Tuesday, 18 July 2017

God's Delight in Us

There were some passages I really enjoyed writing in my new book God-Soaked Life (UK / US); sometimes it's just sheer pleasure to share some good news. Here's an example:
Jesus' invitation into the life of the kingdom was not only for the people living in the Holy Land in the first century; it is also for you and me. And it's not only for the saintly, the righteous, the holy among us. Jesus has thrown the gates of the kingdom wide and invites us all - the broken, the failures, the compromised, the bitter, the anguished, and the wicked, along with everyone else. Jesus offers us this invitation because of God's tremendous delight in us. God rejoices in our friendship, our companionship. He longs to shower love on us and to see us grow in our ability to love him and love on another. He made us for himself, and his heart is restless until it finds its rest in us.
This idea of God's delight in us is one of my favourite themes, and I find myself reflecting on it a lot in my speaking and writing. In The Fire of the Word (UK / US) I used an image rooted in that sense of delight to describe contemplative prayer, describing an elderly couple sat together on a summer's evening - not chatting, not breaking the beautiful silent moment, just enjoying one another's company.

At Launde Abbey we spend two half-hour periods in silence every day in our Chapel. People pray, or reflect, or meditate, or read, or fidget uncomfortably (yes, that too!). God, I think, hugely values the chance simply to spend time with us, with no agenda and no need for anything much to happen. He seems to spend thirty minutes delighting in us. It's a great experience.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Living Souls

One of the intriguing phrases that recurs a few times in the opening chapter of the old Greek version of Genesis (you can read my translation of it here) is "living soul". We meet it four times in all:
Καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός ᾿Εξαγαγέτω τὰ ὕδατα ἑρπετὰ ψυχῶν ζωσῶν (1.20)
(God said, “Let the waters bring forth creeping things among the living creatures.")
Καὶ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὰ κήτη τὰ μεγάλα καὶ πᾶσαν ψυχὴν ζῴων ἑρπετῶν (1.21)
(God made the great sea creatures and every living creature)
Καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός ᾿Εξαγαγέτω ἡ γῆ ψυχὴν ζῶσαν κατὰ γένος (1.24)
(God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their varieties.")
Καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς θηρίοις τῆς γῆς καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς πετεινοῖς τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ παντὶ ἑρπετῷ τῷ ἕρποντι ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, ὃ ἔχει ἐν ἑαυτῷ ψυχὴν ζωῆς (1.31)
(To all the wild beasts of the earth, all the birds of heaven, and all the creeping things that creep over the earth, to every creature that has life within it ...)
It's an interesting phrase for two reasons. The first is that it pops up again in the second creation account (chapter 2 of Genesis) to describe the first human being, Adam, after God has breathed life into his nostrils:
καὶ ἐγένετο ὁ ἄνθρωπος εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν (2.7)
(and the human being became a living creature)
And that could imply that there wasn't a great deal of difference between the human and every other creature, although the whole of the rest of the context of Genesis 1 and 2 suggests otherwise.

Where it gets really interesting, though, is when you turn waaay forward to Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. In the fifteenth chapter, where he's discussing the nature of the resurrection of Jesus and what that implies for human beings facing the realities of death, he says this (clearly with the phrasing of the old Greek Bible in mind):
οὕτως καὶ γέγραπται· ἐγένετο ὁ πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος Ἀδὰμ εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν, ὁ ἔσχατος Ἀδὰμ εἰς πνεῦμα ζῳοποιοῦν (1 Corinthians 15.45)
(Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit - NRSV)
In fact, much of the second half of 1 Corinthians 15 can be read as a kind of reflection on Genesis 1 and 2 in the light of the resurrection. The writer talks about the glory of human beings, animals, fish, birds, and heavenly beings, which are the basic categories of 'living things' described in the creation account (the heavenly bodies - stars, sun and moon - were believed in ancient times to be the living inhabitants of the heavens). His description of every body having its own type of 'glory' echoes the idea of every creature being made after its 'kind'. And that leads neatly to the contrast between Adam, who (like the other animals) becomes a "living soul", and Jesus who, after the resurrection, is experienced as a "life-giving spirit" (πνεῦμα ζῳοποιοῦν).

Anyway, some fascinating food for thought!

Image: Charlesjsharp via Wikimedia Commons
Read more ...

Thursday, 31 March 2016

In the beginning ...

I mentioned in a previous post that I've been drafting a translation of the opening chapter or so of Genesis, part of a project I'm currently at work on. I promised to post it here, since it may be of interest.

It's still a first draft, but I think it helps show some of the ways the old Greek Bible saw things a little differently from the Hebrew originals - and it's worth remembering that it's almost certainly this version (or something like it) that the authors of the New Testament were reading and remembering.

Anyway, here's my rendering of the Greek text of Genesis 1.1 - 2.3.

The First Creation Account


In the beginning God made heaven and earth.
But the earth was unseen and unformed;
darkness was over the abyss,
and the breath of God was moving over the water.

God said, “Let there be light” - and there was light. God saw that the light was beautiful, and God separated the light and the darkness. The light God called Day and the darkness he called Night; then there was evening and morning, the first day.

God said, “Let there be a span in the midst of the water, and let it separate water from water” - and there it was. God made the span, and God separated the water under the span from the water over the span. This span God called Heaven, and he saw that it was beautiful. Then there was evening and morning, the second day.

God said, “Let the water under heaven be gathered into one gathering, and let dry land be seen” - and there it was. The water under heaven was gathered into one gathering, and dry land was seen. God called the dry land Earth, and the system of waters he called Seas, and God saw that it was beautiful.

God said, “Let the earth blossom with grassy herbs which sow their seeds, according to their varieties and after their likeness; and fruit trees bearing fruit which carry their seeds within them, according to their varieties, across the earth” - and there they were. The earth brought forth grassy herbs which sow their seeds, according to their varieties and after their likeness; and fruit trees bearing fruit which carry their seeds within them, according to their varieties, across the earth. And God saw that it was beautiful. Then there was evening and morning, the third day.

God said, “Let there be luminous bodies in the span of heaven, to illuminate the earth and to separate day from night, and to be signs of the seasons, days, and years: to become lights in the span of heaven to shine on the earth” - and there they were. God made the two great luminous bodies, the greater to rule the day and the lesser to rule the night; he also made the stars. God set them in the span of the heavens to shine on the earth, to rule the day and night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was beautiful. Then there was evening and morning, the fourth day.

God said, “Let the waters bring forth creeping things among the living creatures, and birds flying over the earth in the midst of the span of heaven” - and there they were. God made the great sea creatures and every living creature, which the waters brought forth according to their varieties, and all the flying birds according to their varieties, and God saw that they were beautiful. God blessed them saying, “Increase, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas, and let birds multiply over the earth.” Then there was evening and morning, the fifth day.

God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their varieties: four-footed creatures, creeping things, and wild beasts of the earth according to their varieties” - and there they were. God made the wild beasts of the earth according to their varieties, the cattle according to their varieties, and all the creeping things on the earth according to their varieties. And God saw that it was beautiful.

God said, “Let us make humankind according to our image and likeness, and let them rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things on the face of the earth.”

God made humankind;
according to God’s image he made them;
male and female he made them.

God blessed them saying, “Increase, multiply, and fill the earth; master it and rule the fish of the seas, the birds of heaven, all the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things on the face of the earth.” God said, “Behold, I have given to you all seed bearing herbs which sow their seeds, across the whole face of the earth, and all trees bearing fruit which carry their seeds within them; these will be yours, for food. To all the wild beasts of the earth, all the birds of heaven, and all the creeping things that creep over the earth, to every creature that has life within it, I have given all the green grasses for food” - and there it was. God saw everything, all that he had made, and behold: it was utterly beautiful. Then there was evening and morning, the sixth day.

Heaven and earth were completed, together with all their adornments.
On the sixth day God completed his work,
all that he had made;
then he rested on the seventh day from all his work,
all that he had made.
And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it,
because on that day he rested from all his work,
all that God had begun to do.

Image: NASA (public domain)
Read more ...

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Seeing the Unseen

I'm still reading Genesis from the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, and paying particular attention to the opening chapter. (I'm drafting a translation which I'll post here when it's done).

The Hebrew text has a wonderful phrase in the opening lines: "the earth was tohu wa-bohu" - usually translated "formless and void". The Greek text takes a somewhat different angle:
ἡ δὲ γῆ ἦν ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος. (Gen 1.2)
ē de gē ēn aoratos kai akataskeuastos
Which means "the earth was unseen / invisible and unformed."

"Unformed" clearly mirrors the "formless" (bohu) of the Hebrew original. But "unseen" is a fresh take on the story. And it's interesting, having noticed that, to read through the rest of Genesis 1 and discover how important seeing is: the creation of light as the beginning of the creative acts; the recurring refrain that "God saw all that he had made"; the creation of human beings in God's "image" and "likeness" (both visual / seeing words).

And that's even more tantalising when you throw in the importance of seeing to Greek philosophy, particularly in Plato. Remember the Allegory of the Cave from the Republic? Truth, for Plato, is revealed when we learn to see well. And that fed into the whole Christian tradition of contemplation, which was all about learning to look upon God and find God looking upon us. And that in turn led to the theological idea of the Beatific Vision, which is rarely talked about today but for a long time was the classic understanding of the consummation of the Christian life: a vision of God.

An "unseen" world which comes into being by being "seen". Human beings imaging the unseen God, learning to look upon him who cannot be looked upon, and being perfected in perfect vision. I love it!

Image: Moisey (Делал сам) via Wikimedia Commons
Read more ...

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

And God saw that it was ...

I've been reading from the Septuagint recently - the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament familiar to the early church. It's been an interesting experience.

I discovered last night that when the translators worked on the opening chapter of Genesis they came across this recurring refrain:
And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1.4,10,18,21,25)
They rendered the repeated phrase like this:
καὶ εἶδεν ὁ θεὸς ὅτι καλόν.
where the final word, καλός, means "good". But it's just one of a number of Greek words with that meaning, and this one has a particular shading to it. Καλός refers to something so rich in beauty that its goodness is self-evident; its goodness of form reveals its intrinsic goodness of character. A perfectly acceptable translation, then, of the Septuagint text would be:
And God saw that it was beautiful.
And I rather like that.

Image: Sunset at Launde Abbey (Chris Webb)
Read more ...