Images of God 4



Images of God 4

When I was at theological college I was taught to do theology in much the same way I had learned economics at university. As I read more widely, and especially when I studied the culture and traditions of Jesus day in some depth, I realised that my tendency to view the Gospels through a Greek-influenced lens often obscured the core meaning of much of Jesus’ teaching.

Biblical Hebrew has far fewer words than the English language,* with the result that each word operates “like an overstuffed suitcase”, with “many verbs…that we think of only as mental activities [also] encompassing their physical result.”* Jesus’ hearers would have struggled to intellectualise his teaching simply because the Hebrew language makes it so difficult to do so. When reflecting in Hebrew, every thought is automatically tied to its natural outcome.

I can illustrate this by reference to a radio series I listened to many Easters ago in which in the inimitable John Humphries conducted a series of combative interviews with four eminent religious leaders, purportedly in an attempt to regain his faith in God. The two that struck me most forcibly were Humphries’ conversations with Rowan Williams and Jonathan Sacks. Asked to present God to someone who has lost his faith, the former Archbishop of Canterbury made a reasonable, balanced and thoughtful defence of God in entirely philosophical terms – without, I seem to recall, once mentioning Jesus. It was interesting but hardly compelling listening.

Sacks, on the other hand, presented his faith as a journey and admitted to numerous unanswered questions. In every answer he could not help revealing his core conviction that God can only be embraced from within a covenant relationship in which he must be allowed to reveal himself as he wills, despite the fact that, to our minds, this might involve agreeing to live with apparent contradictions. In challenging Humphries to allow the idea of God to remain unreasonable, to our definition of reason at least, I found myself intrigued as opposed to just ‘interested’. If I had been on the search for a new religion I would have been much more likely to seek out a synagogue than a church on the basis of those presentations alone.

When I was involved in coaching missional leaders we used to ask a question: Why is it that we present Christianity by means of complicated theology that demands little more than positive assent, whereas Jesus’ teaching was simple to understand and yet was transformational in the way those who followed him lived their lives? There is no simple answer to this question, but I hope the final posts in this series will go a little way toward answering the question.


*1  Biblical Hebrew uses around 8,000 words, whereas English has more than 400,000.

*2  Lois Tverberg – Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, 37.


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About the Author

Craig Millward has been a Baptist minister for over 30 years and has extensive experience of the joys and challenges of church leadership.

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