In the last post, I suggested that – to acquire an understanding of God – Christians have participated in (and continue to participate in) a very old, ongoing conversation. Here, I want to give us a way to visualize that conversation, with all of its participants.
Lets start here:
Think of Jesus as “ground zero” out of which the conversation will emerge. While he is present in our world, there are various people who see and hear him. They are likely to be somewhat confused, especially about the event that we call Jesus’ “resurrection.” In fact, the text of the Bible all but tells us this. The question now becomes “what just happened here?”
Next, the witnesses begin to tell their stories to people. Some of those people, such as Luke, are literate and able to write down the stories:
The accounts of what happened are now no longer being limited to where the witnesses are available to tell them. They spread all over. In the meantime, Luke and others start to think about how the Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection relate to the traditions of Jesus’ people – the Jewish nation. Soon they are beginning to interpret what was said by older, Jewish writers, such as Isaiah, in different ways:
Of course, we live centuries upon centuries after these events. We speak a different language and come from a different culture. We therefore have to rely on translators to help us come into conversation with Luke and the witnesses that he reports on. In addition, we may rely on scholars who can help us to better see how Luke and others – who were much closer to “ground zero” – understood and interpreted the events.
Notice how the translators and scholars are also simultaneously bringing us into conversation with other Bible writers, like Isaiah. This helps us to understand both Luke and Isaiah better.
Also, as you can tell, when you start reading your bible or listening to your Pastor teach, you are becoming a part of a very old, very long conversation about who Jesus was and how he revealed God to us. All of the components you see here are necessary
At the same time, however, a more contemporary conversation is taking place. Lets try to visualize that conversation two ways.
First, what I will call a “closed” conversation. It looks like this:
Here we see you and other people like you. Presumably, all of you are – to some extent at least – using your translations in an effort to hear the voices of those who were closer to “ground zero.” However, you are only interacting with a limited number of people who are also interacting with you. This is sometimes called a “closed” system. This might be represented by a church, a denomination, or a small group.
Its easy to get agreement in this context, because you’re limiting the number of people who participate, and those who join in and don’t like parts of the conversation are unlikely to continue in it.
The problem, as we discussed in the last post, is that nothing new or better is likely to emerge out of this conversation. If you’ve ever been a part of a church or Bible class where people just seem to keep saying the same things again and again in discussions, sermons, etc. – its likely because the system you are a part of is somewhat closed.
But something incredible begins to happen when you begin to open a system:
When even one extra person comes into conversation with at least one member of the group, suddenly new ideas can be introduced to EVERYONE. The conversation, even for those who are “closed off,” widens.
Now…lets imagine an even wider conversation:
Now you have multiple groups within a single culture and time, all talking about their experiences/encounters with God, all trying to interpret them in light of the events that come from “ground zero.” Out of this process, everyone is likely to come to a much clearer understanding of how God is revealed to us and through Jesus than they would if they remained in closed systems.
Christians should add that we believe this entire process is infused by the Spirit of God. We live in trust that he is guiding the conversation and its direction, and that God has been doing so from the very beginning.
This is essentially the process of emergence, which was discussed in the last post.
So how do we know when the conversation has hit on something important? In the next post, we’ll talk about harmonic resonance as a metaphor to explain that phenomenon.