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Finding the words

Then Jesus declared, "I, the one speaking to you - I am he." John 4. 26

Religious language - or talking about God - has to occupy a different category from the rest of philosophical discourse because of its implications. If God is real then everything depends on him and is dominated by him. Indeed, that being the case, it becomes somewhat disrespectful, even absurd, to talk objectively about someone whose presence is so significant. Imagine talking about Her Majesty The Queen in front of her. That would be unthinkable. Instead one would accord her one's full attention, hanging on every word.

The Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, argued that God is most properly engaged with, rather than talked about. His book 'I and Thou' explains how understanding God is like relating to a fellow human being insofar as we learn most about them, not through a list of their attributes, but in a relationship with them personally. In spite of his majesty God also is to be conceived in the context of a relationship (albeit asymmetrical), which is why Buber commends the archaic term "Thou" as our appropriate means of addressing God, rather than talking objectively about him or her (and certainly never "it").

Behind the words another vital aspect of divine-human discourse is how those who join the conversation experience something compelling. To assert that Jesus is the truth or that God is love or that the Holy Spirit is the fount of life is to say that God expresses in an ultimate sense what motivates us all to a lesser degree: truth, love and life in abundance. Engaging with God is not an academic exercise to be engaged indifferently but a relationship which invigorates and transforms us.



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