Main Body

Chapter 6: “Who should I say that you are?”

To read is to interpret. To interpret is to seek intention. Good readers offer consistent readings of texts. Biblical heroes are good readers who read Yahweh’s intentions. Who is this Yahweh that we read of from the very beginning of the text?

“In the beginning of creation, when God made heaven and earth…” is the first thing we read. Not only is there a time indicator functioning like “once upon a time” but also it seems right to call it the time indicator – not once in time but at the beginning of time. “In the beginning of creation” signals an ongoing creation, a continuous creation in time, and not just a creative act of instantaneous power inserted and withdrawn.

In the Genesis 1 creation story we find authority, brevity, and solemn majesty presented in the character of God, the transcendent and creative commander of the universe. But already in Genesis 2 we meet a sudden switch in form and style. Now the relationship of the characters rather than the tabulation of events or commands is primary. Here is a personal God, immanent and knowable, instead of transcendent and imperial. The language is picturesque and flowing: this God breathes life into dust sculpted man and plants a garden, this God responds to the loneliness of Adam and creates Eve, this God walks in the garden and talks to his creations. The God who issued commands in Genesis 1 speaks only once here and then to himself, “It is not good for man to be alone.” While in Genesis 1 God appears as a being who stands outside of his creation and controls it with his mighty word, in Genesis 2 the portrait of God is very different. Here his immanence, personal nearness, and local involvement on the human scene are basic features. Yahweh is not a detached sovereign overlord but a god at hand as a loving master. He is a god with whom man has a ready contact. He molds with his hands like a potter; he breathes into the mouth of a clay model, he searches through the garden for Adam and Eve, he converses.

These two differing notions of God have been described as the Priestly and the Yahwist conceptions. The priestly account is claimed to run from Genesis 1.1 through 2.4a and the Yahwist account from Genesis 2.4b through 4.26. They differ in these ways: while the Priestly account is solemn, repetitive, and majestic in style, the Yahwist account is told in story form with an evocative and economical use of words which appeals to the imagination instead of the intellect. While in the Priestly (P) account God creates things, in the Yahwist (J) account he forms them. P has male and female created in the likeness of God; J has man and woman formed as living beings from the dust. P offers a cosmic perspective of an ordered world with God outside it, and J presents an intimate and involved God creating not by order but by hand. In P documents the name for God is `Elohim’ and in J documents the name for God is `Yahweh’.

Quite different conceptions of god are to be seen in these different renditions. Detached or involved, or both? In the final combination of stories the answer is both. One set of stories likely arose from the priestly concerns of ritual and intellectual justification for a certain conception.   The so-called Yahwist story teller has differing intentions, is as we say, of the people, and tells the story in a more personal way. The difference here could be described as the difference between a sermon and a drama. By the time the redactor has woven the stories together the result is a more complex god than either P or J envisioned. From the very beginning it seems that talking of God was in part a matter of projecting self-interest on to the screen. Talking of god is not a matter of getting the description accurate but always is a matter of proclaiming what is to be described. If two people (or two nations) disagree on the proper description of god, they have no place in the physical world to go to check for descriptive accuracy – they go instead to texts, they return to their story and not to the laboratory.

The Hebrew God appears on several occasions in the stories of the Old Testament. In one sense these books are the record of the covenant between God and his chosen people. He reveals himself to the patriarchs and to Moses – appears as himself to the tribal heroes. For example:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him

and said, `I am God Almighty. Live always in my presence and be

perfect, so that I may set my covenant between myself and you and

multiply your descendants.’ Abram threw himself down on his face,

and God spoke with him and said, `I make this covenant, and I

make it with you: you shall be the father of a host of nations. Your

name shall no longer be Abram [that is, High Father], your name

shall be Abraham [that is, Father of a Multitude], for I make you

father of a host of nations. (Gen. 17.1-5)

 

Later God appears to Abraham at Mamre in the form of visitors to his tent to announce that Sarah will give birth to a son. The Lord also reveals to Abraham his plans for Sodom and Gomorrah, explaining that he should not conceal from Abraham what he intends to do since Abraham is his choice to father a great and powerful nation, and knowing of God’s intentions will be fur- ther proof that Abraham is the chosen one. Later God will also appear to Jacob and also rename him. God identifies himself this time as “the God who appeared to you when you were running away from your brother Esau.” In the famous scene in Exodus God once again appears to man, this time to Moses. Here, in answer to Moses’ question, `If I go to the Israelites and tell them that the God of their forefathers has sent me to them, and they ask me his name, what shall I say?’ we hear, `I AM; that is who I am. Tell them that I AM has sent you to them.’ I AM is who I am; and YHWH is my name. And these puzzling words have been written about more than any others in literature . Here in the story we have God himself uttering his name, providing us with a clue to his nature. What might these words mean?

Names are of great importance in the Old Testament. Several of the heroes of the tribes have name changes when the covenant is renewed. Often the name given, as, for example, in Abraham’s case, is not only used to refer but is also a word with meaning. `Abraham’ means `father of a multitude’ and `Isaac’ means `he laughed.’ We do not usually think of names as having connotations, but as tags to be used to denote or refer to a particular person. But here, in addition to referring, these names often carry a meaning that tells us something about the character in the story. `Yahweh’ (the probable pronunciation of the Hebrew consonants YHWH) is the unpronounceable name, the name that cannot be said. The name of God is unique in that it is one word that cannot be pronounced. The difficulty of talking about God is literally in the story – to refer to God is to have to employ a word that cannot be pronounced. From the very beginning of the story we see the acknowledged difficulty of god-talk, for we are cut off from either referring to him or from giving some meaning to his name. The name he gives Moses has neither sense nor reference. The story tells us that God is beyond language in the most basic of ways: he is going to be impossible to talk about because the word used to name him cannot be pronounced, and if it could be pronounced it would have no meaning.

But this has not stopped people from talking about God, for the message of the story is always subject to and object of interpretation from a particular point of view. One Catholic writer1 offers a reading of the Old Testament passage quite different from mine. He says that there are three possibilities of readings from the `I AM that I AM’ passage. First, “I am who I am” is god’s affirmation of himself “to be the Absolutely existent One to whose being there is no limit or restriction.”2 In the Greek version this comes out “I am he who is.” Father Murray says these meanings are too academic for the story and the times. What Moses is really asking, he says, “was to know not his [God’s] nature but his role in their community and his mode of action in their history.” Therefore he puts aside this interpretation. A second possibility is “I make to be whatever comes to be.” He writes:3

The belief that God is the Maker of All was present among the

Israelites from the beginning. In fact, in all primitive religions the

belief prevailed that the god stood at the origin of the world. It

may, however, be doubted that the original hearing of the divine

name caught this cosmological sense in it. To them, Yahweh was in

the first instance the God of their fathers, who created the people,

who was the Lord of the people, the power behind their history.

 

It is yet a third interpretation which Father Murray finds the correct one. This reading he asserts “yields a more adequate exegetical understanding.” What does it mean to find a reading that “yields a more adequate exegetical understanding?” It means to consider many readings from the point of view of an already established official line and then to select as correct that one which promotes the official line. This approach is not to read out of the work but to read into the work from a set of preconceptions, and one of its problems is obviously that what you read is what you are. Murray’s reading proceeds like this: “…in the enigmatic play on words and in the Name Yahweh that embodies its sense, Moses and his people heard not the affirmation that God is or that he is creator but the promise that he would be present with his people.” I have argued that `Yahweh’ is without sense. And in this senselessness lies the “meaning” of the story. How would we decide who is right? Look at the story – or to paraphrase D. H. Lawrence, “Never trust the teller; trust the tale.” Murray’s three readings and my fourth are not disagreements about what is there in the story but are disagreements about the meaning of the story. By “meaning” here I mean the most sensible and natural reading of the story as it appears in the complex narrative without importing a preconceived scheme of dogmatic interpretation.

Our first responsibility is to read sensitively and with care what the writer has written. It is difficult because we do indeed look through a glass darkly – the glass being darkened by the layers of interpretations offered up over the centuries,   interpretations which have evolved into the official line. For example, we talk about god as if she were male. All those Sunday School pictures show a male, a sort of larger than life Abraham, with flowing beard and human features. But there is powerful imagery in the Bible that offers us a female god. A recurring image in the Old Testament is of a god who is like a hen, gathering its chicks under its protective wing (“as an eagle watches over its nest,” Deut. 32.11). Images of birth are used to compare the birth of a new nation or of a new idea to childbirth:

 

Long have I lain still,

I kept silence and held myself in check;

now I will cry like a woman in labour,

Whimpering, panting and gasping. (Isaiah 42.14)

 

The divine feminine4 is also present in the New Testament. Jesus says (John 16.21) “A woman in labour is in pain because her time has come…” and later says of himself that his “time has come.” In that story Jesus is bringing forth a new way of relating to God, a new idea. The male dominated language of the church is found in the official line – the concepts of god in the texts are beyond sexist projections. And just where does the meaning of a story reside?

Three possibilities present themselves for consideration and discussion: 1. intention, 2. text, 3. interpretation. The meaning, argue some, is to be found in the intention of the author. If we could only know what the author intended then we could know what the story means, or, we could then measure the intention against the accomplishment. This approach is seen in the “let’s call the author” approach to literary criticism. “If anybody knows what’s going on it’s bound to be the author.” This approach would have us study history, psychology, biography and anthropology in order to understand texts. The New Critics reminded us that the text itself is important, although they emphasized it to the exclusion of all else. Authorial intention, they argued, is difficult if not impossible to ascertain, while the artifact itself, the text, is present to be studied. Reader response critics point out that meaning resides in the mind/brain of the reader. Everyone has sat in a literature class and wondered if there was indeed any answer to the problem of multiple interpretation other than the cynical one of giving the teacher what you think she wants.

Here is a record of such a debate centering around a modern and brief poem. “Aren’t you just reading that into the poem?” Very often the English teacher cannot prove the validity of his/her interpretation, try as s/he might to build a logical case: the design s/he has just traced out in the webwork of a poem’s connotations and reverberations (perfectly logical in her eyes) begins to waver as students fire at him with alternative connections, last year’s high school teacher’s equally logical structure, and antagonistic literary critics (“Well, if you’re so hot why haven’t you published?”). As the design melts back into a flow of possible meanings, the teacher stammers his/her appeals to justice, then to mercy, but the class has passed sentence: ring-binders snap shut like so many hungry alligators, and the students march off to physics where issues are clear. The teacher exiles herself to an hour of solitary confinement in her office.

Below is a record of a similar trial, with some concluding judgements. The bone of contention is a poem by Robert Frost:5

 

Dust of Snow

 

The way the crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

The first testimony took place in the classroom of Norbert Artzt, who had written the poem on the blackboard, and proceeded to reveal its perfectly logical pattern. Here is part of his report (printed in College English, April 1971):

“What is on the board?” I ask again.

Someone says “words.”

We have taken the first step. “What do these words do?”

“They make a statement.” …

I digress. “Is the statement a complete one?”…

 

The answers come. They are seeing the words.

“In what time of year does the thing take place? Is winter a time

of life and growth? What about snow? What about dust?”…

 

The young man with the long hair is in a frenzy. “The bird is

scattering dust on the poet’s head. He is burying him. Good grief!

He is burying him.”

 

Everyone feels the chill. They are cold now. They are afraid.

Winter, dust, crow, snow, hemlock tree- the images are coalescing.

The deep structure of the poem is emerging in their heads.

 

Suddenly the momentum stops.

 

“But why?” someone asks. “Why if the man gets a premonition

of death does his mood change for the better?”

 

We move back to “the way”. I ask how the bird shakes the snow

down on the man, why he does it….

 

The bird is drying his wings or landing or taking off. The bird is

indifferent to the man walking beneath him. I ask what this bird’s

indifferent act might mean in the context of the experience. Some-

one suggests that the meaning may lie in the man’s feeling about

what has happened. The man recognizes that nature is indifferent

to the life of any particular man.

 

I ask again what the thing on the board has said. The long-haired

boy speaks. He is a genius. He will burn down the White House

some day. “The poet has realized through this experience that

death is inevitable and incalculable. It can come at any time, any

place, to anyone. The poet knows he’s wasting his time in regret,

wasting life.” The boy becomes prophetic; his name is Jeremy. “The

poet has had an epiphany. That is why his mood changes.”

 

Counter-testimony came from Laurence Perrine – after reading Artzt’s report he wrote, in The Explicator, March, 1972:

 

“The way” in which a crow shakes down dust of snow on Frost’s

speaker is left unspecified, thus permitting several possibilities. I

can see them chiefly as four: Beautifully, animatedly, cheerily, and

humorously. First the poem presents a scene of visual beauty, black

etched against white, the movement of the scattered snow

counterpoint against the immobility of the evergreen tree. Second,

the action of the crow presents a bit of life and animation in a

scene otherwise frozen and without life. Third, the scattering of the

snow on the speaker is almost an acknowledgment of his presence,

a   greeting, a communication between the two living actors in the

scene. Fourth, the snow’s falling on the speaker suggests a touch of

humor, as if the sly crow were playing a practical joke on him. The

beauty of the action, its evidence of life, its suggestion of a greeting

, and the touch of humor in it combines to lighten the mood of the

speaker….

 

Recounting a very simple incident, Frost strove to give it an

utter simplicity of form and language. His one sentence poem has

only one word with as many as two syllables.

 

Two additional points. First, the fact that the crow’s action saved

only part of a day the speaker “had rued” does not imply that his

sorrow was too pervasive. He may have made a social blunder, for

instance, and his wife may have spoken sharply to him; but he is

hardly mourning his wife’s death or the loss of a child.

Nevertheless, the point of the poem lies in the discrepancy between

the smallness of the crow’s action and the extent of its effect: it is

this that tells us most about the sensitivity of the speaker, his

responsiveness to beauty and life, and his love of nature.

 

 

To judge this case, what voice could be more authoritative than Robert Frost’s? In the film   Lover’s Quarrel With the World (1963) he states:

 

There’s a little poem of mine, an old one. It goes like this. (He

recites “Dust of Snow”.) See now. Let’s look at that fair and square.

(He recites it again, more slowly.)     And someone says to

me,”Very sinister poem!” And I said, “Sinister?” “Yes, the crow, the

crow is a black bird.” And I     said, “The crow figures all sorts of

ways, but all right , I don’t argue. And what more?” “The hemlock

tree.” And I said, “Yes?” And he said, “but Socrates, Socrates –

death of Socrates.” Well you get surprises in this world. I never

thought of that. I live with hemlock trees, and it’s not the weed that

Socrates drank at all. And it’s all wrong with the     tree. I’m partly

just as much from the city as the country. But I’m a little more

country than city. And I know what a hemlock tree is.

 

Yet there is a higher appeal. Here is Auden:6

 

One sign that a book has literary value is that it can be read in a

number of different ways. Vice versa, the proof that pornography

has no literary value is that, if one attempts to read it in any other

way than as a sexual stimulus, to read it, say, as a psychological

case-history of the author’s sexual fantasies, one is bored to tears.

 

Though a work of literature can be read in a number of ways, this

number is finite and can be arranged in a hierarchical order; some

readings are obviously “truer” than others, some obviously false,

and some like reading a novel backwards,     absurd. That is why,

for a desert island, one would choose a good dictionary rather than

the greatest literary masterpiece imaginable for, in relation to its

readers, a dictionary is absolutely passive and may legitimately be

read in an infinite number of ways.

Need Frost be aware of this hierarchy? In fact, need he be aware of fairly basic implications of his poem? We often need others to help us grasp the meaning(s) of our own dreams. Often the creative work functions as an “other” to the one creating it.

But in case the issue seems to be resolving or dissolving into valid subjective realities, here’s a new confrontation, revealed by a broader context. After the appearance of Perrine’s attack on him, Artzt (author of the first article) wrote to Jeremy for moral support. Jeremy was then at a Federal Correction Institute for burning draft cards and a draft office. His reply:

What really craps me out is that guys like you and Mr. P. take these

things so seriously. Both of you ought to take a long walk in the

snow.

 

What matters in this world is action. When words turn into action

you have poetry. When they sit on the page or in the classroom you

have nothing.

 

I’ll tell you what you can do for me – you can stop the war. When

the murders are done with, write me again and tell me what you did

to stop the killing.

 

When an eight line poem can stimulate such discussion is it any wonder that the stories from the Bible are interpreted in so many different ways? Would it help to be able to talk with the author? Where is the authority for a reading that is true? Do we look to a priest or a rabbi? Would not that be to substitute one reading for another? In a sense the claim of authority for the biblical stories, namely that they are written by God, should be taken as metaphoric truth. The truth is in the stories – not in the interpretations offered by others who add their voices to the stories. Reading the Bible is to read a complex narrative, with all the subtlety and complexity that requires, but it is not merely to choose to accept someone else’s reading on authority. Reading any complex text requires that we bring to it everything that we can, effectively, all we are: a critical mind, a sensitivity to literary structures, an awareness of the time and place from which the text arises, our little knowledge of life itself. In reading the Bible, too often, instead of a critical reading based upon intention, text, and reaction, we are seduced by the official line, which does all of the work for us. Adding the official line to the formula of intention, text, and reaction means we are faced with the difficulty of attempting to read the intention, text, and reaction of the official line!

What a beautiful thing it is to read the bible stories without the layers of interpretive stuff that many of us bring to them from the chapel or the synagogue. It is difficult to read these texts with fresh eyes from within our culturally imposed official line, but it is the only way to read them.

As I write this two armies are facing each other in the Persian Gulf. Saddam Hussein has recently invaded and taken Kuwait. George Bush has responded with the assistance of the United Nations by moving a multi-national force into Saudia Arabia. The self-interest of the nations involved is beginning to be hidden under rhetoric about “holy wars” and “sacred places” and “evil forces” – rhetoric that tries to make this grab for oil by both sides into some kind of religious encounter between two gods: the God of Islam and the God of Christianity. Are we to believe that God, any god, is concerned about the price of a barrel of oil? The number of religious wars fought on this earth is staggering. Millions of people have died in defense of some conceptual projection or other. We have fought over subtle matters of doctrine, over what shape the temple should have, over what sacrifices are appropriate. And in every war each side claims that God is on their side. As Lincoln said in the American Civil War: “They say that God is on their side; we say that God is on our side. We could both be wrong, but at most one of us is right.” Belief in god can be a powerful force in the affairs of men and women. Such belief can bring us to our knees, can arm us with a sword of fire as we march off to war, can bring us fear of the future, can fill our minds with expectation, can provide peace and acceptance. One can also believe in ghosts, devils, secret powers of the mind, the power of crystals to cure cancer, the existence of witches, or the green cheese theory of the moon’s construction. What is the difference, if any, between a belief in these fantastic notions and a belief in a god?

Nothing and everything. On the one hand there is no difference, in the sense that there is no evidence for the existence of devils or gods. On the other hand there is a difference in the tenacity with which people hold on to the belief in god. With many beliefs we are willing to let them go when we are provided with sufficient evidence. Strictly speaking, of course, it is impossible to hold a false belief. Once I know that a given belief of mine is false I can no longer hold it as a belief. If I do, then doing so counts as evidence that I am irrational. But just as I cannot know that God exists, I also cannot know that God does not exist. `Know’ is the key word here. How does it function? We say that we know P (a statement) just when we believe that P, we have evidence that P, and P is true. In formal dress:

 

X knows that P is true if and only if:

1. X believes that P,

2. X has good evidence that P, and

3. P is true.

 

Knowledge then is justified, true belief. Belief is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for knowledge, which means that no matter how hard I believe that P, P’s truth is independent of my belief. It also means that the number of believers is also logically independent of the truth of the proposition. The strength and the number of believers cannot guarantee the truth of a proposition. It may well be that millions of committed persons once believed strongly that the earth is flat. But that didn’t make it flat. So it is with God. Millions of people seem to believe in Allah, and millions of people seem to believe in the Christian God. Millions believe in Buddha. Millions believe in no god. But we do not believe that this issue will be settled by a world wide vote.

Besides going to “sacred” texts to prove our god’s existence, which is question begging (“I know that God exists because it says so in the Bible and God wrote the Bible!”7), how do we proceed?

One way is to posit another way of knowing, a way of knowing that is not subject to the same rigor as is factual knowledge and its repeated claim for verification. Faith is often suggested as way of knowing religious truths which is different from the way of knowing other kinds of truths. “The invisible is always visible to faith,” writes Father Murray,8 and there does seem to be a widespread belief that faith is a way of knowing that should be included as a third logical category in answer to the question `how do you know that x?’ One way we know that x is through experience and another is through reason. Perhaps a third way is faith. All three answers have been offered as ways of knowing about God. Experience, it is argued, offers evidence that God exists. Because of the complexity of the created world, in the beauty and design of the created product is some evidence that a creator must exist who created the whole of it. Nothing as complicated as a human eye or human brain could possibly exist unless there were some creator behind the creation, but incremental evolution over vast expanses of time would be a counter hypothesis that explained the coming into being of things in the world without the need for special creation. Design itself is a slippery concept – it is hard to say where it resides, in the thing that has it or in the thing that views it. The believer seems to “see” something else in experience that the non-believer cannot “see.”

John Wisdom, in a famous paper published in 1944,9 argues that “the existence of God is not an experimental issue in the way it was,” primarily because of “our better knowledge of why things happen as they do.” While in the past we may have thought of God as a power that pulled the levers of the natural order, today, with the advances of science, we are not so apt to believe that prayer is the best solution to end a drought or heal a cancer. Wisdom’s paper, which generated a new interest in the philosophy of religion, offers an explanation of how it is that “an explanatory hypothesis, such as the existence of God, may start by being experimental and gradually become something quite different.” He offers a story about two men who return to their long neglected garden to find that among the weeds are some of the old plants growing strongly. One suggests that a gardener must come and tend them. The other says there is no gardener. They experiment by examining the garden very carefully, studying other unattended gardens, and asking neighbours if anyone is secretly tending the garden. The two discover exactly the same facts, but one continues to say “There is a gardener” and the other to say “There is no gardener.” Wisdom says, “with this difference in what they say about the gardener goes a difference in how they feel towards the garden, in spite of the fact that neither expects anything of it which the other does not expect.” One man feels one way about the garden and the other feels another way. Is this all it means to assert a belief in God?

People who argue about the existence of God and attempt to convince others of their position are arguing about something they take to be fundamental and important – they do not seem to be talking just about how they feel. Each wants to offer some kind of reasons for his/her belief, or as Wisdom puts it, “The disputants speak as if they are concerned with a matter of scientific fact, or of trans-sensual, trans-scientific and metaphysical fact, but still of fact and still a matter about which reasons for and against may be offered, although no scientific reasons in the sense of field surveys for fossils or experiments on delinquents are to the point.” However, not every dispute that we have is one that can be settled by experiment. In mathematics, logic and literary interpretation we may offer reasons in support of our beliefs, but be unable to offer experimental results that support the interpretation or solution. In law cases the same facts may be accepted by both parties and there still be a dispute as to what they mean. In these kinds of cases, argues Wisdom, “the solution of the question at issue is a decision, a ruling by the judge.”

 

Is   belief in God equal with belief in mathematics or logic?   Over the centuries many have thought so and many attempts have been made to provide the deductive argument that would win the day. In the eleventh century Saint Anselm offered a brilliant argument based upon a definition of God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” He argued:

 

1. By God we understand that than which nothing greater can be

conceived.

2. That than which a greater cannot be thought cannot exist in the

understanding alone.

3. Therefore, there exists both in the understanding and in reality

something than which a greater cannot be thought.

 

Anselm’s argument is not dependent upon experimentation or observation of scientific facts; it is an argument based upon definition. He believed he had provided the knock down argument for God’s existence. His joy of discovery is evident in his comment, “Thanks be to thee, good Lord, thanks be to thee, because I now understand by thy light what I formerly believed by thy gift, so that even if I were to refuse to believe in thy existence, I could not fail to understand its truth.”10 Anselm was subject to almost immediate criticism on the ground of a parallel argument that seemed to lead to absurdity: Lost Island is an island of perfection that I can conceive of in my understanding, and it is greater than any other island, therefore it must exist, for if it did not then I could conceive of an existing island that would be greater than Lost Island because it would exist! But either there is such an island or there is not, my conceiving it cannot bring it in to existence.

Anselm’s argument and all other a priori arguments fall victim to the Kantian observation that existence is not a predicate. When one says `Bob is tall’ one uses `tall’ to predicate something of Bob. But if Bob is tall then `Bob’ must already refer to someone who exists. To say `Bob exists’ is not only odd it is also redundant. Existence is not a matter of logic but a matter of fact. Arguments for God’s existence which are based upon reason in this way turn out to be unsatisfactory – they always seem to be about language but not about God.

What then of faith? Is faith a different kind of faculty that some of us may enjoy which somehow provides direct access to knowledge? `Faith’ is both quite an ordinary word and quite an extra-ordinary word. On the one hand it functions to describe the epistemic relationship we have with all sorts of things we do not understand: `I have faith that my automatic transmission will work,’ or `I have faith that the Canadian dollar will continue to have some value.’ On the other hand it is used in this way: `I have faith that God spoke to the patriarchs in the desert,’ or `Faith tells me that Christ died for my sins.’ Are these usages the same? Not exactly, for in the first examples we could in principle come to know whether the faith was well placed by pursuing study of a certain kind. But in the latter examples there is nothing further to study, even in principle; faith in those examples is hope. Not all faith is rational.

Belief in God appears more an aesthetic experience than anything else. One either sees the beauty in a painting or one does not. Is the beauty really there? Yes and no. As Wisdom says, “We have eaten of the fruit of a garden we can’t forget though we were never there, a garden we still look for though we can never find it.”

God, like beauty, is to be found in the stories, the works of art, of the Bible. When our first son was about four he went to play school one day and immediately went over to an easel and stood there holding a brush ready to start painting. The teacher came up behind him and said, “What are you going to paint?” “God,” he said. “And do you know what God looks like?”

“I will when I finish the painting,” he said as he began to paint.

 

 

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