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Different EyesThe Art of Living Beautifully
By Steve Chalke Alan Mann
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 Steve Chalke
All right reserved.
Chapter Onesection one
God is a common name.
There are thousands of them.
Like countless other common names - Jack or Olivia or Raj or Fatima - there is almost nothing you can tell about the character of any specific god just from the use of that label.
Think about it. Why was Moses so concerned to get clarification as to which god was addressing him from the burning bush?
'Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your fathers ['El'] has sent me to you," and they ask me, "What is his name?" Then what shall I tell them?' (Exodus 3:13)
El (which in English is translated 'God of your fathers') was a fairly standard way of referring to local gods in the Ancient Near East. Every nation had its collection of gods who were, of course, known to them as the 'gods of their fathers'. It shouldn't surprise us, therefore, that Moses asks the god of the burning bush for some illumination as to who exactly he is. God responds: 'Tell them ... "I Am [Hebrew 'Yahweh']", has sent you' (Exodus 3:14 CEV).
Even today, there are all kinds of names for the gods who are worshipped around the world.And yet, how often do we get into conversations about 'God' and simply presume that everyone is on the same page as we are? How often do we unthinkingly assume that we all have in mind the same kind of God - the God who is revealed and experienced within the story of Israel and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Jew from Nazareth?
The problem is that often people are not only on a different page than we are, they're not even reading the same book!
In Alice Through the Looking Glass, in a rather unintelligible conversation with Alice about the meaning of the word glory, Humpty Dumpty says this: 'When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'
That's the problem with the name god. It means just what different groups of people choose it to mean.
But it's even more complicated than that.
If we're honest, exactly the same problem has developed within the Church - there are lots of 'Christian gods'. We have ...
the God who approves of war and the God who is against it
the God who is for capital punishment and the one who is appalled by it the God who opposes divorce and remarriage and the God who is accepting of both
the God who teaches 'Walk with me and I'll make you healthy and wealthy' and the God of those who live in suffering and poverty
the God who gives us the technology for stem cell research and birth control and the God who is outraged by our development of both
the God who is against women in church leadership positions and the God who positively encourages them into such roles
Such views about who God is, what he's like and how he wants us to live, not only impact our personal lives and our churches, they even affect the way entire countries are run - sometimes with devastating results.
Consider the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, which has been intimately bound up with the politics of the white Afrikaner community. The denomination even developed a whole theology to legitimise its support of the Apartheid system, the institutionalised separation of the South African people according to their race. Indeed, the South African Prime Minister, Daniel Francois Malan (1874-1959) - who led the campaign for complete segregation of the races in South Africa - was himself a Dutch Reformed minister.
What is known as 'Ham theology' made it possible for Dutch Reformed scholars to teach that the Afrikaners, as a race, fulfilled a role similar to that of the people of Israel in Old Testament times.
Dutch Reformed theologians viewed the curse that Noah placed on his grandson Canaan, the son of Ham (Genesis 9:20-27), as the biblical justification for Israel's conquest and enslavement of the Canaanites. Afrikaners believed that black Africans, or 'Hamites' as they were sometimes called, were also descendants of Ham through Canaan.
Their theology also claimed that the Bible accepts racial and ethnic differences - and that this is clearly seen in the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) and was even recognised by the apostle Paul in his Areopagus speech (Acts 17), where he acknowledges that God has 'determined ... the exact places where they should live' (Acts 17:26).
All this was then used as the justification for segregation and the decisions of white Afrikaners regarding the division of land and their tightly controlled allocation of living areas for nonwhites.
This kind of theology, in fact, was widely held by many European Christian groups throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and though it was abandoned by most in the mid-twentieth century, it was not until the early 1980s that the World Alliance of Reformed Churches declared Apartheid to be a heresy and expelled the Dutch Reformed Church from its federation. Perhaps partly as a result of this, in 1986 all congregations in the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa were finally desegregated with the church expressing its repentance of 'the sin of supporting Apartheid'.
Is there any wonder that George Bernard Shaw once famously observed that 'God created man in his image - unfortunately man has returned the favour'?
Shaw's contemporary, the influential sociologist Emile Durkheim, suggested that each 'tribe', or society, invents a god who reflects its values, standards, aspirations, hopes, ambitions and attitudes and then worships it - thus legitimising and endorsing its own moral choices and behaviours.
Durkheim has a point. His work is a powerful argument and offers important warnings to us all. The trappings of our culture too easily entice us - and when they do, our image of God inevitably becomes distorted. As Archbishop William Temple once put it, 'The more distorted a person's idea of God, and the more passionately they are committed to it, the more damage they will do.'
What's in a Name?
One of the most significant prayers in the Jewish faith is the Shema - 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord [Yahweh] our God, the LORD is one' (Deuteronomy 6:4).
For literally thousands of years that simple prayer - or statement of belief - has been on the lips of generation after generation of Jews - from Moses to King David, from Jesus to Bob Dylan - it is the first creed they learn as infants, and for many it's the last they utter before death.
Excerpted from Different Eyes by Steve Chalke Alan Mann Copyright © 2010 by Steve Chalke . Excerpted by permission.
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