrates insisted that the first step of any profitable discussion is to define the terms to be used.

Since we don’t want to upset Socrates, let’s stop and define the word “God.”

First, Christians believe that God has a personality. He is not a borderless mist, or some undefined, impersonal force of nature.

God has a personality.

We can communicate with Him.

We can know Him.

Once we believe that God has a personality, we naturally want to know, “What is that personality like?”

The Bible says that the essence of God’s personality is a quality, called “holiness.”

Being holy means that God doesn't lie.

He doesn't cheat.

He doesn't go back on His word.

Even more importantly though, the Hebrew word kadosh, which translates into English a “holy,” actually means “other, or “alien.”

Saying that God is “Holy,” means that He is not like us. He is not like anything we can, or could ever, know.

God is beyond our comprehension.

He is “awe-inspiring.”

All we can know about God are those things He has revealed to us. However, even those things are often difficult to grasp.

Then, beyond all that we do know about God, there is infinitely more that we do not know and cannot know. Talking about God leads us into an encounter with mystery.

Acknowledging the mystery keeps us from forming a static mental image of God. Mystery stretches us toward God rather than limiting God to our level or mental comprehension.

When we deny that God is “beyond finding out,” we make a mental or even a physical image and then call that “god.”

The Bible calls this natural inclination idolatry and strictly forbids it.

The problem with this is that we all have idols. Walking with God involves a continual process of destroying our idols. We will never come to know the real God if we keep admiring all the substitutes we have made!

This brings us to worship.

Since we cannot figure God out, we must worship Him.

We worship God “in the beauty of holiness,” as the Bible puts it.

The "beauty of holiness" is our awareness that God’s otherness has ceased being a problem for us and has actually become attractive to us.

Jesus tells us (in Matthew 6:9) that recognizing God’s otherness is the first step in real communication with Him. That’s why we begin prayer by recognizing this aspect of God’s character: “Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed (Holy) be Thy Name!”

Loving God involves first acknowledging His otherness, then delighting in it, and finally moving toward it.

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