30 October 2016

A Sunday School Lesson: Revelation and Divine Manifestations

Past posts have surveyed the biblical texts and contemporary claims about God revealing his thoughts, dictates, and future plans to mankind. He allegedly utilizes dreams, visions, and angelic messengers to convey what's his mind. (I hope I expressed that correctly, since if God exists he must be nothing but mind.  So does he have a mind or is he a mind?). But sometimes to insure the clarity of his message he makes cameo appearances and communicates directly himself.

These episodes of divine presence occur early in the scriptures. God regularly visited Adam and Eve in the evenings once the heat of the day passed (Gen. 3:8). God is described in scripture as “a consuming fire” but he apparently cannot endure those murderous Mesopotamian afternoons. After the fall of man, he visited to accept sacrificial offerings (Gen. 4:3). Gradually, however, he became increasingly disengaged from his creation. Conditions deteriorated to such an extent that he decided wash everything away and make a fresh start. From this point on, the most common type of direct communication from God comes through some kind of voice without any visual manifestation of himself. It is not clear if these conversations consist of some form of inspiration, vision, or an audible voice.

God resumed his personal appearances with the call of the patriarchs. God told Abraham in a voice to leave Ur for those coastal breezes of the Mediterranean. When Abraham arrived in Canaan, God appeared directly to him to confirm that this was, indeed, the place (Gen. 12:7). He appeared to Abraham again later to promise him an heir and to initiate circumcision as a sign of his covenant.(Covenant means “cutting” as in the animal sacrifice involved in the covenant promise recorded in Gen. 15; God initiated this second cutting perhaps as a symbolic continuation of the promise to Abraham's offspring). God's final appearance to Abraham occurred while God accompanied two angels on a social call to Sodom. God and the angels look like men for, in show of Semitic hospitality, Abraham brought water to wash their feet and fed them. The Lord lingered while the two angels went on to Sodom. Abraham knew something was up and so began to intervene on behalf of his nephew Lot, who lived in Sodom. Once he acceded to Abraham's request, God left to incinerate the residents of Sodom.

Although God continued to address people “out of heaven,” he made no appearances other that to Isaac (Gen 26:2,24) and to Israel (Gen 35.9) in order to confirm the covenant promises to Abraham's descendants. For several hundred years God was silent. His people, now numbering in the tens of thousands, found themselves enslaved in Egypt. “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant. . . .”

God tapped Moses as a new tribal warrior chief to lead Abraham's descendants back to the land promised to them. God first communicated through the vision of the burning bush. Subsequently, as he conveyed his directions about the exodus and his provisions of his divine law, God spoke through a voice. Then once Moses gained enough familiarity, he requested to see God.

“And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.” Exodus 33:18-23

And so God gave Moses a peek at his divine derriere.

After Moses, no similar manifestations of God occurred. He maintained his presence in the form of a pillar of clouds during the day and a pillar of fire at night as he led them. All divine revelation onward came through visions, dreams, and voices largely through prophets.

That is until a Jewish apocalyptic rabbi named Jesus (Yeshua)appeared on the scene some two thousand years ago. The followers he attracted claimed that he was God manifested anew—this time in human flesh.

This remarkable claim proved too extravagant for the majority of Jews to believe. But in the effort convey the uniqueness of this man and the distinctiveness of his identity, his followers made claims that contradicted their traditional writings. Despite the well-known accounts of Moses and God, according to the author of the gospel of John,

“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18)

After the rabbi's execution, his followers promised that he would come again in their lifetimes. Every generation of new followers still wait.

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