A God who speaks my language

Isaiah 65

I teach Old Testament and one of the things students often struggle with is how foreign and distant the text can seem from us. There are huge gaps between us and the Old Testament’s original readers: gaps in terms of time, location, and culture. And that means it can be quite a bit of work to try to bridge those gaps so we can interpret the Old Testament well and discern its relevance.

But every time a student raises this issue, I’m reminded about a wonderful and profound truth those gaps teach me about our God.

The reason the Old Testament seems so foreign and distant to us is, of course, because it wasn’t spoken or written to us. It wasn’t written in our language, or through our worldview. It was written in Hebrew, through an ancient near Eastern worldview, because that is how the people to whom it was originally written understood things. Imagine how confused they would have been if the Old Testament was written in English and talked about the world from the perspective of atoms and galaxies, or consumer goods and global communication networks!

The fact is that God chose to reveal Himself to them in a way that made sense to them. He didn’t speak to them in some kind of timeless, supernatural, heavenly language that they would have to figure out in order to understand and know Him. He met them on their terms and made Himself known to them within their context. Because that is the kind of God He is – a God who wants to meet us where we are at and make Himself known to us in a way that we can understand. How amazing is that!

I have never doubted or even questioned the idea that God speaks and understands English. Of course he does. But when I visited one of my friends who is a cross-cultural worker amongst a small tribal group in a Muslim context in Africa, he told me how many of the people there didn’t know that God understood their language. Their language had not yet been written down, and no one outside their small group spoke it. And they had been taught that in order to pray, they must do so in Arabic. The idea that God could hear them, let alone speak to them, in their own language was a revelation to them!

But that’s the truth of the Bible. And the truth of the Incarnation. God reveals himself to us as one of us. He not only hears and understands our language, but he speaks it too.

The fact that the Old Testament was written in a language and cultural framework that made sense to its original hearers reminds me that God speaks to me and those around me in a way that we can hear and understand if we listen. I’m not sure how much comfort this brings my students when they are struggling to learn the Hebrew alphabet or understand the social world of the ancient Near East, but it makes me stand back and marvel again at the wonderful God we worship who is always seeking to make Himself known to us.

 

Rev Melinda Cousins – Biblical Studies Lecturer, Tabor- College of Higher Education

Cognitive biases part 2

rouletteIn my last blog post I introduced the topic of cognitive biases and the influence these may have on biblical interpretation. Of course, cognitive biases are not restricted to academic endeavours; they impact many aspects of our lives.

One of my favourite cognitive biases is the Gambler’s Fallacy. This has been defined as “the tendency to think that future probabilities are changed by past events, when in reality they are unchanged.” (Wilke and Mata, 2012: 532). This definition probably doesn’t mean all that much to you, but I’m sure you’ll understand what I’m talking about if I give you a quick example.

Imagine there is a person in a casino who has been playing roulette for a while. They have spun the wheel three times and three times red had come up. The fallacy comes in to play when the gambler thinks that black is more likely to come up next, because there have been three reds in a row, and given that there is a 50% chance of either coming up, we are “due” for a red.[1] Continue reading

Cognitive biases and the way we interpret the Bible.

Earlier this year, I completed the introductory subject to Flinders University’s Graduate Diploma in Higher Education. One of the lectures focussed on cognitive biases and assessment. Essentially, a cognitive bias is a “systematic error in judgement and decision making common to all human beings which can be due to cognitive limitations, motivational factors, and/or adaptations to natural environments” (Wilke and Mata, 2012: 531). As we were discussing the potential influence of these biases on the way we grade student’s work, I was struck by the ways in which they might also influence the way we interpret the Bible.

Let me give you one example. Continue reading

Nepal, Isaiah, and praying for the fullness of the kingdom

A core part of Tabor BMin, BTh, BIS and MDiv degrees is students’ involvement in the Formation Program, which they complete throughout their course by doing various Soul Projects. Some SLara's picoul Projects involve small groups exploring classic texts; others see students meeting one on one for a year with a spiritual director, counsellor or mentor; still others involve prayerful one day retreats utilising online resources. The program aims at an integrative approach in helping students map their inner geography and attend holistically to their Christian formation as a key part of their studies.

One such Soul Project is Praying with Isaiah. Originally facilitated by OT scholar Rev Dr David Baer, this retreat invites students to join Isaiah in praying need and desperation, praying hope, and praying the divine purpose. For assessment they submit their response in the form of prose, poetry, art or music. My privilege as an educator is in not only assessing, but also being personally impacted by the wide variety of submissions. One such reflection this semester was from Bachelor of Intercultural Studies student, Lara Cooper; may it draw you into compassionate prayer and action for a broken yet resilient people through the message and images of the prophet Isaiah. Continue reading

Engaging the Margins

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By David Turnbull, Intercultural Studies Coordinator- Tabor Adelaide

Generally speaking, Christians have been good at recognizing the margins and engaging with them. South Australia, known as the ‘Paradise of Dissent’, has demonstrated this from the start with the protection of the Kaurna language through the Dresden missionaries and the care of Lutheran immigrants from Germany in the early days of the colony, right through to ministering to people in need, refugees and asylum seekers today. Continue reading

The Distinctive Christian Shaping of Forgiveness

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Rev Dr Stephen Spence
Being victimized is a common human experience and the desire for revenge is just as common a human experience. But history and personal experience has taught us that revenge doesn’t contribute to the creation of a new, healthier community; revenge looks to the past and so destroys the future. Even justice exercised on behalf of the victims is not enough to create new communities of love. Only (deep and painful) forgiveness can build a future by overcoming exclusion in favour of embrace.

Continue reading