Friday, 16 September 2011


God – the Familiar Other

How familiar is too familiar? I’ve been studying at a mission school for three years, approaching many aspects of God from a rigorous academic stand point, but not exclusively so. I was thinking about God day-in and day-out. And when you learn one thing, a door opens up to two or three, or more, other places that you had not properly, or ever, considered. There is always more to know.

For those who have known me for a while longer, this has often been the case. Thinking about God, not happy to have the ‘pat standard answer’ given to my enquiries has been part of my life for a long time.  God has never been far, except of course when I move away from him. But that’s a different story.

Has my familiarity bred contempt... this touching of the divine every day? What about this Mystery?

The problem though, seems to be that there is a conflict in what we are told to do. On one hand, we have God who we come to know as Abba, which is a close, fatherly relationship, as a small child depends and is close to his or her father. A closeness which is beyond formal relationship, an intimacy that is closer than all others.

Then there is this: the Mysterious One, the One who is Other to ourselves, a Holy God, the Righteous One, One who we cannot fathom or understand, One who is above us and a truly Other being. A powerful Creator God, with His own will, Kingly realm and angelic mass.

The answer, I believe, is quite simple. Or at least it should be. This ‘spectrum’ of familiarity and Great Otherness (not distance) is all part of relationship. Sometimes we are closer than what was ever thought possible; at other times we are further apart than what is bearable. Familiarity gives way to dependence. And then we learn something new about God, and it then risks becoming familiar, everyday, not special.

I always struggled when people went on and on about how God had done something great and miraculous. I would say that this was Standard Operating Procedure for him, normality to him, supernatural to us and something we should expect and consider normal. But then I realised that maybe I have made him too common, too predictable. And that is the error. Predictability has become what we as humans want, but it is the last thing we need. All our effort to control our world, make it compliant and manageable, is what drains the life from us. There are good and Godly uses of our powers to control (disease eradication etc.), but to tame God, to put him in a box, is the most dangerous thing we can do.

Relationship, dare we even say we can have that with God, is a dynamic, not a constant. That is not to say God is unreliable, i.e. a variable. The mystery of relationship, the ebb and flow, the action and reaction, the vulnerability and dependence, the new discoveries of old truths: these are what we expect, this is what makes life.

God never changes, the Great Other still seeks us.

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