One of my reflection moments yesterday was from a book that a good friend gave me when I started my current role. The book is The President’s Devotional by Joshua Dubois and it is a series of daily devotional readings that the author wrote for President Obama. I am following it through each day this year and recommend it as a spiritual punctuation mark in the day.

Today’s reflection was on an obscure word that occurs in the Old Testament: Selah. It mostly appears in the Psalms but the problem is that nobody knows for sure what it means. Some think it means ‘pause’ or ‘meditate on this’. Others suggest that it means ‘listen to this’ – preceding an instrumental break (given that the psalms were meant to be sung). There are other suggestions too (you can look them up online).

But I quite like the idea that Selah is a mystery word. I like the idea that it could mean anything. It could be like ‘tadaaa!’ denoting a fanfare. Or it could be something really mundane such as a musical notation telling the singers to sing quietly (sorry to musicians for whom no notation is mundane). And I like the idea that we don’t know what it means. I am comfortable with the idea that it is a lost word.

Why am I happy with that foggy unenlightenment? It reminds me that I don’t know everything about God. As a Minister, having spent four years in a theological college, and having spent 20 years studying and exploring the Bible, it is sometimes tempting to fall into the trap of thinking that I know it all. I have God in a box. I have it sussed.

Selah reminds me that I don’t know it all. Indeed I know very little. But I know enough. I know that God loves me. I know that in Jesus God has made himself knowable – he gives me a glimpse of what God is like (enough to know I want to know him), has dealt with all that separates me from him and invites me to follow him. And I know that his Spirit is within me to help me. I have an eternity ahead of me to learn the rest!

Be blessed, be a blessing. Selah


The Laughing Christ

The Laughing Christ

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

Have you come across that before?

Or how about: “If you tell God that you don’t want to do something that’s what he will want you to do.”

If the latter is true: I don’t want to drive an Aston Martin car, I don’t want to have a perfect golf swing and I don’t want to have my own TV magic show.

[Still waiting for all of those three to happen].

I think I know what people are trying to say when they say these sorts of thing. It sometimes seems to be the case that God asks us to do the things we are most reluctant to do. Have a look at Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3 or read the book of Jonah. And I know too that my plans and thoughts may well lack God’s imagination, vision and expansiveness.

But behind these ideas is also a hint that God is a bit mean, vindictive, cruel, unkind… What sort of God would mock me? What sort of God would deliberately decide to ask me to do the things I least want to do? Not the sort of God I believe in. It’s very un-God.

These ideas say more about me than about him. They suggest that my understanding of him is too limited if I think he won’t want me to discuss my plans with him. They suggest that I have a restricted relationship with him where I am less than honest with him (or myself). They indicate that my knowledge of him is hampered by negativity and that I have not grasped just how much God is ‘for’ me. I don’t think God laughs at me in a mocking way, but I think he smiles at me in a loving, warm, ‘bless you’ way.

I don’t think God laughs when I tell him my plans. But if he is God and I am me, I would do well to listen to him and allow my plans to be shaped by him. And if his plans differ significantly from mine he is gracious enough to allow me to choose which ones I want to follow, to pick me up if (when) I get it wrong, and to make a fresh start.

I don’t think God is looking for me to do the opposite to what I want to do. But if he is God and I am me, perhaps I would do well to be willing to do what he wants, as he probably knows better than I do. Perhaps rather than asking him to send someone else or running away to Joppa (see Moses and Jonah, above) I could consider that what he wants would be good to do even if it is difficult, uncomfortable, or didn’t appear in my list of 100 things I would like to do in my life. After all I won’t be doing it alone or in my own strength. (And if I am then I need to make another attitude adjustment!).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Farther’s Day

I hope you had a good weekend. Thank you for coming back to my blog / remaining subscribed / visiting for the first time.

father and babyYesterday was Father’s* Day, which I recognise is a day that raises all sorts of emotions. For some it is a day to celebrate and say ‘thank you’, for others it is a day that they would rather didn’t happen. For some it means family time, joy and laughter; for others it is a reminder of grief and loss; and for still others it is a day of regrets.

Unlike Mothering Sunday Fathers’* Day is a recent invention. Some cynically suggest it was created by greetings card manufacturers as a way of increasing sales. Others say that it was introduced in a bid for equality as Mothering Sunday changed.

I think that churches have always struggled with both days, but particularly Fathers’ Day. We have to tread carefully with Father’s Day because there are so many different emotions and memories that can be evoked. We have to qualify what we say so that when we speak of those who are good fathers we include those whose experience of fathers has been negative, or when we speak of spending time with fathers we recognise that it is not possible for everyone. I have tended to say that whatever our experience of fathers is, our experience of God our Father is qualitatively different.

But (get ready to disagree) I am not really comfortable with that approach. This is neither because God is not qualitatively different as our heavenly Father, nor because he has none of the deficiencies of our human fathers. I think I am uncomfortable because to call God ‘Father’ diminishes him. We cannot help but consider an earthly male parent in our minds as we call God ‘Father’. And that is inherently inadequate. We need to go farther.

‘Father’ is a metaphor (albeit a very good one) that helps to explain one way in which God relates to us, but it is a metaphor. And metaphors are not meant to be taken literally. They can explain and reveal truth, they can make the incomprehensible more comprehensible, they can illuminate and illustrate. But they are not the whole story.

To say that God is our heavenly Father speaks of his love, consideration, provision, security, his desire for us to be his ‘children’ (another metaphor), discipline, strength, reliability and so much more. But each of those attributes can be infinitely unpacked when it comes to God. And each of those infinite unpackings can be infinitely unpacked. And so on. We cannot hope to comprehend God fully.

I think what I am trying to say is that the Father-metaphor can be helpful for us, but we should never presume to think that we therefore understand God fully because we call him ‘Father’. We should never believe that our metaphorical understanding of him is adequate. Sadly, because of the finite nature of our brains and the limitations of language, we are often reduced to metaphors when it comes to God because we could not cope with the unadulterated truth – our brains would produce an error message and shut down. So we cope with metaphors, we explore them, we use them to help us encounter the living God and relate to him (‘him’ being another inadequate use of language!). And God graciously allows us to relate to him in that way which is more than we can comprehend but is woefully inadequate (in the same way as a supercomputer being used to play ‘solitaire’ – another weak metaphor).

If we gather together all the metaphors for God and understand and explore them completely we still have a relatively poor image of and comprehension of God. But if we are willing to accept our limitations he graciously takes us into them and our experience and understanding of him is expanded and deepened. That is the journey of a lifetime (and beyond). He graciously gives us eternity to explore the infinite**.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Where should the apostrophe go? Is it a day for fathers or is it a day for a father? I am being interchangeable to be inclusive and so that I am correct at least 50% of the time.

**No way anyone will have ‘time’ to be bored in heaven!