Tuesday, 24 May 2022

7. Image

Dear children

So what is this God like?

Who is like you? Many are like you with regard to your age. Many are of like skin colour or hair colour. No one has the same finger print or retinal image (the inside of your eye). Only one is like you as a brother. But you two are not identical and even if you were identical twins, you would not be the same. There are so many ways in which you each are unique, and like each human, your depths are unfathomable.

And there is no description available for any of us as to our thoughts and our history and our potential. In these ways you are like God, unknown, and always unknowable, each of you becoming who you already are more and more fully as you grow. You will become what you will become. What choices will you make? What disciplines will you pursue? To what end will you be called? 

You will be known, but always in part. You will be known among others also as part of a team, perhaps a soccer team or a track team or an orchestra or a choir. And so much is learned by everyone who is part of such a team that it too can only be known in part.

In that first chapter of Genesis, God says as much about you as he does about each of us and all of us together in teams.

And God said, Let us construct humanity in our image according to our likeness, and let them rule among the fish of the sea and among the fowl of the heavens and among the cattle and in all the earth and among every creeper that creeps upon the earth.

And God created the human in his image. In the image of God he created it, male and female he created them.

When I translate the Bible, I am stuck in English, just as Hebrew is stuck, with the third person pronouns that read him or her, or he or she, or his or hers. Hebrew uses prefixes and suffixes for person and number. When there is one form for both genders, the prefix or suffix may assume that the male stands for both male and female. 

It's very curious with God in this sentence, because the Hebrew verb is singular and does not agree with the plural form of god. The aleph in alohim carries an e vowel and sounds like Elohim. The suffix -im is a plural. The verb vibra (roughly pronounced vəyibəra) is singular.

vi/bra, and created singular
aloh\im God plural
at-h/adm the human singular
b/xlm\o in his image. singular
b/xlm In the image of singular
aloh\im God plural
bra he created singular
aot\o  it singular,
zcr male singular generic
u/nqb\h and female singular generic
bra he created singular
aot\m them plural.

God is both plural and singular, both many and one in this verse, much as a team of hockey players play as one, or a choir of singers sing as one. God's voice is sometimes heard as the voice of many waters, singular and plural, male and female, neither exclusively nor separately alone, but together. 

And each of us has what we culturally imagine as masculine and feminine characteristics, e.g. tenderness and strength, whether we are boys or girls. And this unknowable combination is in us, as it is in God. We are singular and plural, and male and female, and like God, both individual and a team. So the text uses both singular and plural for the act of our creation. God created both the unity, it, and the diversity, them. [Nothing is written here about how. And we are still in the process of being created.]

You will note that God says "in our image according to our likeness" but creates only "in the image". Is it perhaps part of our being to become like God in God's likeness? You can see here too our role is to rule. We do this. And sometimes we do it very well, but also we fail as I have noted before. What character should we develop that we may grow into the likeness of God? What is God really like? I'll start with this: God cares for others. And God cares for us.

My favorite bit of Shakespeare is from The Merchant of Venice. (We must get Shakespeare into the puzzle eventually). Our power, our rule, is to be compassionate, even as God is compassionate. To be merciful even as God is merciful.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.

The first two chapters of Genesis are as far as many people ever get in the reading of the Bible. But if we even read this first chapter, we will know something of each of the seven days of creation in the first poetic story, and making all time present today, we can learn from each of the seven days. We learn in our own lives from emptiness and disorder (like your bedroom sometimes) to light, and we learn from examining the mysteries of the heavens with our telescopes, and in doing so we see further and further back in time, making the past present to our eyes, and we learn from the evolution of the life of the sea and the land, and even to ourselves. All seven days run concurrently and the final day of rest remains to be known in full. (We'll come back to this too).

You might want to try reading the puzzle I gave you in the third letter. It also tells you what God is like.

till the next letter ...

Monday, 23 May 2022

How many beatitudes are there in the Bible

 This question is poorly answered on some platforms.

I count 70 roughly speaking.

Who will take me up on it?

(Check out the posts with label beatitudes).

Friday, 20 May 2022

6. Instruction

Dear children,

We humans make laws. Governments at all levels have contracts, regulations, laws, instructions, conventions, and processes to follow that keep things running as effectively as we can at any given time. They are constantly being added to and modified. That's what governments do. 

You know about rules since you have them at school and home: getting to bed on time - so you can get up in the morning to get to school on time, eating something for energy and growth, cleaning up, doing laundry, tidying your room. These are important so that you can find things when you want them, and live in a clean place to stay healthy and work and play and grow together in some reasonable pattern.

We have rules when we play a game. We could not play chess or bridge or monopoly without knowing the rules. And these too evolve as the games develop. (You might be surprised that the monopoly rules of the game we play are one set of rules of two original ways to play. See The Landlord's Game.)

We also have a history of laws, some of which we consider as bad laws today. 

We used to allow slaves. There are always dangers that we will fail to keep the harder law that slavery is not allowed. Governments can be very clever at finding ways to avoid doing what is right and effectively enslave their own people. Such cleverness is a trial of our power but in ways that may be destructive. 

Both Canada and the United States had enforced residential schooling for the First Nations of Turtle Island. You know a little about these things from both school and family. The regulations developed to dominate the original inhabitants of Canada were bad regulations. We didn't know any better, but we should have. Our ignorance is no excuse. Canada is a little ahead of the US in admitting its past as part of the present.

But laws are necessary. They are part of our response to the goodness of life itself in the face of all the difficulties we find. Our laws have their general foundation in ancient law codes. Thousands of years ago - over 100 generations - going back 3000 years, we find 10 commandments - called the 10 words. There are two places in the ancient text where they are found and there is an independent summary for them. And they are variously numbered - it's just the nature of the ancient records. 

We had to memorize these when I was young. (They are are more than one word each!) But even memorization does not capture them. 

I am keeping them very short - shorter than they really are - the three dots means there is a long explanation or context to be considered. The study of these and the surrounding statutes and instructions is a lifetime's work. 

God spoke all these words: 

  1. I am Yahweh your God, who brought you forth from the land of Egypt, from the house of servitude. Not it is for you: other gods over my presence.
  2. You will not make for yourself a graven image ...
  3. You will not lift up the name of Yahweh your God to vanity ...
  4. Remember the day of the Sabbath to sanctify it ...
  5. Glorify your father and your mother ...
  6. You will not murder.
  7. You will not commit adultery.
  8. You will not steal. 
  9. You will not inflict false witness against your associate.
  10. You will not covet ...
Some of these are long but some are astonishingly short and only a word or two.

Number 7 is only 6 letters in the Hebrew - la tnaf - (roughly pronounced as lo tənaf). I was absolutely baffled by this word when I was young. As you have heard me say before, It's complicated. But it is also simple in this case. You will not break your promises and you will be faithful in your covenant with your adult partner. You will not encourage anyone else to break their covenant for your benefit. You know so many people in your school circles who have broken up. It is, as you say, very sad. 

Number 6 is only 7 letters - la tgnob. (In Hebrew, la is pronounced lo and is one way of saying 'no'.) I certainly knew what murder was when I was young. Although we lived in a small community and I was sheltered, I had seen films of the concentration camps from the second war. Even to a child this was unmistakable evil.

And stealing (8), and lying (9) - though you will note that deception is not actually spoken of here - but false things about your friend or neighbour or any other 'associate'.

The first 4 are about God. They are largely ignored by many today. We'll talk more about images in the next letter.

The 5th is usually phrased as 'Honour your father and your mother', but the word is Glorify as I read it in the original language (כַּבֵּ֥ד אֶת־אָבִ֖יךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּ֑ךָ cbd at-abiç vat-aimç, c-b-d is something heavy). The Greek appears to have Fear. (τίμα τὸν πατέρα σου καὶ τὴν μητέρα - I don't know Greek. It was the first translation of the Hebrew about 2300 years ago.) I would not express either glory or honour as the word fear. Mothers and fathers and all those who care for us deserve our respect because they work for us and care for us.

There's a great deal to be confused about here within our lives. Commandments 6, 7, 8 and 9 are all recognized today as still important for traditional society to work. But you may notice, there are lots of places where our society is not working well. Perhaps we should pay more attention to the first 4. But what sort of attention?

Many traditionalists in our neighbour to the south thought and still think that their current president stole the election, and that their previous president was a gift of God. At present, there are enough checks in the American system that such a steal would take the cooperation or corruption of many people. Those who believe the steal had no grounds for believing it. Those who see the previous president as a gift should be careful that they don't worship the gift. It can be that the first 4 are wrongly emphasized also. It is particularly bad when we get the character of God wrong and use God's name in a way that brings disrespect to God.

I knew one of these people as a friend. I could not talk with him about these things. He believed in this lie and other lies along with many. Whole groups of people have lost their grounding in the truth. My friend didn't believe in the vaccination. He got the virus. He died. I am sorry that I was not able to tell him he was wrong in time for him to change his mind. I tried. He really wanted to know how I learned the Bible and its music, but he was also believing the Bible in ways that were untrue. What a hard problem. That's why I say that any sentence with God in it cannot by definition be fully understood by us. If we think we understand, we may be deceiving ourselves.

The 10th commandment is not a visible action. C-O-V-E-T - another Wordle possibility. Who can see our inner desire? But you know what it is - it's when you want something that someone else has and it's not yours to have - and our behaviour is easy to see in these cases. Our eyes and the look on our faces give us away.

There is an elaboration of this commandment that is like a summary of the last 5:
And you will not covet the wife of your associate [or friend]. And you will not desire the house of your associate, his field or his manservant or his maidservant, his bull or his ass [donkey], or anything that is your associate's.

There is a two-fold summary of the whole instruction and all its many pages and details: The first part: You will love Yahweh your God, with all your heart and with all your being and with all your capacity. And the second is its complement: You will love your associate as yourself. 

The second has more context than the summary indicates: 
You will not avenge, and you will not hold back with the children of your people, but you will love your associate as yourself. I am Yahweh.

Take that: no vengeance - no getting back at someone who hurt you. That is really hard. What is this love? It is not just a feeling but an act of will to the good of another person. No one does this without the mysterious help of a God who lives in them as an active governor. 

You may notice I use the word associate, or friend, but not neighbour. (The traditional gloss in English is neighbour, but I use that word for people who live near us.) The three letters for associate in Hebrew are r-y-h. These have two distinct sets of meanings: associate and/or friend, and shepherd or its related verb, to graze or to tend. So remember the flock of sheep that you saw being herded by a sheep dog in the snow. Then think of people as sheep (it's a common metaphor) and imagine that when the flock is feeding, the rest of the flock does not covet the other's food. 

This is a very complex business - not one that is quickly introduced. Like using a pogo stick, it requires maturing, work, and a certain sufficiency of weight (depending on how big the pogo stick is). One thought about these is to think of them as promises we will grow into. They are like clothes that are too big for us, but with help we will learn to wear them well.

I left out some of the interesting comments. Yahweh speaks in the second commandment: I the LORD thy God am a jealous God. How is this possible? You may wrestle with these words for decades. But I think one possibility is that Yahweh - present with us - does not want us to sell ourselves short. So when there is trouble, this one who is with us pursues our correction even through three or four generations to fix the errors of the past.

Who is this I will be who says to us - I am your God? How can this be when we do not know who this God is? 

Till the next letter ...

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Word Puzzles

 For anyone to try who would like to. Based on words from the first 5 letters for the children.

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I think I had another word in there but I wasn't able to find it. They overlap, intersect, can be forward or backwards, diagonal, vertical or horizontal.. 

acid, beauty, beginning, biodiversity, deoxyribonucleic, formless, gene,

genesis, mass, microwave, physics, puzzle, stars, telescope, time, trouble, trust, truth

your names are there too