Christian Revelation

Christian Revelation

The essay follows the poem Divine Touch

 

Divine Touch

A Poem by Mike Garner

 

Who are you?

Come I will show you?

Just tell me

I cannot

Will you touch me?

I will

I am overcome

I see the invisible one

My being is changed

My consciousness invaded, heightened –

I will never be the same

        Christian revelation is the product of God’s self-revealing through the incarnation, life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. If God were to appear in his transcendence there would be nothing for humanity except a sense of the numinous. Transcendence brings us nothing and mystery is a distraction from reality. It is the en-fleshed entrance of God into the human family, as one of us, that provides us with a clear vision of whom God is; we are called to follow his example.

      The revelation of God in Jesus is superior to the revelation of God delivered to Abraham, or at Sinai or experienced by the Prophets. Yes, Christianity is the continuance of the work and revelation of God that began with Abraham. However, the faith we call Christianity is the apex of God’s self-revelation. It is so complete as to be final; meaning all that can be learned of God has already been revealed in the stories of the gospel, the writings of the New Testament, and in the kerygma (proclamation) of the word become flesh. There is no further revealing that can communicate the nature of God beyond the person of Jesus Christ, God’s son.

      Revelation in this sense is a purely religious concept that expresses the invisible deity’s self-revealing. Human beings do not have an innate knowledge of God. We possess a moral conscience (which we can defy). We can view the external witness of creation (it is a display of power). We bear the image of God (which we mar with our freedom). The image of God in us is limited to the finer attributes of being human such as insight, love, compassion, to be relational, to act redemptively, to keep promises and to participate in the creation of social reality.

     God was able to become one of us because God related us to God’s self when he created us in his image.[1] This being said, we can know God only if God reveals himself to us. To know God is not to describe God with terms that attempt to communicate God’s otherness and omnific existence. We can come to know God because God reveals himself in order to be known. Knowing God is a relational matter that is accomplished through the conduit of faith upon hearing the narrative of God’s self-revelation contained in scripture.

    Revelation questions all of reality. Revelation requires an abandonment of all contradictory theological concepts and subjects all thought to the content of the revelation. For this reason the Christian revelation is authoritative over contradictory portrayals of God in the Old Testament. The problem with these conflicting portrayals is in direct relation to how the writer perceives God in the world. In monotheism, God is responsible for everything – even the failed choices of human freedom.

    The portrayal of God in the Old Testament is subject to the consummate revelation of God in Christ found in the New Testament. This is a simple guideline for the Christian. When readings of the Old Testament conflict with the revelation of God in the New Testament the problem is not with God or even the text, it is with the imagination of the interpreter.

     Literary criticism is essential for interpreting the OT in light of the NT revelation of God in Christ Jesus. For example reading Joshua requires recognizing the genre of the book as a conquest narrative. Conquest narratives serve nation states for co-opting the voice of God to justify the crimes against the former inhabitants of the land. The book of Joshua also contains literary hints that deconstruct the claims of God made in the book. The following piece from Joshua is one example.

Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?” He replied, “Neither; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and he said to him, “What do you command your servant, my lord?” The commander of the army of the LORD said to Joshua, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.

(Joshua 5:13)

     When the angel of the Lord appears, he is not on the side of the forces of Israel or Jericho.  Rather, he is present as a reminder of the revelation of God to Moses. This is depicted in the command for Joshua to remove his sandals because in the presence of God the ground is made safe. The angel of the LORD is portrayed as God who met Moses at the burning bush. Moses with God’s help delivered Israel from Egypt with a shepherd’s staff.  However the messenger holds a sword in his hand. Joshua is not like Moses who provides God with a man whose sole defense from hostile forces is a walking stick. Joshua has chosen a sword. The imagery of the sword is reminiscent of the flaming sword at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. Humanity cannot enter the rest of God in his garden sanctuary because humanity has learned to use fire and steel for warring.  This piece in Joshua suggests that Joshua was given a choice to lay down his sword. God is portrayed as not being at war with humanity, neither with Israel of the people of Jericho.

     The book of Joshua includes mythical elements like the giants and so clues the reader in on the mythical nature of conquest stories where the crimes of the conquerors are ignored because the people of the land are depicted as inferior. Interestingly the person with the most faith and education about the LORD and about the activities of Israel is a harlot. When the walls of Jericho fell, her home in the wall did not fall. So the walls of Jericho did not all fall down. The people were not all destroyed.

    I have offered this brief view for reading Joshua to emphasize the subjecting of the OT revelation to the consummate revelation of God found in Jesus Christ the Lord.  The nonviolent God revealed in Jesus is hiding in the Old Testaments view of God.

       The importance of the concept of revelation is essential for claiming that God reveals God’s self over against ideas that insist God is the progressive creation of human need. Without the concept of revelation religion is human invention. That the concept of revelation is not a part of the basic instruction for seminarians involved in critical thinking and exposed to the realties that formed scripture and history is tragic. This one failure results in the poverty of soul that results in atheism.

 

[1] Jesus’ self-appellation throughout the gospels is ‘son of man’ which communicates his humanness. Jesus did not assert his deity but affirmed his experience as a human being without exception. The two natures argument is in opposition to the kenosis and challenges the omnific power and otherness of God to simply become a human being. It is clear that this dynamic of God living as a human being was not a masquerade, not a duality of being or ‘nature’, but a limiting of self so that the person of Jesus the son of God, the word incarnate, the wisdom of God could become the ‘son of man’. The mystery of the incarnation is a glorious revelation of God not subject to reason’s finality. We human beings are all alive, conscious, recipients of life. God has joined that life in all its finiteness and brought eternal life with him as he added humanness to his being. The incarnation was not a temporary state; God remains a man named Jesus. In this sense there has been a phenomenal change in the existence of God; it is at the essence of the gospel. This is so because it reveals God’s great desire to join the creation in the only way he can, as a human being. We can say that God held back from God’s self all that it meant to be God in order to become a human being. We can receive the efforts of scripture to help us with the incarnation through identifying Jesus as the wisdom of God and the word of God. We cannot explain the being of God! We can receive his self-revelation.