Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Word to the Wise?

One early morning as I sat in my hotel room armchair sipping my morning coffee, slowly waking up, I became aware of sounds from the wall next to me. At first I assumed it was the soft sound of someone in the next room - more early risers. But as I focused more intently on the barely audible noises, I realised that they were probably caused by water gurgling slowly through pipes buried in the wall. They were not the muffled sounds of conversation at all, though very similar.

I got to thinking about the difference between an overheard conversation, and the random sounds generated by random physical movements of water. What if the trickling water in a pipe did happen to produce an intelligible word, sentence, phrase, paragraph, book ... It would still be meaningless because when it happens merely as happenstance there can be no meaning attributed to it as none was ever intended. There is a monumental difference between random sounds and those carefully-crafted sounds of language that we use to express ideas and thoughts from our inner landscapes. One set of noises, though perhaps intriguing conveys no inner message. The other represents the very presence of a sentient mind expressing itself. It's hard to find words to even express how huge that gulf is between random sounds and language.

Now, to turn the situation around a little, let's imagine that we discerned a string of sounds through a wall or from outer space - and these sounds (or other coded signals) did resolve into intelligible words. And what if those words grew into sentences and paragraphs and entire essays which statistically could never happen by mere chance. Then we're faced with the concept that they represent the expressions of another sentient mind reaching out to us - they represent CO-munication.

So, I find it very significant that Jesus is called The Word of God. The underlying word in the bible is the Greek word Logos. Logos was apparently a special word conceptualizing a first cause for the universe. The First Word - from which all other thoughts, ideas, communications and creations spring forth.

So John wrote, "In the beginning was the word (logos) and the word was with God and the word was God." And if that sentence causes you to think of another opening line that's not a coincidence: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth ..."

Our God (we are told in the bible) is the ultimate communicator who spoke the universe into existence and upholds it by the breath of his word. Throughout the pages of this book we encounter a Creator God who speaks, and communicates with us in language (and other ways) - who makes the very existence of language possible by his own existence.

So, doesn't it make sense then, that language in and of itself is one of the fundamental arguments for the existence of God? It did to Christian philosopher Francis Shaeffer. And doesn't it make sense then that our ability to think in words and use language is one of the strongest evidences of God's image within us?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Away in a manger ... The Rest of the Story?

A few years ago I saw a t.v. special about the ancient culture of the middle east. They pointed out that the typical home of that time had a stable area on the ground level where the family animals were kept, while the family lived in the upper room. This instantly made sense to me because I've seen it in other cultures too. For example I once toured a Scottish farming museum from circa. 1000 AD, where the house also sheltered both the family and their animals. A further example is that of my step-dad who grew up in Holland in the 1940s. His family home likewise sheltered people and animals under one roof.

Here's another article that got me thinking, from Christianity Today.

So, I wonder. When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem did they find all their relative's homes over-crowded and they were shown to the stable? Or were they perhaps even shunned due to Mary's "awkward" condition and so sent to the stable room with the animals. This writer takes that view.

This also begs another question. Why on earth was Mary subjected to this long difficult journey so late in her pregnancy? I know there was a mandatory census underway, but in that culture the women and children were considered property of their male Head of Household... So couldn't Mary have rested in Nazareth while Joseph travelled to Bethleham where he would have included her in his records?

Now here's a conjecture - based soley on the culture as I understand it. Was it a matter of Mary's safety? Could she have become the target of an honour-killing had she stayed behind, beyond Joseph's protection? Sadly, this practice still goes on today - in Nazareth! And here's another case, albeit related with a dark punchline.

Slowly a more accurate background story of Jesus' birth may become known. The bucolic Sunday school sanitized version doesn't do justice to the magnitude of the event and the degree of faith exercised by Mary and Joseph. And more signiciantly - it fails to portray how deeply God was about to overturn the whole world!