Finding God in the story.

So, I haven’t blogged in ages, and then I come back to it with a desire to make up a new word.  Weird, I know.

Ordination training has, you’ll have gathered from previous posts, begun.  Indeed, it’s not just begun, it’s carried on.  We’ve been introduced to the Bible (hopefully we’d met already, but I’m sure you get the picture) and we’ve had a couple of residential weekends looking at Theological Reflection and Preaching.  I’ll doubtless write something about them at some point, but not now.  I’m delighted to report that I’ve actually found myself getting excited about the stuff we’re doing (confessions of a theogeek).

For now, I just want to hover over one of the ideas that’s been drifting around my head for a few weeks.  It’s been drifting long enough for me to have had time to make up a word to describe it.  But before I tell you the word (which you’ll probably laugh at anyway) let me tell you the concept.

The Genesis creation story is not completely unique.  (Mum, I know you can’t technically qualify the word ‘unique’, but hear me out…)  By ‘not completely unique’, I simply mean that there are parallels.  However, there is something which seems to set it apart from other similar creation stories.  The concept of a ‘starter couple’ is found in other stories, as are other aspects of the creation story we find in Genesis.  But what makes it unique (I know, I know – I should be more careful with words) is that there is a single God – a monotheistic view – the pattern of Judaism.  Other stories from the time lack this key factor.  And it got me thinking.  I remembered Paul’s sermon in Athens linked to their altar ‘to an unknown god’.  He says to them (and this is a paraphrase) ‘Let me fill in the gaps for you – I’ll tell you about the God you don’t know’.  And he goes on to talk about the God who made us.  He builds a bridge from Christianity to the Athenians – he provides a route along which they might journey to faith.  He takes their story, and writes God into it – more than that, he shows them that God is the main character.  Effectively, he’s saying, ‘Here’s what you already believe, let me tell you about some vital stuff your story is missing’.  And that leads me to eistheography.  That’s it.  My new word.  If you’re wondering about pronunciation, I’d suggest, ‘ice-the (as in ‘theoretical’, not ‘the’) ogg-ruffy’ although the ‘graphy’ at the end is just like in biography, but I couldn’t work out how to write that.

In terms of meaning, it’s eis – in; theo – God; graphy – write/writing.  Therefore, it’s writing God into something.  And actually, as Christians, it’s something we’re quite used to and generally pretty comfortable with.  It’s not unusual for us to ‘find God’ in stories that we hear.  We hear about amazing stories of protection and assert that God is in the scene.  We hear of apparently miraculous provision and say that God is in it.  And I don’t think that’s a problem at all.  Of course, those who aren’t Christians might wish to deride us for finding the sky fairy in everything.  And some Christians might say I’m being weirdly liberal.  But hey, I’ll cope.

Which takes me back to Genesis.  Maybe it’s setting a new pattern – it follows the creation stories of the Ancient Near East, but weaves into the story a new thread – a monotheistic God.  A God who reveals Himself through creation, and in other ways we discover as we read on.  Indeed, this pattern of eistheography could be applied to Wisdom literature, too (which I should be writing an essay on, but I’m distracted by shiny new words).  Wisdom literature has many contemporary parallels, but what we find in Israelite wisdom has that different thread woven in.  God is ‘unearthed’ in the stories from the cultures surrounding the Israelite people, and so knowledge of Him can flourish.  Of course, from a Christian point of view, there might be anxiety that I’m saying God is just made up and popped willy-nilly into the fables of the Ancient Near East.  I’m not saying that at all.  I’m suggesting that the Israelites enjoyed the revelation of God and fed that into a fuller understanding of their world.

At this point, someone will doubtless accuse me of a long-forgotten heresy.  Feel free to do so in the comments.  Or challenge me on anything that doesn’t make sense.  I’m well aware that this concept could be taken far too far and it could turn into all sorts of daft suggestions…  I’m not suggesting it carries on going.  I’m quite happy for it to stop here!  I’m going to stop writing for now, because I suspect I’ve raised enough questions, and I’ll try to address them in the comments, but bear in mind I’ve also got an essay to write!

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6 Responses to Finding God in the story.

  1. Mary Parish says:

    I found at least as much intrigue in “unearthing God” than “eistheography”. Also I am disconcerted by having an ad. in the middle of your blog, exalting the putting of an icecube on top of a burger during cooking. Yes, honestly. I did laugh aloud at the “completely unique” comment though. To be more sensible for a moment, I like this. It connects with the Spiritual Director (or pastor, friend, companion)’s most basic question. “Where is God in all this?” I ask of people when I’m in that sort of mode. Asking questions that encourage people to do the joined-up thinking for themselves, while the companion observes, and occasionally nudges. Sometimes, where experience of God and the world is lacking (as in Athens), some answers may need to be thrown in.
    I now need to return to my current task – a sermon for Advent Sunday!

    • Dorothy says:

      so who’s doing the “writing in” of God? are you suggesting we do it? I’d suggest that God, if there is such a being, is already “in” the world – isn’t that what the myth of the incarnation suggests? not a God-out-there but a God-in-the-brown-stuff-with-us-to-the-bitter-end. We surely don’t “write God in” – rather, we learn (maybe) to look in the right way in order to see God-who-is-already-in – a bit like those magic drawings which were all the rage some decades ago with a hidden picture in geometric patterns.

      • nickparish says:

        Good question, thanks. I guess in a sense I was setting the term as the work of the scripture writers, but there’s a sense in which the actual task is God’s – it is God who inspires (breathes into, rather than writes into) each story. Maybe there’s a sense in which He is the storyteller, revealing Himself to His listeners. Those who inscribe the words do so with His inspiration. The Word is revealed…

    • nickparish says:

      …’than’, not ‘as’?
      I hope your sermon is progressing more quickly than my essay – though your deadline is nearer 🙂
      Yes, precisely – ‘Where is God in all this?’ is a question that scripture works on throughout. Helping others to unearth that treasure in their lives gives them a rich prize, (if I’m allowed to switch metaphors!).

  2. Joerg says:

    I like fellow heretics. 🙂

    Amen to what you have written. I think eistheography can be found throughout the whole bible.

    Take Abraham for example. He was willing to sacrifice his son, because it was common in other religions at the time and because he expected this sort of demand from God. But then God revealed to Abraham that He was different and that He does not need human sacrifice.

    It goes on throughout history with Israel’s desire for a king, a temple and a Messiah. The bible teaches us that Israel always got what they wanted… just to realize that the divine thread that was woven into it was different than expected.
    Or in other words: they wrote their surprising God experiences and discoveries into their cultural expectations. The result and the heritage of that is the bible. And I am grateful to have it.

    Keep going Pastor Parish!

    And in case your wife is chasing you with pious torch and holy pitchfork, you will find shelter in my Black Forest Castle of Herecy. 😉

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