After encountering online a dilemma from a faithful Christian about finding God, Rodney Eivers explores our perceptions about the Lord and how biblical translations can impact our understanding.
“God” had a big press in Australia in mid-September!
This came about from the headline news that Bill Hayden, former Governor-General and a proclaimed atheist, had returned to Roman Catholicism.
It has made many people very angry judging by the comments in the newspaper letter pages and social media. Some people, though, have been heartened that a prominent person would make such a declaration. One curious thread for me from the remarks of the angry people is that Bill Hayden should not have allowed, or promoted, his decision as a front-page item. He should have kept it to himself. Another thread was that he became baptised because he wants to be sure of a place in heaven with his likely death in the next few years.
Now I can’t speak for Bill Hayden as to what his real motives were. If you take him at what he has publicly said, it was because, through the example of human beings known to him. Their care and compassion, was linked to their professed Christianity so it became a club he wanted to join. We do not have any detail of the finer theological rationale for the decision nor of his concept of “God”
This brings me to what prompted this reflection. Some months ago I offered some comment to “Judith” who had responded to a website article on the . She was distressed that after 60 years as a faithful Christian she still had not found the answer to “Who or what is God?”
I threw in some thoughts on how other people had responded to this question. Some would see God as being the still inner voice in our minds when we talk with ourselves when pondering life or needing to make decisions. At the other end of the scale some would see God as the sum total of all the probabilities and chances which came together from the Big Bang. From this followed the formation of the stars and planets, the evolution of life and ultimately to the churning over of ideas and emotions going on in our human brains.
Some are satisfied to say God is a symbol for what is. Symbols for life and love, if you want to pin it down further. Perhaps the Hebrew scriptures were putting it something like that (Exodus 3:14) when Moses had the same problem as Judith.
Going on a bit further, though in my reply to Judith, I put the question, “Was the supernatural a reality for Jesus?” My answer to that rhetorical question was, “Most likely, because everyone of that era, including Greek philosopher, Socrates, accepted the supernatural as a reality.”
I commented further that because Jesus is identified with the Lord’s prayer, starting with “Our Father which art in heaven” then we can assume that he had some supernatural place in mind, perhaps up in the sky, where God lives (Isaiah 40: 22).
Just this week, however, I discovered a new slant on this perception, something I had not been aware of before.
The new information was a comment which I have summarised and extracted as follows:
The New Testament of the Bible was written in the Greek. Jesus is said to have spoken in Aramaic. Greek culture had a strong concept of “heaven” as the home of the gods—something separate and distant from us mere mortals on Earth. In Aramaic however, the equivalent word can mean something quite different. The Aramaic phrase “Our Father who art in heaven” elicits the image of creation, of giving birth to the universe. At another level it presents the image of the divine breath (spirit) flowing out of oneness, creating the whole diversity of forms. The equivalent word for “heaven” conjures the image of light, sound and vibration spreading out and pervading all. In essence then “heaven” is conceived not so much as a place outside this world but as a dimension of reality that is present everywhere. The above translation is in dispute by some professional linguists. They quite rightly argue that as the language of that period is no longer in use one cannot rely on current versions of a language to accurately describe past events. Can one apply the English spoken during the Roman occupation with what is spoken in the British Isles today? Chaucer from a much later period is difficult enough to follow
Nevertheless, the exercise does demonstrate that we are well justified in seeking alternative interpretations of Bible passages. It may be true that, I was on the wrong track in using the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer to certify that Jesus was a supernaturalist. Perhaps he did have a vision of an entity which was not tied to Greek assumptions about heaven as the home of the gods. If so, perhaps we can take some comfort in imagining God not as being away up there, far from us, but as an ever-present component of our humanity and of our daily life here on earth.