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Holy ground

"I am who I am" Exodus 3.14

I trained for ministry at St Mary's College in St Andrews where Professor Bill Shaw was Principal. One of the set texts for the Theology course was a book by the great man himself, which appeared on the shelf as: Shaw - Who is God?. One morning some wag wrote on the blackboard in our lecture hall: "God - Who is Shaw?"

Ancient Israel considered God to be so "other" or "holy" that his name was never to be uttered and only appeared as "The Tetragrammaton" - the four consonants whose pronunciation has remained a mystery perplexing generations of theologians, who now agree that the most probable rendering is "Yahweh". Such reticence is fair enough when we stop to think about who it is that we are talking about.

Saint Anselm defined God as "that than which a greater cannot be conceived." This puts God beyond our reach, which many would agree he is. And yet, in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, it is assumed that God desires a relationship with human beings and that does require our being able to comprehend him, to a certain extent anyway. Indeed we already do - in referring to him using male pronouns and addressing him as "Our Father", despite the fact that both male and female are made in his image, implying that he transcends sexual definition.

Other ways of talking about God include the analogical and the metaphorical. Analogical references to God involve employing familiar concepts - such as wisdom, compassion, justice - on the understanding that they assume a turbo-charged effect when applied to God. Metaphorical references use signs and symbols and parables to illuminate aspects of God's character and behaviour. What all of these techniques have in common is that they are indirect.

Yet, did Jesus not come so that we might meet God face to face?



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