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God is an 'elusive presence' whose word inspires our own freedom of mind

By Allen Sleith, Hillsborough Presbyterian Church

For some people, belief in God seems a simple straightforward thing. It's a matter of reading the Bible or accepting the Church's dogma or accepting without question the views of that impressive personality who dominates the fellowship to which you belong. 'God's will is clear. All you have to do is trust and obey.' It might be tempting to buy into that mentality but I'm afraid if you do, you're probably being 'sold a pup'.

In Protestant circles, it's a common practice for the minister leading worship to end the scripture reading by saying something along these lines: "And we know that God will bless to our hearts this reading of his Holy Word." I know that's well meant and I don't doubt the sincerity of the sentiment, but no one can be sure that the blessing referred to in that quote is guaranteed to happen.

Christian history is littered with instances of individuals, Churches and communities making assumptions and taking grotesque liberties with the words of scripture in the hope that God would underwrite or endorse opinions, practices and courses of action that were other than the divine intent. Luther said that often we take the biblical text and treat it like a wax nose - we distort it into whatever predetermined shape we want.

The Bible does reveal and communicate the reality of God and a whole cluster of essential truths therein. The authors of scripture were indeed inspired by God but just so its proper interpretation is also a matter of inspiration and, humanly speaking, that can never be absolutely guaranteed on many matters. You only have to ponder the myriad of Protestant denominations who all claim the Bible as their sole authority, and yet who differ, sometimes quite drastically between and within themselves, to conclude that something more complex is perennially at work.

The Bible uses a rich diversity of names, titles and images to describe God. Let me suggest another - God is an Elusive Presence. In John chapter 3, Jesus portrayed God as Spirit, acting upon us in transformative ways but always remaining free to come and go, to settle and blow, just like the wind, in fact - invisible but palpable. God's freedom is the basis of ours.

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