Where is God?
That's a question and answer I'll use at the start of a Bible class for beginners. Beginners to the faith. Beginners to first using a Bible.
After all, the Bible can be hard to read.
Sometimes, like the sentence above, the Good Book is frustrating because the print is often microscopic. And names are funny. I've never met a Methuselah or Hagar. Places seem strange. Every Pentecost a reading from Acts includes Phrygia and Pamphylia. Huh?
In the oldest biblical manuscripts, whether Hebrew or Greek, the letters, words and sentences had no spaces between them. Likethis. Orthis. Partly that was because the papyrus and leather used for a writing surface was difficult — and costly — to produce. No one called Office Depot to order reams of ready-to-use leather hides. To conserve precious space, words were squished together. Long ago or today, the Bible'shardtoread.
So I enjoy sharing Godisnowhere with first-time Bible students. The learned scholars that discerned what the Bible "really said" from ancient documents engaged in an arduous task. Indeed, through ongoing scholarship we continue to discover "old" words and "new" definitions.
Modern Bible readers are indebted to that once and future work with the gift of readable sentences, numbered verses and clearly marked chapters.
But there's another reason for using Godisnowhere.
Some interpret the squished sentence as: God is now here.
But for others: God is no where.
And yet, aren't both true? Each encourages a beginner, or longtime believer, to wrestle with the experience of daily faith.
Oh, those precious times when, following Jesus' example, we forgive another. Healing is celebrated as forgiver and forgiven embrace. Or we witness a sunset where the sky glows a glorious red and orange and the air seems saturated with perfection. Every molecule in our body declares ... God is now here!
But then a hurricane wrecks a thousand miles of coastline and scores of people die in horrific ways. Or the personal "hurricane" of divorce or the unexpected death of a loved one batters a family. And we are lost and alone. And, it would seem ... God is no where.
And so this playful, painful jumbled sentence helps us understand one of the best reasons to open the Bible. The people we discover and rediscover are so much like us. Page after thin page, there is the presence and absence of the Holy. We shiver alongside Mary Magdalene at Jesus' tomb, weeping and no longer able to imagine a future. We join Saul (not yet Paul), knocked off his horse on the Damascus road—blind and woebegone. We glimpse King David, now knowing the cost of arrogance, as he staggered back to his throne following the death of his son, Absalom.
Their story is our story. Our shared faith honestly confesses, "God is nowhere."
But Mary, Saul-who-became-Paul, David and more also humbly invite us to turn the page. God is now here.
This week's front page features:
If it's Wednesday, it must be church: (right) After 25 years of trying, Syracuse church connects with community.
A yeasty welcome: Bread-seller offers 7 habits for a highly hospitable church.
Answered prayer: We're forgiven to forgive.
Julie & Julia: Film celebrates spirituality and enthusiasm.
Also: State of thirst.
Discuss community outreach
Oct. 13-20: Join Nelson Gaetz (right) to discuss his church's community ministry.
Consider reading "If it's Wednesday, it must be church" before joining in.
How are social media networks/texting/e-newsletters changing your congregation's ministry? We need your stories for a February 2010 cover story. We'd like to know:
Send any of the above by Oct. 26 to: email@example.com
This week on our blog
Julie Sevig (right) blogs about congregational giving.
The Little Lutheran
(for children 6 and younger)
The Little Christian
(for children 6 and younger)
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers