We shall know one day just how near we come in the New Testament to the very words of the Lord. That we have them with a difference, I cannot doubt. For one thing I do not believe he spoke in Greek. That the thoughts of God would come to the heart of Jesus in anything but the mother-tongue of the simple men to whom he spoke, I cannot think. Are we bound to believe that John Boanerges, who indeed best, and in some things alone, understood him, was able, after such a lapse of years, to give us in his gospel, the very words in which he uttered the simplest profundities ever heard in the human world? I do not say he was not able; I say, Are we bound to believe he was able? The gospel of John is the outcome of years and years of remembering, recalling, and pondering the words of the Master. We cannot tell of how much the memory, with God in the man, may be capable; but I do not believe that John would have always given us the very words of the Lord. God has not cared that we should anywhere have assurance of his very words; and that not merely, perhaps, because of the tendency in his children to word-worship, false logic, and corruption of the truth, but because he would not have them oppressed by words, seeing that words, being human, therefore but partially capable, could not absolutely express what the Lord meant, and that even he must depend for being understood upon the spirit of his disciple. Seeing it could not give life, the letter should not be throned with power to kill; it should be but the handmaid to open the door of the truth to the mind that was of the truth.
Knowing and the Imagination
by Dave Roney
“Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth;
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings”
(Shakespeare, “The Life of Henry V,” Act I, Prologue)
The bard brings to light a fascinating aspect of the mind, which is the imagination; to see what is no longer physically present to be seen, to then "deck" the thought, array it, clothe upon it, with all the rich textures and fabrics of sensation and color and movement which can be drawn from the deep well of memory, of things familiar and things vague; to "think when we talk" in this manner is that of the mystic; “that you see them” is to perhaps see them better in absentia than were they physically right before us. This is what lies behind the axiom "Absence make the heart grow fonder," and is how the adult remembers things from his childhood more glorious, adventurous, than he knows them as an adult; this may be called a distortion, but I say it is a perspective—and when it comes to the Lord of Life, we are righteous to take the good seen in Him as presented in Scripture and “think when we talk,” doing it higher and grander than the mere words on paper can relate; it is how we "deck our King" in the greatest adoration we can conceive. Before proceeding, I'd like to enter the following quote from MacDonald ("A Dish of Orts"):
“In very truth, a wise imagination, which is the presence of the spirit of God, is the best guide that man or woman can have; for it is not the things we see the most clearly that influence us the most powerfully; undefined, yet vivid visions of something beyond, something which eye has not seen nor ear heard, have far more influence than any logical sequences whereby the same things may be demonstrated to the intellect. It is the nature of the thing, not the clearness of its outline, that determines its operation. We live by faith, and not by sight.”
This passage from the 5th of St. John finds in our Lord's words a certain parallel with what He said in the Beatitudes; for here it is "You have neither heard" leading to "You do not have His Word abiding in you" over against the "You have heard it said... but I say unto you" proclamations found in the 5th of St. Matthew.. It is no irony, I think, that He said to His inner circle of men the same as He said to the mixed-multitude of the masses; they all alike lacked knowledge of Him though He stood in their midst and openly declared Himself to them by a thousand proofs. And, because they did not know Him, neither did they know His Father, nor understand that He was also their Father.
To know the Son of God, since He is the splendid and exacting representation of all there is to be found in God, being at complete Oneness with Him in essence, is to also know the Father of the Son; to know the Son aright is to be set in the right mode of relationship with the Father, which is to say have that same relationship with Him as did and does the Son. The Lord may have gone into great detail in His actual utterances to the disciples concerning things which, once those vocalizations were set down on their scrolls, was abbreviated; at the end of his Gospel does not St. John say, in a flash of hyperbole, that if all the things which Christ did, which must include what He said and taught, were recorded that even the world could not hold the books? Does that thought not whet the imagination and trigger it to life?
I must pause here a moment to make a thing of import clear: Every man, inescapably, knows God; he may, very often does, know Him wrongly, but the impression of God in him cannot be escaped. I will for example use the Atheist, that man who most profoundly rejects Him, says He is the myth of primitive, uninformed, peoples; I will make the example more specific by referring to my own self, for I became an atheist. As I turned from the “god” of the Calvinists, that Omnipotent Ogre, I recall clearly the sense of buoyancy I felt, the freedom, that in my emancipation that miserable god was replaced by myself; I became the master of my fate, the creator of my destiny, the only one to whom I was ultimately answerable. Now, I never thought of myself as a god, but set myself in the place of God. Man is inescapably worshipful; be it a carved idol or an ideal, a caricature of God such as some theologians present, a lover, a child, or Self; whatever form it might take, there is in every man the ineluctable need to worship and, therefore, to locate an object for that affection. The question to man is not “Do you believe in God?” but “What is your god?”
Consider now the passage from St. John's Gospel, found in 5:37-38. I will freely paraphrase it, and do so by expanding the literal words recorded to include at least some of the unwritten meaning as I understand it; this shall be from imagination, the clothing upon of that which is real, the fleshing in of the skeletal frame:
“My Father sent Me into the world; for long ages He tried to show you what He is like, but you understood Him wrongly; now that I am here among you, all which was ever the truth concerning Him is shown to you because the Father, in Me, is bearing witness to Who and What He actually is. But none of you have ever heard His voice at any time; you have not heard because you cannot hear; your theology and doctrines, your interpretations of what Scripture says, these are all paramount to you! Nor have you ever seen His shape or form before now, for He is Spirit; I alone am the physical, visceral, lively representation of Him, it is Me Who is now come among you to declare Him and to finally, once for all, show you exactly the nature of your God; if you see Me you are also seeing your Father! Since you could never before hear Him, you and your ancestors, and in fact the entire world, have used quite a lot of imagination concerning Him, and you've each and all gotten it terribly wrong—since you, on your own, could never understand Him apart from Me, you do not have His truth within yourselves; and you don't even have the truth in you now because He has sent Me to you, the living Truth, His personification, and you have not believed My words.”
You might think I've taken undue liberty with the Scripture in this paraphrase and, admittedly, I fleshed in the actual passage with a lot of meat from imagination. But let me say this; if a man is content with the mere ink-on-paper words, the “facts,” then he will never truly understand what the symbolic words are attempting, as to meaning, project.
The written words are a skin covering a living body of truth; if a man will but take the thumbnail of his imagination and scratch the text it will begin to bleed and move and awake in him; there is life, not in the words, but in what the words are trying to relate. Do you not have a verse which states “The Word is alive?” How is it alive? To itself it is a compilation of facts, a record; there is no more life in it as such than in a bookkeeper's ledger. Do not even devils belief the facts which they know most well, and tremble? It is no truth to them else it would redeem them, and they will not be redeemed until they know it no more as fact but as truth. For Scripture to be truth to us we must be able to look right through the printed words and behold The Living Word to which it points; “Think when we talk of horses, that you see them”—think more so, infinitely more so, that when we speak of Christ, when we quote Scripture, that we must see Him alive.
And how do we “see” the horse that is real, from some encounter we had; do we see it as a snapshot or as the final product of the taxidermist? Or do we see a charger in our mind, with flowing mane, chomping at the bit, draped in purple and mail, living again in our memory? This is the work of imagination; “For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings.” It is no static Christ, locked away in the moldering reams of history, consigned to a roll of parchment, or the rather effeminate and lifeless offering of artists , which we adore. To recall a thing is to imagine it; I do not speak of that form of imagination which is fantasy, though it has a place and is of great value, but of reality imaginatively infused with life; the province, that is, of those who walk by faith and not by sight. “For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings”—and no man has sufficient enough imagination to elevate, to glorify, to understand our lovely God, our King of kings, better than what He is; to the contrary our finest efforts will always fall dismally short of depicting Him. Therefore employ your best thoughts, and where thinking must end because it can go no further, allow your imagination to take stage, and run it as far as you can, and you will be no closer to doing justice to the beauties of our God than when you began.
There is a final thing to be said, though I shall not do it justice. That is, even as we know the letter of the Law kills, so also can the Scripture, if regarded and understood in the same legalistic manner as the old Jews did their Law. To hinge every thought on the verbatim accuracy and literal interpretation of the recorded words is a trap, a confine, a prison to us ever as much as the Law was to the Jews. MacDonald points up two things regarding this. The first is that the Lord spoke in Aramaic, but the New Testament is written in Koine; and we know that there can be no exacting literal word-for-word translation from one language into another. The second thing he tells us is that the Apostle wrote some years after the actual events, and I would add that he did so from his personal perspective, that in addition to that he wrote from memory, and that to make memory alive he employed imagination—not to the distortion of the truth, but to the embellishment of it; for, he sent out his publication differently than the Synoptics, taking the things of the Lord and relating them through the prism of his heart in a way unique to him. Those things were the same facts, and the same truths, but the truth was understood by him differently than the other authors—it is such the case with us as well, for no two people understand God in precisely the same manner. What I am seeing and understanding within myself this moment is not the same as with you. It is not the literal words of Scripture that is our first concern but finding in the words a path to God as we understand Him. In closing, I quote MacDonald concerning this:
“I do not believe that John would have always given us the very words of the Lord. God has not cared that we should anywhere have assurance of His very words; and that not merely, perhaps, because of the tendency in His children to word-worship, false logic, and corruption of the truth, but because He would not have them oppressed by words, seeing that words, being human, therefore but partially capable, could not absolutely express what the Lord meant, and that even He must depend for being understood upon the spirit of His disciple. Seeing it could not give life, the letter should not be enthroned with power to kill; it should be but the handmaiden to open the door of the truth to the mind that was of the truth.”
Is there, then, a place for the imagination? Apart from it I do not see how we can get beyond fact and enter into the truth to which fact points. The “spirit of the disciple” will, with a pure heart, understand this. He will read the written words, close his eyes, and “deck our King” in the finest, royalist, most beautiful garment his imagination, drawn from the golden strands of Scripture, is capable of weaving. And tomorrow he will weave it again, only better...
The Spirit of the Disciple
"And the Father Himself...hath borne witness of Me" (John 5:37)
by Dave Roney
There she was just walkin' down the street
Singin', "Do wah diddy, diddy, dum diddy do"
Snappin' her fingers and shufflin' her feet
Singin', "Do wah diddy diddy, dum diddy do"
(Manfred Mann, recorded 1964)
Words, all words spoken by men, are symbols. There is no reality in the words themselves, but only in what the words stand for and represent. We must make sense of the words which, in and of themselves, are insensible; a correspondence must be made between the word representation and the actual reality which the word is communicating; it is why we must often “define our terms,” so that we are “on the same page,” and expressly why the field of Logic had to necessarily be developed. It is why an expanded vocabulary is necessary, for the better our words, the better we are able to relate or else project our thoughts and describe the reality at hand. It is why we must bring to bear analogies and metaphors which serve to enhance and make easier the understanding of what our words actually mean in reference to reality.
In the quote above, we easily “make sense” of the first line because we can link the words to the reality of a young woman, apparently attractive to the speaker, singing while she walks down a street; we can help our understanding by drawing a mental image of the scene and by identifying that scene through both personal experience and imagination: And the important feature to recognize is that all sane people, even though they shall have their own unique details to work into the incident, will nonetheless all see the same basic scenario of a woman singing as she walks down a street. There is a correspondence between the words and what they represent: But consider the second line, “Do wah diddy, diddy, dum diddy do:" What meaning can such nonsense words contain? Any form of art which leaves the interpretation thereof to the observer is tending toward nonsense, because the reality represented by the symbolism has been blurred, obscured, perhaps completely destroyed; “Cubism” in art, “Jabberwocky” in poetry, the illogic of a madman's ravings, or what we know as “the foolishness of men” when they speak or write those things which do not align with actuality, are examples.
But man is created in the “image” of God, therefore speaks because His Maker speaks; what is the difference between the speaking of God and that of men? It is chiefly this; whereas when men speak, their words are symbols which represent some reality, when God speaks His words are the reality. Herein lies a transcendence which we cannot fathom. A man speaks of the created thing, a tree, and his symbolic word can never adequately describe the extrinsic reality; God speaks the word “tree” and the entire world is populated by them in a profusion of sundry shapes and species! I say “I am a person,” but there is no person in the words; God declares “I AM” and it is He actually, the Reality and no symbol.
The speaking of God comes not by His voice alone, but by the work of His Spirit breathing and His Son doing; it is with God the totality of speaking in utterly Divine tri-fold dimension which man cannot even imagine: All those things, reality, whether material or immaterial, concrete or abstract, past or present or future, are real to us and actually real because of God, Who is Ultimate Reality. And even as He has spoken the worlds into being, so also those things are maintained and exist by and through Him: “All things are upheld by the power of His word (Hebrews 1:3). There is no separation between the speaking of God and reality, the two are one thing; we serve no god such as the Deists, who say that God wound the clock and walked away, allowing it to tick through time further unsupported by Him. When our Lord declares that man shall not live by bread alone, those things made, but “by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God,” He speaks of the actual Reality behind the adjunct reality of bread, of the essential rather than the supplementary, of God Himself above the things of God.
Now consider the words of Christ; were they reality? Being found in fashion as a man, as every man, a part of His diminishment was that to truly be “like” us who were originally created in the “likeness” of God, thus to qualify Himself as our Atonement, He must take upon Himself the furthest humiliation of our limitations. He must speak, not as God, but as man; He, from whose lips is Reality, must, as “the child born, the Son given,” speak in symbols such as all other men. It is why He spoke in parables, by metaphors, analogies, used hyperbole, and drew examples from the Nature which He had created. He must, become a small child, like any babe, and begin to learn the symbolic words of men and how to apply them logically, truly, cohesively, and coherently.
But let us now consider what St. John says concerning Him: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This “Word” is the Greek “ Λόγος,” (logos), and does not here carry the meaning such as the names of objects, but encompasses vocabulary itself, and in this case the Divine Vocabulary, that which has Spoken all things into being. For many centuries, God had “spoken” to men, but on their level, not creatively, but as denotative, or extensional; He must “put the cookies on the bottom shelf so the small children can reach them.” This He worked to accomplish by prophets and oracles, by practical experiences and miracles visited upon His people, by an accumulating body of Scripture, by Levitical code and sacrificial system, a Davidic throne and in all other ways; He worked in the world of men by things common in that world which men understood, or feared, or imagined, or needed, or loved, to present to them His Truth, His Reality. Yet, through so many centuries of such working among them, they could not yet see, did not understand, were in need of something even greater than the entire complex of the foregoing manifestations. The Owner of the Vineyard had, in effect, sent His servants, but they had been ignored and rejected; at the end He said “Ah, I will send My Son; Him they will hear!” And yet, true to the Lord's parable, they seized the Son and slew Him; but that was essential to the Speaking, for out of Death has come Life, so has Death died, and Life now reigns. I come now, at last, to the reading for today, the first in the series titled “The Knowing of the Son.”
“That the heart of God would come to the heart of Jesus in anything but the mother-tongue of the simple men to whom He spoke, I cannot think.”
If this Jesus, this Logos, this Word, speaking in a human form, had sent out the undiluted, unvarnished, fullness of the Divine Speech to men limited in their creaturely understanding of words, then it would have been essential that they consider His every word as “the letter of the Law,” in which case the Old Testament legalism would have been replaced by a new form of religious legalism. But, if this Logos is speaking of the entire Divine Vocabulary, i.e. the corpus of the Eternal Thought, the Infinite Idea, the Immutable Notion, Purpose, and the Plan for the ages extending without equivocation or contradiction or omission from and throughout all eternity, then we must regard the form of the speech issuing from Christ's lips as the garment, and not the body itself. The Ultimate Reality is cloaked in His words; the words speak of the Reality, but are not the Reality.
Christ speaks in a form that men can understand, albeit not exhaustively comprehend; His every word is reflective of that which would, in the case that He spoke without varnish the full Mind of God, be to us incomprehensible and to the Speaker unutterable. It would be, for a poor example, similar to an articulate mother speaking in high vocabulary to her two year old child; he could not understand, and she may as well not speak if he cannot; thus though she might utter her high words, they have become enigmatic at best, and that foolishness of the unreality of a word symbol which cannot be attached to a reality at worst, thus unutterable. We note this in God our Father as He dealt with men, in Christ Jesus, and also in the Spirit Who “makes intercession for us in groanings which are unutterable.” This “unutterable” speaking is in Divine language which would baffle us, be incomprehensible, which cannot be set in human vocabulary but far exceeds the capability of our lisping tongues. In our present condition, God must ever conceal part of Himself from us, and show us only what we as creatures are able to see, to hear, and to understand. Anything more would be lost upon us. It is the graciousness of God to reach down to us on our level and communicate with us in extraordinary kindness.
From the Babylonian captivity forward, the Aramaic took root and then held sway among the Jews, so that by Christ's day it was their common language (His cry from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” is a direct usage of the Aramaic). Hebrew was known and spoken by the priests, was readable by the educated Jewish population (though not often, or well, spoken); the Koine was known and spoken by the merchants as it was the international language of the empire and commerce; but a dialect of Aramaic was the common tongue of the Jews, and was the language Christ spoke. There is evidence that at least a portion of the New Testament was originally penned in Aramaic, and the Persians to this day refer to their Scripture as harking back to that originality. When St. John wrote his Gospel, it was years after the actual events had taken place; he wrote in Greek, relied on memory, and the scenes depicted were for a Jewish culture of now two millennium past; we are reading translations of the Greek, drawn from copies of copies made, detached from the original language, its idioms, the meanings of which often drew from everyday events and things peculiar to the chosen people, now long passed into history. What chance, do you suppose, that the actual words of our Lord, spoken in Aramaic, recalled from memory, translated into Greek, subsequently into English, which language itself has been in a constant state of evolution since its beginning, correspond closely to the words of Christ we read today?
“God has not cared that we should anywhere have assurance of His very words; and that not merely, perhaps, because of the tendency in His children to word-worship, false logic, and corruption of the truth, but because He would not have them oppressed by words, seeing that words, being human, therefore but partially capable, could not absolutely express what the Lord meant, and that even He must depend for being understood upon the spirit of His disciple.
Seeing it could not give life, the letter should not be throned with the power to kill; it should be but the handmaiden to open the door of the truth to the mind that was of the truth.”
He does not say “ And the Father Himself...hath spoken of Me” but, rather, that God has “borne witness of Me.” For the truth, the Jews had paid closest heed to the Scripture, looking to the words as though in the words was life, yet the Son said unto them “You search the Scriptures; in them you think you have life, yet it is they which are bearing witness of Me;” thus, the Father and the Scripture have “borne witness” of Him. Words of men, all words, even Scripture, are but symbols for reality; in the flesh of Christ is the reality itself made manifest. “All things are from Him, and through Him, and to Him” as says St. Paul in Romans 11:36: It is Him, not the things of Him; it is not man's words put to parchment but the One from Whom they come, speaking through the Christ, and it is to this Living One that all words, human or Divine, symbolic or reality itself, are sent out and return for meaning.
MacDonald says “He must depend for being understood upon the spirit of His disciple.” As a man, our Lord spoke in the words of men, thus those words were symbolic and referred to reality even as does our language today, and so also every language. In His humanity, there were things the Lord did not know, only His Father in Heaven; and we, likewise, do not comprehend all concerning the things of God. What is common between us and Christ is “the spirit of His disciple;” we as the disciples of our Lord and He as the Disciple of His Father and ours. No version of Scripture is inerrant, including the Greek texts extant from ancient times; this has no bearing on the inspiration of Scripture, the essential truth in it. It is not the critical, Pharisaical, letter-of-the-Law interpretation of Scripture which contains any Life, but the Man Christ Jesus to Whom all Scripture points, Who is the center and circumference of all meaning, whose symbolic words were verified by the reality of what He did, His humble obedience to the exacting will of The Will.
To those at Phillipi, that city in eastern Macedonia where the Apostle had taken the Gospel of Christ, he wrote in his Epistle “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus...” and what was the mind of Christ? It was sheer, absolute, indefatigable, and utterly willing obedience to the Will of God devotedly worked out in Him during His earthly tenure by unfeigned and purest Love of and for God. The “mind of Christ” was and is no intellectual matter but is “ the spirit of His disciple.” Man, the natural man, demands to know before he will believe; but the ordering of God is that a man must first be obedient to all which he knows to be obedient, and if he will do this, then will he begin to know. And if we will do this, we will discover (as will others) that our symbolic words are beginning more and more to become reality itself. Our words will ever in this life remain as symbols, but we will be approaching reality as we become ever more the images of Christ in our world.
As an aside, a suppositional one, but one precious to me because I can imagine none greater or more glorious for the children of the Father than this, I see by the imagination a coming Day when God our Father shall put His arm about our shoulder and say to us “You see that blank place in the heavenlies? I left it blank on purpose; I left it that way just for you. Now, just as My Son, your Elder Brother, could break little fishes in pieces to feed the multitude, not by His own power but by Mine which I freely gave to Him, I am now in like fashion giving you the power to go into that blank space and create worlds, and make them full of colors, and glories, and joys, and make beasts which you will love and they will love you, and you shall speak to them as they will speak to you, and by My power which has become part of your own Divine Nature which I freely share with My children, I bequeath to you, as My heir, and the joint heir of all which My Son possesses, this great creative power.” And if that should be the case, as it must except that perhaps my imagination has been too small, then we who have become truly like our Lord, and so also like our Father, shall speak with the ability not to do so only in symbols which represent reality, but as reality itself...