To Know God: The Syllabus
His character explodes around us every day.
To know God.
It is not possible to like, to love anyone unless you first know them. The greatest gift passed down by a mother, a father, a teacher, is about this God. In the secular world, only the luckiest of us got to attend parochial schools…and hear the stories.
The New Millennium was so much fear based. If I read the newspapers correctly, there had been no cease fire declared in the War on Terror. So this was like it was to live in the North of Ireland for all those years.
Fear. If I overcame fear, there then was heroism. Fear only froze me to inaction. Knowledge made me act. In the secular world, in the information age of digital television, of soccer moms and remote control, fear was everywhere. And the hell with freedom.
To know God. If I would ever sign up to teach a class on God, what they called the rites of initiation in the church I belonged, I would have a fairly simple syllabus. It would be an introduction to God. And it would involve a combination of a literature with a theology class.
To know someone well certainly erases a lot of fear. So class, read just the Book of Genesis. Acquire 3 books. We will begin with one chapter from Writers on Writing. The first assignment involves the one chapter in this book called “reading” written by Richard Ford. Yes, he is the Ford who later wrote Independence Day and won the Pulitzer Prize. Writers on Writing was written in 1991 and was published by Bread Loaf Anthology. Ford begins by stating that he really learned to read at the age of 25 as he prepared to teach English in college. He had to teach and explain to his students, who demanded relevancy in everything, how to read carefully. After all, young people are in the relevancy business. Ford’s problem was teaching about character, point of view, to a bunch of people who were as excited to be in his class as they might be visiting the dentist. Such is the challenge of a theology professor.
That syllabus, class, also includes God: A Biography. The author is Jack Miles. He too won a Pulitzer Prize, but for this book. He approaches God, as presented in those 30 foot scrolls of the Torah, the Old Testament, as one developing character. He shows the growth and change of the character, God, from the story in the Book of Genesis through the Book of Job. Both of the cited authors present characters by having you answer for yourselves the questions: How did he affect you? Did he frighten you? Did you love him? What was he after? Did he change much during the time that you knew him? What most impressed you about him?
And finally, in the final weeks we will concentrate on the story of Noah, in the days before God becomes half conscious of the goings on in the world. You will need to acquire the book Sages and Dreamers by Elie Wiesal. Yes. Wiesal. He, too, a winner of a Pulitzer Prize for the novel, Night, and a Nobel Prize winner. Yes. Noah, swimming in the polluted air of the earth that had occurred over 10 generations. This is the account of the second creation. Ford, Miles, and Wiesal will show that it is not so much the answers as the questions that help lead you to God in your personal life.
Noah, living in wicked times. Noah, who is all that others are not. All others die, yet he lives. The crimes of humanity, the corruption, which Noah was above, are never explained in the lines. Who did what to whom? Not one crime is cited, not one criminal. It was like reading ancient history, the story of Noah, and kids have little interest in ancient history. But the mystery was, the questions were between the lines. How could God resent the lack of faith when it had yet to have been passed down? It was thought that Noah was the just man of his generation. Jewish commentary often cites the Just Man. If Noah lived in other times, would he have attained this leadership role? What did he do to deserve this role? Little is ever said. All that the Good Book says is that Noah submits to God’s will and nothing more. God has chosen to talk to him. Creation had become chaos.
Creation. When Your work product was directed at this thing summed up in one word as Creation. Maybe, class, you should have had a bit of William Shakespeare, seen the play or the movie “Hamlet,” to appreciate the dilemma presented in the famous soliloquy, “To be, or not to be.” About the conflict in the story about the inheritance of the family kingdom by a prince, between a public life and a personal life. The conflict over your part in the cast in the outside world, with your home life and those who knew you best. The conflict over the pursuit of the kingdom and the maintenance thereof, with fertility — of either your significant other’s, or your spouse’s. The fertility that you tried to control, just as your tried to plan your own future. It would be what you would leave behind, way beyond your control.
The first times. Doing things the first time. Like Noah having to pair up all the animals.
“What about the pigeons, Noah? Are we really gonna pair up the pigeons?”
“Yeah, we better pair up the pigeons. It is said already that God works in mysterious ways. Even through the pigeons.””
Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, wrote that an unanswered question is a fine traveling companion which sharpens the eye for a journey. Too often an answer is an invitation to stop thinking about something, to stop wondering. The mystery was in the questions. The mystery of the Torah was to be found in the questions between the lines, much like in the lives you set off to live. The Torah, where the past is connected to the present and to the future life as a process whose every event is connected to the moment that just went by, has no such stopping places.
Free will, children of soccer moms, and its application in the way of civil rights and the freedoms connected to human rights come from God and are explained in the stories of the Torah. You might want to get to know the stories and the main character. Before the questions on the final exam.
“Feeling secure in one’s ‘papers’ in a paperless world,” said Captain Obvious. “How did we ever miss this one before?”