Sometimes five or six threads come together in life and it all makes sense when you put the unrelated pieces together with one another. (And I’ll link all my blog posts that I’m referring to here.)
Because I can’t stand Christmas music in early November, I’m listening to “The Book of Genesis,” a Teaching Company lecture by Gary Rendsburg. I’m Dr. Rendsburg’s biggest fan (outside his family and friends, of course) and I loved the two classes I took with him in college. My big regret in life is that I didn’t enroll in his Biblical Hebrew class.
The lectures are awesome, and the further we get into them, the more I remember why I loved his classes.
First thread. Dr. Rendsburg brings up a point I’d forgotten: that in Judaism, God is “a God of History.” In religions contemporary to ancient Israelite religion, gods were all gods related to things like rain, the sea, the moon, and so on. And you can see the contrast in how ancient Israelite religion denoted the sacred: in every other religion, it’s understood that what you set aside to the deity is a sacred space. But as we see by the setting aside of the seventh day in the creation story, God sets aside for Himself a sacred time.
And that’s the precursor to the holy festivals that later grow up in the Jewish calendar. One might also argue that this detachment from space and into time gives Judaism the staying power to last three thousand years. No one worships Ba’al any longer.
Second thread: Dr. Rendsburg says that God’s creation in the second creation story is all by doing: He forms the earth, plants the vegetation, builds the man and woman. Those are all things humans do, albeit on a greater scale. But in the first creation story, creation is all done by “fiat.” By words. God says, “let there be light,” and light appears in response. All creation in Genesis 1 is done this way: by words.
Third thread: The Gospel of John refers to the second person of the Trinity as The Word. And that all things were created through the Word.
Fourth thread: Humans differentiate from animals inasmuch as we have fluid language. Birds can’t modify their calls and still be understood by other birds. Animals can’t talk about concepts that aren’t immediately present. They can say “Danger!” but not “Last week, there was danger.” Conceptual language is what sets us apart from animals, and that’s what leads to linguistic changes.
All these bits swirled together into my cuisinart brain and came up with a strange construction. Because a word, after it’s said, is gone. It’s fixed in time. Kind of like history: something happens, and it’s done. But a word written down is a word perpetuating through time. It keeps existing after it’s been said.
And then we have Jesus as the Word Made Flesh, and it’s kind of like a word written down. A word changed for the benefit of the recipient of that word, but still the same word, the same meaning. Just represented in print rather than in sound, and eternal rather than transient.
So maybe God did change by becoming human. But still the same. Just a different way of being understood, a different mode of delivery.