Greg: Don’t be so literal

A good reminder that reading the Scriptures well consists of defining words and discerning how those words are being used in a given context, especially when we’re talking about God and his works:

Some things mentioned in the Bible are not factual; some factual things are not mentioned; some nonfactual things receive no mention there; some things are both factual and mentioned. Do you ask for my proofs here? I am ready to offer them. In the Bible, God “sleeps,” “wakes up,” “is angered,” “walks,” and has a “throne of cherubim.” Yet when has God ever been subject to emotion? When do you ever hear that God has a bodily being? This is a nonfactual, mental picture. We have used names derived from human experience and applied them, so far as we could, to aspects of God. His retirement from us, for reasons known to himself into an almost unconcerned inactivity, is his “sleeping.” Human sleeping, after all, has the character of restful inaction. When he alters and suddenly benefits us, that is his “waking up.” Waking up puts an end to sleep, just as looking at somebody puts an end to turning away from him. We have made his punishing of us his “being angered”; for with us, punishment is born of anger. His acting in different places, we call “walking,” for walking is a transition from one place to another. His abiding among the heavenly powers, making them almost his haunt, we call his “sitting” and “being enthroned”; this too is human language: the divine abides in none as it abides in the saints. God’s swift motion we call “flight”; his watching over us is his “face”; his giving and receiving is his “hand.” Indeed every faculty or activity of God has given us a corresponding picture in terms of something bodily.

– St. Gregory of Nazianzus, The Fifth Theological Oration (Oration 31:22) “On the Holy Spirt”

Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Lead pastor at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian, theological Luddite, and long-suffering Atlanta Falcons fan. A student of one book.

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