These are some words that I have recently found on the internet but they express very well how my position within theology differs from that of conservative Christians. I talked in the last blog post about ‘propositionalism’, the idea that valid truth has to be expressed in words, concepts or propositions. Although I rejected the idea, my argument did not draw out a point which Gregory of Nyssa, the 4th century author of my quote, understood well. His insight reminds us of the power of wonder, the contemplation of that which cannot be reduced to words. The word contemplation also has a currency within Christian spirituality and prayer. It indicates that prayer is not about asking but involves watching, waiting and listening. To contemplate allows us to reach into the essence of something, whether it be beauty, the sublime or God himself.
I do not think that it would be exaggerating to suggest that some Christians have made the Bible into an idol. It is held up on a pedestal and claimed to be a source of truth and guidance but the way it is actually used seems to hold it at arm’s length. Quite often the words of scripture are used not to edify or spiritually feed but as weapons with which to beat an opponent. To wonder at something can never objectify it in this way. Just as objectifying another person makes it impossible for us to relate to them properly, so objectifying the words of scripture makes them into ‘idols’.
Approaching the words of Scripture with a sense of wonder is in no way to downgrade or devalue them. But it does require us to let go of the attitude that wants to prove something or reinforce a position when we read it. Wonder is open to the unexpected or surprising that can come from a perusal of Scripture. Speaking personally as someone who has fairly regularly to find something new to say about a familiar passage of the Bible when preparing sermons, I find myself amazed that Scripture does go on finding new things to say to me. Any attempt to articulate an idea in a sermon nearly always results in my having a new insight based on the passage in front of me. Scripture is in this sense ‘inspired’, because it goes on being capable of producing new insights in me. Because the Bible is a source of such insight, I can respect it as in some way as the ‘Word of God’. But from all that has been said, it can be seen that that Word can particularly be grasped through this faculty of wonder. The Psalmist captured something of this when he said: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Ps 119: 105