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Terms That Define Us

All expressions concerning the description of God must never be taken literally; they are simply due to the inadequecy of human language “to make the ear listen to what it can hear.”
-Abot de-Rabbi Nathan-

After following, and trying to understand, the dialogue that went back and forth on my last blog I have come to understand something about humanity that interests me. My last post was about errors, or so called errors in the bible, and the discussion kicked off from there. In fact, that was the most that people were actually interested in anything I’ve said on this site. I loved every minute of it. I knew that I was tapping into something that people cared about and were actually defending or challenging by the almost 40 full text responses that I read through.

Humans seem to have this need to categorize and to label things so we can point to it and say ‘yes, that’s it, that’s exactly what this is.’ We create words or we use words to describe things to help better understand certain things. I don’t think this is necessarily bad in a sense but I think if we start depending on these labels and words and essentially our language that we miss the very thing that it is actually.

Notice the words that we describe to God: omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent etc. Where do we see any of these words in the scriptures in which we use to prove these terms? Why do we need to coin these terms for God and treat them like they are the most important things that we all agree with to understand who God is? I’m not saying that these definitions of God aren’t true; but I am saying that if we hold so tightly to these terms that we could very well miss out on other things about God. If God asks a question, because we have the concept of omniscience engrained in our minds, we automatically assume that God is asking it for our benefit or to ‘teach us something.’ What if that’s not the entire case? What if God asks a question for his benefit? Are those such heretical claims to make or are we just so comfortable now with our terms that we are completely unable to look outside of them for truth.

The same thing happens I notice with the bible. We coin terms to the bible such as inerrant, infallible etc. Terms that are never actually found in the bible but terms that people would argue to the death too. It’s interesting that when I challenge a term like ‘inerrant’ red flags and red faces fly up because all of sudden we are touching on something that doesn’t need to be expanded or understood anymore. We have our ideas and concepts about what the bible is and we don’t want to question them anymore, probe them, or try to understand them. Take it by faith and let’s be on our way with a more productive conversation. Unfortunately I think that we latched on to these terms way to tightly and they cause us to fight for the term instead of what is actually worth fighting for. It’s interesting that we fight for inerrancy for something that we don’t actually have copies of or that don’t actually exist in our hands. We can’t fight for inerrancy of English scriptures, that wouldn’t make sense. We can’t fight for the Hebrew or Greek copy manuscripts either because there are differences in so many. All we can really fight for are the original manuscripts that came from the author and unfortunately, we don’t have one single one.

While definitions aren’t bad by themselves I think we need to be careful that we don’t base our faith on them. I don’t really know what that looks like but I know that it can’t be that beneficial to base our faith on omniscience, omnipresence, Trinitarian theology, eternal security, the rapture, infallibility, inerrancy and all these other fancy terms that we come up with to describe what we believe. By holding tightly on to these terms we slowly begin to grow stale and we are afraid of anything outside of them. Hopefully we can discover a faith that uses these terms to help better understand itself and not to define itself.

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