OPEN BOOK, Views & Reviews, No. 33
Copyright (c) 1997 Biblical Horizons
This kind of language is revelatory in a particular way, different from ordinary language. It reveals man as the image of God, as the ruler of creation, as having authority over other persons in various ways, etc. It is the particular kind of language used by rulers as they rule, and the particular kind of language used by the Church as she acts as the hidden servant-government of the world.
Such constitutive or covenantal language has many aspects or dimensions, all of which are avenues of revelation about God, such as:
1. Constituting covenantal documents.
2. Law codes.
5. Songs for use in directing life (like the Psalms).
6. Pointed questions designed to elicit re_ection.
2D. Relational Revelation. There is a kind of communication that takes place between the various semi-persons (higher animals) and objects in the lower creation. Our general scheme requires us to regard this as another avenue of revelation, which I am calling Relational Revelation. To start with, consider the way animals communicate with each other, the way your cat and dog tell you things, and the way angels and God communicate with the lower aspects of creation.
In a sense, the linguistic ability of human beings counts for and represents the whole creation, for humanity is the leader and acme of revelation. Plants convert earth, air, water, and are (light) into food, which animals and human beings eat, and humans also eat animals. In this way, humanity eats into itself the cosmos and transforms the cosmos into full personhood, and through human speech the cosmos speaks.
Yet we know that some kinds of speaking occur in the higher animals, and this will have to be considered as another dimension of linguistic revelation. Indeed, there may be a great deal more going on in this area than we are presently aware of.
Let us stop thinking about language for a moment, and consider instead that all the objects in the cosmos exist in relationships with one another. This is true of human beings as well, and of all things as they relate to God. This is the spatial or _eld aspect of created existence, and it is a manifestation of the Son, who is Word.
Now let us return to language. Language sets things in relationship with one another. For instance, certain words are used to create the relationship of marriage, or to create a new nation, or to baptize a person into the Church. Laws and judgments set persons into relationships with one another: taxpayer and bureaucrat, guilty and innocent, etc. All language expresses relationships. Performative language, as we have just indicates, creates relationships. Declarative sentences express relationships ("That house is white." "John went to the store."). Commands express relationships between persons ("Bring me my slippers!"). Questions call relationships into question ("Where is my book?" "Adam, where are you?). General patter either lubricates human relationships ceremoniously, or wrecks it through gossip.
Thus, language is relational, spatial. Sentences can be diagrammed, laid out in relationships in space, visible to the eye.
Now, what I must write next may ba_e some readers, but please bear with me. There is evidence to suggest that something like language exists as a _eld in the universe as a whole, and moves between objects of the same kind. We can start with the Bible. Colossians 1:17 says that all things are connected together in and through the Second Person of God, the Word. Similarly, Hebrews 1:3 says that the Son upholds all things by His powerful word.
Moving from such hints in the Bible, let me call attention to the work of A. Rupert Sheldrake, as presented in his books A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation (London: Blond & Briggs, 1981); The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature (New York: Vintage, 1989); and Seven Experiments That Could Change the World (New York: Berkeley-Riverhead, 1995). Sheldrake presents experimental evidence to show that communities of the same kinds of creatures are linked throughout space by _elds of "morphic resonance." For instance, if a group of mice are trained over a period of time to perform certain acts in New York, another group of mice trained in Sydney six months later will learn the same acts in a shorter period of time. Clearly, there is no biological explanation for this, and Sheldrake argues that the explanation lies in a kind of communication among all mice.
Sheldrake’s work explains the seemingly impossible links between certain animals and the world itself: the way _sh _nd their way back to spawning grounds, or the way an abandoned cat will travel a thousand miles to come home.
The evidence presented to back up this theory is not limited to animals, but also extends to non-living things and plants as well. One experiment involved crystals. A new kind of crystal was precipitated out of a solution, a process involving a certain amount of time. Later on, the same crystal precipitated faster and more easily.
This is not the place to go farther with this. I only wanted to show that there may be good reason to believe that something like language operates in every aspect of the cosmos to create relationships. This linkage of communication is itself a revelation of God.
One _nal point along these lines. We saw above that angels were particularly involved in revealing God’s truth to us when we were children in the Old Creation. Angels used animals, stars, plants, etc. for this purpose. It may be that angels maintain the lines of communication between the parts of creation.
3. Revelation Through Event.
Thirdly, God reveals Himself through actions, His own and those of His creatures.
A3. Special Historical Revelation. By this we mean the actions of God Himself in the sphere of cosmos and history, particularly as focussed in the special covenantal history of the Old Creation (from creation through the apostolic age).
We can distinguish several kinds of special actions by God. The _rst is the act of direct creation, bringing into being something that did not previously exist. One example, obviously, is the creation of the cosmos itself. Another is Jesus’ changing water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana, for the grape molecules, as well as such sediment as might have been found at the bottom of the jars, were created out of nothing. Another is the turning of the Nile river and all the waters of Egypt into blood. Both of these creative miracles were the _rst God performed as part of a larger series connected with the two exceptionally important periods of covenant-making. It is likely that the provision of manna from the sky during the wilderness wanderings is another example of creation out of nothing.
A second kind of direct action by God consists of acts of transformation, whereby God transforms something that already exists by using powers that do not exist within the cosmos itself. The various resurrections performed by God in the Bible _t into this category, as doubtless do some of the healings. Multiplying loaves and _shes _ts here.
A third kind of direct action by God consists of works of extraordinary providence that are timed to coincide with prophetic predictions. I have in mind bringing millions of frogs over the Egyptians all at once, or bringing vast swarms of lice and _ies. Some of the healings might _t here also.
Yet another kind of direct action involves symbolic demonstrations of Divine power, such as walking on water (which recalls the hovering of God over the creation), and the like.
We could probably come up with other categories as well, but these su_ce for our purposes.
In the main, God’s special miraculous acts are part of the Old Creation history, and these miracles are particularly grouped around times of covenant making: the original creation, the Flood, the Exodus from Egypt, the formation of the Remnant Covenant under Elijah and Elisha, and the coming of the New Covenant. Miraculous events done by God have occured also in the history of the Church from time to time.
Also here we must consider God’s special guidance "behind the scenes." God generally guides all of human history "behind the scenes," but the history recorded in the Bible involved special guidance as God brought His original covenant with Adam to maturity in Christ. This special history involved the ful_llment of previously-revealed prophecies, and that is what distinguishes it from the more general providential guidance of God in history.
B3. General Historical Revelation. Since man is the image of God, human life at all levels reveals God. The biographies of individuals reveal God, as do the histories of families, churches, businesses, schools, nations, civilizations, and human history as a whole. Because man is sinful, much of what is found in such histories reveals God by way of contrast, but it still in inescapably revelatory.
In contrast to Special Historical Revelation, General Historical Revelation is directed by human beings rather than by God. Human beings are the actors in history, and so history tells us "more" about the images of God than about God Himself.
Thus, human history is not just "one thing after another," as the saying goes. Rather, it reveals the nature of man and the nature of God.
As miracles pointedly reveal God by forcing our attention, so crisis times in history are "more" revelatory than ordinary times. In crisis, people act according to their basic natures, for good or ill. The various works of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and of Rene Girard are particularly valuable in exposing some of the revelatory aspects of social upheavals, revolutions, and crises.
Yet, the ordinary day-to-day actions of human beings also teach us about God. Human beings like to dress well, because God is robed in glory. Human beings eat, incorporating other things into themselves; and God "eats" us into His fellowship (see Revelation 3:16, as well as the whole sacri_cial system). Human beings study and investigate the world. Human beings rework and transform the world. All the things that human beings do re_ect the things that God does.
C3. Dynamic Covenantal Revelation. As there are certain special persons and groups of persons (i.e., rulers and the Church), and special covenantal words spoken by such persons, so there are special covenantal deeds done by them. All such special deeds are revelatory.
First of all, the general ruler-ruled relationships. The particular deed that the state does is to bear the sword. The magistrate can go to war and he can put people to death. Such events are crises in society or in the lives of individuals. The ruler can also command taxes, maintain roads, and do other things that are less of a crisis nature, but all of which display his position as covenant head of a certain society in a certain aspect. All of these things are things that God also does, and so the covenantal deeds of the ruler reveal things about God.
The particular deed that the husband and wife do is sex. In sex, the husband takes the wife to himself. He is fundamentally active and she is fundamentally passive: He penetrates her. This interaction is extremely pleasurable and non-threatening in a good marriage. It reveals how the Persons of God fully enjoy being one with each other, and also how the creation is passive under the penetrating and life-giving actions of God.
When covenants and contracts are engaged, they are normally sealed with a meal. The covenant meal is revelatory, since both parties eat the same food at the same time in the same place. Thus, the two parties become one by taking the same food into themselves, which food is transformed into each of them. This is a form of union and communion that is the opposite of sex in certain ways, but like sex it is pleasurable and reveals how the Persons of God enjoy being one with each other and with Their friends. (Sex is private and involves only one other person; meals are public and involve many people. In sexual union, one new thing is potentially created [a child], while in culinary union, one old thing is shared [food].)
Let us now turn to Dynamic Covenantal Revelation in the Church. Here we are concerned with the revelatory character of the sacraments, which like the other actions we have studied spring from the Energy of the Spirit. The sacraments are primarily the dynamic work of the Spirit. As the Spirit is sent by the Son, certain words are spoken _rst, and then the action is performed. "Do this," said Jesus, not "Contemplate this."
The word "sacrament" is not found in the Bible, and there is always discussion as to what makes something a "sacrament." We shall bypass that discussion. There are four special "miraculous" works of the Spirit that the Church performs as special covenant rites. They are Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Unction, and Ordination.
Baptism makes us new persons, and so in this work of the Spirit, the Fatherly aspect of our existence comes to the fore. Unction for the sick is a kind of extension of baptism to those who need it.
Ordination sets aside certain persons as special representatives of the Son, to oversee the congregation, the preaching, and the rites. This work of the Spirit has a special relationship to the ruling/serving aspect of our existence, that of the Son.
Finally, the Lord’s Supper is the act of the whole congregation, and so in this rite, action comes to the fore. What we do in the Supper is a memorial presented to God the Father, and what we eat is in a miracle the Theoanthropos, but the energy of the Spirit is paramount in the rite. In the order of worship, we _rst confess sins and are restored as persons. Then we hear the Word and pledge renewed allegiance to Him. Finally, we receive the power of the Spirit. The Spirit _rst binds us together as one loaf in union with Christ, as we all eat the same Bread. Then the Spirit imparts to all of us collectively the death of Christ through His blood, so that we are enabled to live sacri_cally as martyrs, dying more and more to sin and rising more and more to righteousness.
Since the "sacraments" are generally understood to be avenues of revelation, I need go no farther at this point.
(to be concluded)