Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jesus and the Gurus

I am posting, with his permission, a guest article by Steve Scott a staff member of Warehouse Ministries. A musician and artist, Scott is also the author of several books including, Like a House on Fire: Renewal of the Arts in a Postmodern Culture and Crying for a Vision and Other Essays: The Collected Steve Scott Vol. One. I intend this article as an answer to some of the questions asked in the comment section of my posting The Bhagavad-Gita, the Bible: grief and being human. This is a long posting but should be read as a whole piece. Please read and enjoy.

Jesus and the Gurus

While recently traveling in India, I had an opportunity to begin studying some of the religious and philosophical systems prevalent there. I was able to participate in discussions with many Indians, Hindu, Buddhists and Christians. As a result I had to face climbing down from many of my “Western” presuppositions about Eastern religions. The Indian Christians were fond of reminding me that Christianity itself was an Eastern religion and, furthermore, that Christianity had been in India far longer than it had been in the USA.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I set about trying to understand both the similarities and differences between Christianity and other Eastern religions. I began my study in the area of the “guru” or “living master.” As I examined the concept of the guru and the guru tradition, my eyes were opened to some of the mistakes that we in the West are prone to make. We tend to regard the guru as merely a teacher or a channel of a particular spiritual tradition, whereas my studies reveal that the guru properly understood is seen as an embodiment of the very tradition he teaches. (I'll provide some quotes from their own literature that suggests this a little later on.) We also make the mistake of assuming that the guru merely teaches us the way of getting free from our accumulated sin (karma) or free from inordinate attachment to this realm of illusion (maya) and free from such pain such attachment produces (samsara). Deeper study, however, reveals that it is the guru himself who frees us from this threefold bondage. If we devote ourselves totally and wholeheartedly to guru bhakti, or devotion, then he will free us through instruction and possibly through the administration of a massive jolt of spiritual power known in the guru tradition as “shaktipat.”

As I learned more and more of the central role that the guru plays in this tradition, I saw its similarity to the Christian message. Jesus died and rose again to free us from the effects and power of sin. When we are truly following Christ, then we are no longer “bound” by the world. As I studied, I began to see that Jesus and the gurus were both claiming to fulfill almost identical functions. I wanted to see how far the comparison could be taken, so I began to make comparisons between some Indian literature on the guru (notably The Guru Tattwa of Swami Sivananda)* and some of the stories and sayings about Jesus recorded in the literature of the Early Church.

The “Guru Gita” contained in Silananda's text leaves little doubt as to who the guru is and what he claims to be:

Guru is Brahma. Guru is Vishnu. Guru is Siva. Guru is the Supreme Brahman itself. Prostration to that Guru. (v:4)

The guru alone is the whole world, including Brahman Vishnu and Siva. Nothing greater than Guru exists. Therefore Guru is to be worshiped. (v:18)

The form of Guru is the root of meditation. The feet of Guru are the root of worship. The teaching of the Guru is the root of all mantras. The grace of Guru is the root of salvation. (v:12)

By identifying the Guru as being identical to the Hindu trinity and also the source of salvation, the image of the guru as both the embodiment and even the source of the spiritual tradition he espouses become clear. The Christian tradition has some similar ideas about Jesus.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things were created, in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities - all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together. (Col. 1:15-18)

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him and without Him was not made anything that was made. (John 1:1-4)

In this the love of God was made manifest among us that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. (1 John 4:9)

Here we can see that the Christians thought of Jesus much in the same way, although their use of a term like “only begotten” is a little alarming. Perhaps they had never heard of the gurus. The absolute necessity of the guru for salvation is also stressed in the Gita.

Prostration to that Guru, due to whose existence the world exists, due to whose effulgence the world is illumined, due to whose bliss all are happy. (v:10)

There is no reality beyond Guru. There is no penance beyond Guru. There is no knowledge beyond Guru. Prostration to that Guru. (v:11)

When God is angry, Guru is the savior. When Guru gets angry, none is the savior. (v:21)

“Gu” is darkness. “Ru” is its remover. Because one removes darkness, he is called a “Guru.” (v:40)

Similarly the Christians stressed the necessity and centrality of Jesus in establishing salvation.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:16-17)

All this is from God who through Christ reconciled us to Himself. (11 Cor. 5:18)

That is God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. (11 Cor. 5:19)

Here some differences start to emerge. The cited guru texts seem to place the guru almost at a higher level than God when it comes to forgiving the disciple, whereas Jesus worked “in concert” with God, as it were, to achieve the purposes of reconciliation and redemption. There is no hint of some kind of competitive rivalry between God the Father and God the Son. And again there is the disturbing use of “only begotten” by the early Christian writers. It will be interesting to see if Jesus Himself was as “exclusive” in His statements as His followers. One certainly cannot fault their enthusiasm and devotion.The Guru Gita also counsels wholehearted devotion to the guru as being of spiritual benefit.

The water with which the feet of the Guru are washed is the sacred drink. The remains after Guru's meal are the proper food. Right meditation is on the form of Guru. Constant Japa [repetition] is of Guru's name. For the purpose of acquiring knowledge and dispassion, one should drink the water with which Guru's feet are washed, which cuts at the root of ignorance, which overcomes birth and the bondage of Karma. (v:13-14)

Without any feeling of shame one should fall in full prostration before the Guru and adore the Guru through action, mind and speech at all times. The baths taken in pilgrimages to the seven oceans bring only a thousandth part of the effect produced by drinking a drop of the water that is used for washing Guru's feet. (v.19-20)

The statements of Jesus Himself reveals what He expected from His followers.

And He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life shall lose it and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt 10:38-39)

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, if anyone thirst let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said “out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38)

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside His garments, and girded Himself with a towel. Then He poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. (John 13:3-5)

This is where some of the real differences start to show. Jesus calls His disciples to carry a cross in their devotion to Him. He also points out that all who are thirsty should come to Him to drink the “living water” that He can provide. He says nothing about washing His feet in it first. In fact, in order to set an example of the kind of spiritual devotion he wants his followers to participate in, He knelt and washed the feet of His followers. Also, one can see in the fellowship of the last supper in which Jesus shares a common cup and a common loaf, a far different picture than the one painted by the Guru Gita which insists that eating the guru's leftovers will somehow enhance your spirituality. The most disturbing aspect of Jesus' statements deals with His own claims concerning the exclusivity of salvation through Him.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, I came that they might have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. (John 10:7-11)

When I asked a current “perfect master” about this in Beas, India, he told me that Jesus was the only way for his particular age and people. I was, of course, confused by this - surely the concept behind the guru and the master hadn't changed so radically as seemed to be indicated in the stark differences between what Jesus said and did and some of the things contained in the Guru Gita. Also, Jesus seemed to be unaware that any had come before Him or would come after Him who could achieve the spiritual results that He had achieved. The Gurus, of course, would point back to their gurus, (i.e., the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi would point to Guru Dev, etc.) and the guru tradition. Jesus did no such thing. He didn't seem to think His message was limited by its historical location or only applicable to a certain period of history.

A final difference I noticed is this: some of the gurus were prone to establish their credentials by talking about their austerities - prolonged isolation in (for example) the Himalayas where after extensive yogic exercise and bodily mortification they realized their divine nature: that they were identical with the divine principle of the universe. It struck me that in order to establish Jesus' credentials as a spiritual master that it would be strategically viable to include a similar “testimony” concerning His prolonged meditation and “God realization.” I searched the New Testament in vain. I did, however, find this in Philippians 2:5-11:

Christ Jesus, who through He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

*Guru Tattwa. Sri Swami Sivananda. The Divine Life Society, Himalayas, India (1976)

All Bible quotes are from the Revised Standard Version.

30 comments:

John said...

It is easy to find fault in others when thast's what you focus on. Very easy.

I am glad you acknowledge the existence of common ground even though you also find the heresies of Eastern Religion.

Heresies are found in all wisdom traditions and who decides what's in and what's out? You?

Yes, Jesus humbled himself and then was exalted. Interesting that you would offer that scripture when you also love to give us the "I am the Way, the truth and the Life" pronouncement where the living Jesus of Nazareth, according to John, is claiming what I would call GURU status. Choose!

IOW I really have no problem finding enormous common ground with Eastern Wisdom Traditions.

There are many, many scriptural verses in The Eastern Wisdom Traditions which prmote the virtue of Humility.

Peace & Joy & Love,
John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + The John A Wilde Blog + “You do not need to do anything; you do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You do not even need to listen; just wait. You do not even need to wait; just become still, quiet and solitary and the world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet." -- Franz Kafka

Viola Larson said...

John,
You are always defending your own philosophy that there is a perennial philosophy that is true for all faiths. You think to not believe that is wrong. That is why you are arguing with me still when I say Jesus is the only way to God. I get the feeling that you don’t actually believe in any faith but only in the perennial philosophy you write about. Whatever your reasons you are still insisting that you are right and I am wrong. And yet I have God’s word to stand on, which probably shouldn’t mean much to you if you didn’t call yourself a Christian. But since you do call yourself a Christian, even a pastor, what can possibly use to back up what you say-that you are right and I am wrong?

reformedpastor said...

John: Eastern religions aren't heresies, which by definition can only come from within the Faith.

There may well be many commonalities between "Eastern Wisdom Traditions" and Christian teaching regarding wisdom, but that isn't the defining difference between Eastern religions and Christianity. The defining difference is, who is Jesus Christ, what did He do, and is who He is and what He did 9and does) unique?

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

reformedpastor said...

That should be "Christian teaching regarding humility."

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Pastor Bob said...

John and Viola

I've always thought that part of inter religious dialogue is to distinguish how what I believe differs from what the person(s) of the other faith(s) believe and to also try and find commonalities. There is, of course, a difference between dialogue and evangelism.

Also I've always felt uncomfortable trying to blend faiths. It seems to me that it tends to say that the distinctions between Christianity and another religion, say Judaism, are not important and that this not only does not promote dialogue but that it may also be offensive to those of another tradition. When I talk with my Jewish friends and relatives we know that we are different.

Now I think there is a difference between doing dialogue with Jews and Muslims and at least some Hindus. In my experience some of the Hindu tradition does accept portions of other faiths and kind of blends them into Hinduism. That, I think, is what the author Viola quotes is saying. There are similarities and differences between this particular form of Hinduism and Christianity. The prime difference is the insistence that Jesus is not a guru, at least not in the sense that there are other gurus that are equal to him and that he is unique.

I'm not sure that is looking down on another tradition so much as saying that it is different. After all from a Hindu point of view Jesus WAS a guru in his time.

Bob Campbell
Sharon Hill, PA

John said...

Dear Viola,

I don't think you understand my viewpoint and, sadly, I don't think you want to understand.

I am a follower of Christ and Christ teaches the Perennial Philosophy, or Mysticism, and even insists that we follow that path of abundance, joy, wisdom, beauty, love, truth, peace, justice and freedom.

"I am the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me."

John is clearly the most mystical of all the gospels. He has Jesus making "I am" statements which are found throughout mystic literature. He identifies himslef with the Source of Life (I am) who is Love. So, Jesus is saying -- very clearly -- Love is the way, the truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through Love. The Living and Eternal Christ is the pure incarnation of Love. Is Jesus the only human to attain this purity? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. It really is not up to me to make that claim. It is certainly not necessary and I believe Jesus of Nazareth would be the first to say so.

I'm not trying to convert you, just offer to you and your blog friends some wisdom which I have found extremely beneficial.

If I do sound a little defensive, maybe it's because of your ruling that I am not a Christian.

Bob, "blending" would not be what I seek. It goes deeper than that. Religions of all kinds are basically powerful thought systems. See Romans 12:1-2.

Christianity is a valid and powerful path, but not the only path. It is the path I cherish and follow. It works.

I simply see no reason for mature adults to play the dangerous game of "My Religion is Better Than Your Religion." I advocate for what I like to call "mutual conversion." This means that I want a faithful Moslem (for example) to hear my story and even cherish it at the same time I hear the story of that Moslem and try to cherish it (except if it violates me or others).

I think this is evangelism at its best.

+ Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + www.abundancetrek.com + “To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting” – E. E. Cummings

Viola Larson said...

John,you write:
"The Living and Eternal Christ is the pure incarnation of Love. Is Jesus the only human to attain this purity? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not."

The same book in the Bible (1 John) that teaches so much about love, teaches that he who does not see Jesus as the Christ is anti-Christ.

"Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the anti-christ, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also." (2:22-23)

That book begins with John's discription of who Jesus is, "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life-- And the life was manifested and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us--(1:1-2)

You can not split Jesus and Christ into. Jesus is the unique begotten Son of the Father. No one else is.

Jesus doesn't just identify himself with the source of love he says he is the source of love.

Viola Larson said...

I meant cannot split Jesus Christ into two entities in that last part.

John said...

Dear Viola,

I don't deny that Jesus is The Christ. Again, I see no effort on your part to understand me, but you just want to tell me that I'm wrong and that's that.

I seek common ground and sincere understanding, not judgments and pronouncements. If I am doing that to you, I'm sorry and I will try harder to be non-judgmental and preachy!

Do you want to seek common ground and sincere understanding or not. I have reason to believe that you are so determined to promote your agenda, that you will not join me in this effort. But I hope I'm wrong. I live in hope.

I can give only so much time and energy to this particular effort so I will be looking for some kind of positive response. But it is really important to me because we are united in our Christianity and our Presbyterian denominational ties. We really do need to be able to disagree without being disagreeable and to be open to the Truth even if it leads us to new and sometimes uncomfortable and challenging places of discovery and discernment.

+ Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + www.abundancetrek.com + "My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind." -- Albert Einstein

Viola Larson said...

John do you belive that other people can be the Christ too?

Viola Larson said...

Another question, was Jesus always the Christ or did he have to attain that place?

Pastor Bob said...

John

Have you ever tried doing "mutual conversion" with a Muslim (or a Jew for that matter) around the doctrine of the Trinity? I am certain that you will find that firm adherents of Islamic and Jewish tradition will clearly say "You may believe that Jesus is God but I do not." And there is nothing wrong with that. As long as it is made clear that each values the other as a creation of God. Christian history had terrible times when people were told that they must believe in the doctrine of the Trinity and a bunch of other doctrines or die. Islam used to treat Christians and Jews as less equal but as long as they paid the tax and didn't make trouble they were allowed to go their ways in peace. Now in some communities, they begun to say you must be a Muslim or we will kill you (or put you in prison or torture you, etc). Such behavior was and is sinful.

I think there can be respect for difference while also saying I think you are wrong. After all John isn't that what we have done for years?

I think the primary difference between what you are saying and what I am saying and have said for years is that Christianity makes unique claims. I don't believe there are a variety of paths to salvation. There is one way: Jesus Christ. You seem to believe that there are a variety of ways, although those other traditions would not call the goal salvation. We disagree.

Bob Campbell
Sharon Hill, PA

John said...

Viola asked two questions:

John do you believe that other people can be the Christ too?

Another question, was Jesus always the Christ or did he have to attain that place?

+++

I have struggled with my Christology ever since seminary days and I think struggle is the only authentic response. Ask Jacob (wrestling until the dawn)? Ask Paul (working on his salvation in fear and trembling)?

Israel (Isra-El) means "Struggle with God." Jacob became Israel because of his night of wrestling.

My friend John Preston (well known to Bob from his Utica days) wrote a fantastic book, WRESTLING UNTIL THE DAWN, which not only presents many of the findingss of the Jesus Seminar but also breaks new ground on the subject of an authentic postmodern theology. If you really want to understand where many of us "Progressive Christians" are coming from, then please buy and read this book.

My basic question to both of your questions is: I don't know.

We all called to take a leap of faith. For some reason, your leap and my leap have led us to different places on the theological map. That's OK. Who am I to say that your beliefs are wrong?

I will go Biblical on you now!

Let's look at Colossians 1:15-20. The key to me to understand this wonderful and powerful statement is "first-born." It's in their twice. Ok, now let's quickly move on to Romans 5:12-20. In Adam we are all sinners and in Christ (new birth) we are given the free gift of eternal and abundant life. Verse 17c in the TEV says: "All who receive God's abundant grace and are freely put right with him will rule in life through Christ."

This is not passive stuff! This is a dynamic transformation where we humans are born again and become one with God. Or maybe I should say we CAN become one with God through Christ as we struggle to Love God and Love One Another moment after moment. As the Body of Christ we can do everything Jesus did and then some! And we should.

It's miraculous, mysterious and marvellous what Love can do and does do and will do.

I simply do not have all the answers. I do know that I follow Christ because I see in him a Love which passes all understanding as I see it in no other person on earth or in heaven. But that's me. That's my Leap of Faith. I don't think I need to demand that other human beings come to that same belief. I will look simply for Love. I will look for the fruits of a person's belief. I won't demand agreement with my particular creedal statement. I respect the right of others to wrestle with their theology just as I and everyone else continues to wrestle with theirs.

I must mention (probaly not for the first time) how important a book by Alan Watts is to me: MYTH AND RITUAL IN CHRISTIANITY. He argues persuasively that Christianity is faithful to the Perennial Philosophy as Liturgy, as Sacrament, as Story. He finds problems in some of the stuff that theologians have concocted probably in their efforts to please the church authorities who have often been control freaks.

We must wrestle with God and be true to our Presbyterian motto "Reformed and Always Being Reformed" until we get it right.

We are all "working on a mystery" as Tom Petty puts it.

Bob, I'm glad you brought up The Trinity. It is a powerful Teaching Tool (rarely appreciated and understood these days) about the relationship between God and humanity. More on that some time soon (maybe)!

Thanks Viola and Bob. I enjoy this conversation immensely.

+ Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + www.abundancetrek.com + We are intimately, intricately and infinitely connected by a matrix of unconditional, unlimited and uniting love which is miraculous, mysterious and marvelous.

Viola Larson said...

John,
The Church has always held that Jesus was the Christ. That is the confession of the Scriptures. That is what both the Nicaea Council and Chalcedon are about, affirming what the Scriptures show Jesus to be. Colossians 1:15-20 is where I often live I don’t wish to quickly move on. Jesus is the ‘first born’ of all creation. He is also the first born from the dead. The Jehovah Witnesses and others take that first reference to first born to mean that Jesus is a created being. That there was a time when Jesus was not as Arius was wont to say.

But neither N.T. Wright in the Tyndale commentaries or Markus Barth in the Doubleday series sees the meaning in that way. Aligning it with Psalms and David’s kingdom as well as the Jewish understanding of the first born son it has to do with the preeminence of Jesus Christ over all things.

And the second first born, from death, has to do with the resurrection entering into the still unredeemed world. I like the way N.T. Wright puts it.

“This part of the poem has to do with Christ’s rule over the final great enemies of mankind, sin and death. With Jesus resurrection, the new age has dawned. The new man has emerged from among the old humanity, whose life he has shared, whose pain and sin he had borne. For Paul, as throughout the Bible, sin and death were inextricably linked, so that Christ’s victory over the latter signaled his defeat of the former (see Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:12-28) ‘First born’ here, particularly when taken closely with arché in the sense of ‘beginning’ implies that Chris’s resurrection, through presently unique, will be acted out by a great company of others.”

So Wright also goes to Romans 5:12-21) too. Good scriptures about our redemption in Jesus Christ.

I am not sure how you mean, become one with God, certainly not in the sense that Jesus Christ is one with God since he is God and one in essence with the Father. We are adopted sons and daughters and are united with Christ.

John said...

Dear Viola,

Thanks for an interesting comment. I appreciate your effort here. We disagree but maybe there is hope for me since I at least agree with NT Wright about the connection between the scriptures I focused on. I am particularly intrigued that Wright sees the resurrection as something that will be acted out by a great company. NT Wright and Marcus Borg are known to have great respect for each other and I think Wright considers Borg a Christian. If Wright can do that, maybe Larson can consider Wilde a Christian!

I don't need your stamp of approval but I do beleve our denomination is a Big Tent and people wrestle with God in many different ways and end up in various places on the Christological and Theological map. I think we all need to cherish each other even as we disagree.

I see the Nicene Creed as basic quality control (orthodoxy). Much needed.

But I would rather go to a restaurant that's not part of a big chain. I love the variety and the creativity and experimentation allowed in restaurants outside of the chain. I prefer that the quality control is done by both government inspectors and market forces rather than a corporate representative coming into make sure a Big Mac is a Big Mac at the McDonalds at Broad and Main.

In other words, let there be a lot of variety among those who follow Christ. Let the Nicene Creed and the Bible be interpreted in many ways. I believe that's the way God wants it.

I see Christianity through the lens of archetypes, metaphors, story and sacrament. Hundreds of millions of people, past, present and future also see Christianity through this lens. Indeed I believe that the people who gave us Christianity in the first place saw their faith through this lens.

So I think you should respect and cherish those who see through this lens and I should cherish and appreciate people who see Christianity through your lens.

I believe they both work.

Thanks for your blog and I look forward to more learning and sharing in the future.

+ Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + www.abundancetrek.com + "My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind." -- Albert Einstein

steve scott said...

Wow.....lots to talk about here, and not quite sure where to jump in...but will begin by saying that I realized (after a running phone battle with a JW) that the Colossians passage, closely read, is very important.....The `all Things' created `through(or by) the Son is essentially the medium for the unfolding of the time-space continuum (placing the Creative agent outside this frame of reference.....therefore co-eternal)...am I off base here..?? Steve S.

Pastor Bob said...

Steve

I don't think so. The Colossians passage you refer to is most probably an early Christian hymn either written by the author or quoted by the author. It is one of the passages that ultimately lead the Church to the doctrine of the Trinity.

John

One of the things I see as a progression in Hebrew theology is the movement from seeing God as only the god of Israel and other gods of other nations fighting against YHWH as Israel fought battles against other nations to the belief that there were no other gods, only idols and the claim that the God of Israel was the only true God. Hebrew thought progressed to a belief that YHWH is exclusive, the only God prior to Christianity.

Viola Larson said...

Steve,
I like that idea that the ‘through’ is the “medium for the unfolding of the time-space continuum.” Because what is outside of the space-time continuum would seemingly have to be co-eternal with the Father since God is outside of time and space which are not eternal.

But there is another thought in that passage which I think also speaks to who Jesus the Christ is. That is at the very end of verse 16- that all things are created for Him. And here this seemingly takes in both Christ’s deity and humanity. Because we see from Scripture that God created the earth for a dwelling place for humanity but also God created for himself. A thousand cattle on the hills are his. Israel is his; the church is his, etc. Job is full of God’s relationship to his own creation. The ‘for him’ places Jesus at the heart of all purpose.

Viola Larson said...

John, a couple of thoughts on what you wrote. Since a Christian sacrament is more than just a sign but also a seal-that which shows us to be truly his, we can hardly equate that with only metaphor. It is something far more than that.

I also think we should cherish that which God has made our humanity. But I don't agree about the big tent idea if we are talking about our view of God, the Trinity, scripture, etc. If we are talking about the kind of worship service, or the way we dress or what ministry we offer to God that is altogether different. But it is still God's revelation, what he has given not what we imagine.

John said...

Dear Viola,

It is interesting that you said "only metaphor." Language itself is metaphor. We are always struggling to find words and symbols which can describe the Holy and Mysterious. We always fail to find the perfect words and symbols because of our human limitations. I simply can not embrace your kind of certainty about things mysterious and beyond human knowing. But I have no problem affirming your right to have your kind of certainty if it works for you. I wish you could affirm my right to embrace an understanding of our wisdom tradition which is different than your understanding. I invite you to keep on wrestling with God and I do believe that as you wrestle you will find it possible to become more accepting and affirming of people who differ from you. Variety is the spice of life!

Holy Communion has been called the Holy Mysteries since ancient times. I do believe in the Real Presence of Christ and I do believe Holy Communion is a re-membering of our union with Christ. We are brothers and sisters of Christ. The heavenly connection is miraculous, mysterious and marvelous.

+ Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + The John A Wilde Blog + We are intimately, intricately and infinitely connected by a matrix of unconditional, unlimited and uniting love which is miraculous, mysterious and marvelous.

Viola Larson said...

John,
Your understanding of words is different than mine. I don't see all words as metaphor. But your understanding helps me to understand your thinking a little more. I am just guessing but I am thinking that you don't believe we can ever touch any reality. Because if words are all metaphors, when I try to describe, for instance, a baby or a flower, I will have to describe what the word baby or flower means and since to do that I must use words I will have to just keep on describing more words. It will be endless and you will never know for sure what I am talking about.

I am more of a realist then that.

steve scott said...

I think we're better off acknowledging the deeply nuanced, inferential, symbolic and metaphoric nature of language (if you `see' where `I'm coming from..')even at its barest, most abstract and propositional. To do so implicitly assumes a shared frame of reference (how else would language `work'?)while precluding, or at least questioning any kind of `privileging' of relativism. There may be social value and/or civic virtue in facilitating plurality of discourse....but it is still possible to talk about `the' truth.

Viola Larson said...

Steve in writing this about seeing language as metaphor, “To do so implicitly assumes a shared frame of reference (how else would language `work'?)while precluding, or at least questioning any kind of `privileging' of relativism,” what do you do when a people, society, etc. no longer share a frame of reference? And how do you deal with a society which does privilege relativism? Or are you saying that it is impossible for those who see language in that way to not share common understandings?
And isn’t society falling apart at just those places where language is not referring to the same thing for every individual. For instance, when speaking of what is unborn (I’m trying not to put my views into this) some will think fetal tissue, others unborn babies. And perhaps I am trying to place too much moral weight on words. Anyway-a lot of thoughts going through my head.

steve scott said...

These are two different issues. I do not believe the inescapably metaphoric nature of language automatically means that all meaning statements are relative to the speaker.Nor do I think that (our) limited or contingent perspectives, or `situated' perspectives automatically precludes the idea of moral absolutes or highly regarded values. I cannot believe that because I think `through' or with a language constructed out of a legacy of borrowed terms, old metaphors, and consensually determined and agreed upon means of conveying meaning that I am to have no ideas about right, wrong, value or worth. This is essentially the point you made with your sentence about babies and flowers. I just want to reiterate, or reframe and restate the point in the light of the ways in which language gets constructed and meaning conveyed (and inferred)....otherwise someone could come along, demonstrate unequivocally that language is a shared meaning construct, predicated upon layer upon layer of metaphoric strata, and then proceed to try and argue against all `absolute value' statements you've made with this language. The baby thrown out with the bathwater, so to speak.....Its a question of choosing your battles. I think we have `faith' that our values come from outside of language, even though they are expressed `through' language.I think that a conversation partner would assert the same thing. The next step would be to begin to explore or deconstruct those values, or their implications, and not be dissuaded by assertions (undemonstrated?) that the values that YOU bring to the conversation are relative or compromised because of the language they are expressed through (or fused to) Of course, any body can say anything. Its just a question of reflecting on the implications of the underlying values made present(regardless of how they are stated)

Viola Larson said...

Steve,
I think I understand what you are saying. That the absolute or even values are something beyond language and that no matter the way language is meant that isn’t what the absolutes are about. (Correct me if I misunderstand your meaning.)

But I think perhaps my problem is with the term metaphor and because of that I have ignored the “nuanced, inferential, symbolic,” that you brought up. Perhaps those but not metaphoric. Here is my problem with calling language metaphoric. I am always thinking in theological terms and metaphor plays a very big part in the arguments we in the Presbyterian Church have with the name of the Trinity as well as other ways of seeing God.

Metaphor in its technical meaning takes the meaning of one thing and places it on the other. And because of what it is it only takes some of its meaning. The words vehicle and tenor are used to explain this. (see G.B. Caird who refers to G.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards) The vehicle is what the word is generally used for. The tenor is that to which the word is transferred.

Or there is Monroe Beardsley’s definition. “By common definition, and by etymology, a metaphor is a transfer of meaning, both in intention and extension.” The thing the metaphor is transferred to is the subject, the metaphor modifies it. But it also extends its meaning in a sensible way, like referring to God as the Shepherd of Israel. But God is not an unwashed, rough, keeper of animals. But not all language works like that-symbolic perhaps but I still can’t see all language as metaphoric.

steve scott said...

I think the common understanding of metaphor as described your authors is the correct one. However, as we look at where words and ideas `come from' (??)we find lots of buried echoes (?? so to speak )of how these words `do their job' of communicating meaning. There are layers and layers of dead metaphors (??) behind what we now accept as conventional and mundane usage. An exploration of word origins and word usage in previous ages, I think, will bear this out. By way of analogy, think of a language like English. If you dig deep enough, you are going to find loan words, bits of French, German and even indo european....and the word variations or `ancestors' at their point of origin might have had a local, specific meaning that has very little to do with how we use the modern form of the word in conventional English spoken today. I am suggesting that in a similar way much of what we regard as conventional language, is in fact a graveyard of transferred meanings and buried associations. This in no way prevents the word working conventionally today to communicate truth statements (although `Truth' and `Meaning' are social constructions) nor does the multilayered `nature' of language preclude accurate and precise conversations about theology and philosophy.

Viola Larson said...

Steve,
I think I will let most of what you write be and not question it except to ask how does truth and meaning work as social constructs when we are speaking of Jesus Christ as truth.

And then to add this- this conversation led to an interesting one with Brad. As we were talking about this he mentioned that many years ago the hinges on gates had what was called a wippen which was so named because it moved like a whip. And now he said pianos have a mechanism that is also called a wippen because it does the same thing. When I asked him if the names were arrived at separately or the person who created the piano wippen used the name from the gate he couldn't say. But it was an interesting discussion. (However I can’t find a connection of a wippen to a gate hinge.)But that is way off the subject and we have traveled along ways.

steve scott said...

`...I am always thinking in theological terms and metaphor plays a very big part in the arguments we in the Presbyterian Church have with the name of the Trinity as well as other ways of seeing God....'

I think the Trinity is very important for how we think and talk about reality. It functions for me as a primary or axiomatic `social construction' and I wonder if it provides an optimal defence against other religious ideas like `the One' of Eastern Monism or even Western `Being' (described by some as onto-theology')and `the many' of polytheism.... and also against social models that are derived from those ideas involving an all powerful state on one hand, or a collective`peoples' on the other.....

I'm about to teach the Gospel of john, and again I find myself amazed at the primary relationships described in the first few verses.

As for language, metaphors pianos and gate hinges there's enough data out there for these things to take care of themselves.....

Viola Larson said...

Steve,
Thanks for both the use of your article and the conversation. I am sorry more readers did not engage at the end. But I did enjoy it and thank you.

steve scott said...

Perhaps I'm guilty of driving us off the road and into a ditch with all my nuancing and finessing of metaphor and trinity. I guess I was hoping that by proposing `common ground' and deep metaphor and suggesting deeper Triune absolutes than either those of Western `Being' or Eastern Negation that we cd move the conversation re: Jesus and His claims to absolute and exclusive Deity a little further. The Guru seeks to awaken the aspirant to their own innate divinity (You are That....the Buddha nature, or whatever.....I understand the attraction!!) Jesus offers no such illusory panaceas.