In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
And he said, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
The traditional structure on which theological thinking, or discourse about God stands has three legs. Revelation (what data is given about God), Reason (how we process that data intellectually and logically) and Tradition (how others before us have dealt with the other two legs). This has been the classical system and though useful, it has tended to produce quite dry and dusty systems of thought.
I love the story of the first year student who made an error at registration and signed up for Geology instead of Theology. He attended lectures for an entire semester before realising the mistake!
Revelation, reason and tradition meant that the good ‘ol boys who ran the theological club could devise nice closed systems in a code that only they would understand.
Clearly there has been something missing with this three legged stool.
Many, like the Gnostics, tried to introduce a fourth and vital ingredient to the process but they were sooner or later removed from the club. “Right of admission reserved” and all that. It was only in the eighteenth century that classical theology received a challenge from one of its own.
An Oxford don, who had begun actually dialoguing with ordinary gin-swilling, slum-dwelling, mine-working, common people and discovered what was missing in the dusty theological process. John Wesley, preaching; and Charles Wesley, singing, experienced the power of the very thing their training had taught them to be suspicious of: Experience!
Academia was not impressed. The Wesleys were labelled as “Enthusiasts”, a terrible slight in intellectually imprisoned rational England. Undeterred they persevered and prevailed to allow the experiences of ordinary men and women to inform and shape religious discourse and development. In so doing they not only revived religion they also opened the door for the great Pentecostal and Charismatic revivals of the twentieth century.
Naturally experience has always been part of religious life, but it is difficult to contain and control. Human experience is mercurial, oft times manic and extremely maleable. Definitely not the characteristics that are sought after for hierarchical systems of dominance and discipline. That’s why the Gnostics never made it. They set too much store by mystical experience.
But today the genie is out of the gin-bottle and it ain’t going back.
Our spiritual natures demand experiences that are relevant and real. They don’t even have to be rational or traditional.
It is strange that the church never caught on sooner to what was missing. The clue was sitting right at the coreof the creeds. The very statements of orthodoxy that were used to exclude the emotional enthusiasts had at their heart a doctrince completely based on experience. The doctrine of the Trinity.
The trinity is the way the church has tried to square its experience of God with revelation, reason and tradition.
The monotheistic Judaeo-Christian path has experienced the one God as Parent, Son/Sibling Jesus, and Spirit of Life.
Right here experience has determined our theology.
Why did we take so long to understand?
Well like the trinity, that’s a great mystery.
Jesus encourages Nicodemus to get out of his head and into his heart. To experience being born from above.
Louis Armstrong got it right when a reporter asked him, “Mr Armstrong what is Jazz?” Satchmo replied, “Honey, if ya gotta ask y’ull never know!“