The Lie of Context

You may have noticed the double meaning in the title. Just like golf, context is all about lie – where a thing is located is the most important factor in determining meaning.

It is said, and assented to by a majority of believers, that God is not subject to time. In other words, time does not rule over God – rather, God is over time. Science itself recognizes time as a mere product of creation, not a provost.

What we must realize is that this is the outfall of an overarching concept, and that is that God is not bound by a linear system, or, more robustly, God is not constrained to any path.

For example, a physical body is bound by path to location. Where you can be next is in direct relationship to where you are now. But David asks of God, “Where can I go to get away from your presence? No matter where I go, there you are!” God, not being constrained by location, must then be everywhere. And, not being constrained by time, is then everywhere at all times. When or where he is has no quantitative relationship to where or when he was or will be.

Contextual relationship propagates from an event in a diminishing fashion:

Context TimelineThe farther away you are from an event, the less impact that event has upon you.

As an example, think of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunami. Your location had a great deal to do with the immediate impact of the event. We in North American were relatively unaffected by the disaster. Compare that event with the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake. The impact in North America was greater, not because of physical location, as the distances involved are similar, but because of our financial location. North America has a greater monetary tie to Japan than to Indonesia. Proximity is felt on many fronts: physical, social, economic, cultural.

What does all this have to do with God?

We mostly understand that location is of no concern to him, and believe he deals with people around the globe regardless of where they are located. We somewhat understand with time. Certainly, God at this moment is understood as unconstrained by the clock, but what we may miss is that this could mean he is also living an hour in the past and an hour in the future while being here in our present. We believe the eternal, “Who is, and was and is to come.”  We just need to stretch a bit and see he who, “Hems me in behind and before, while his hand is upon me.” This is an insight Christ obliquely refers to when he states, “Before Abraham was, I Am.”

Let’s not stop there, though. The scriptures tell us that, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.”  If we are going to believe that statement, then why are we so fixated on context when it comes to the word? If God is not bound by context, and the word is God, then how can the word be bound? Paul tells Timothy, “The word of God is not bound.”

It brings to mind the movie, Strictly Ballroom. Scott Hastings, the young dancer, wants to introduce different form into the staid world of ballroom dance. The head of the Australian Dance Federation, Barry Fife, declares that there will be no new steps. And why not? “If you can’t dance a step, you can’t teach it, and if you can’t teach it…we might as well all pack up and go home.”

And that’s our problem. Context is a tool of flesh. We are creatures of flesh, therefore we will fall back upon our natural strengths; however, Paul warns that the flesh opposes the Spirit. And it is this Spirit who is sent to “teach us all things.” To rely too heavily upon context as a teaching tool is to build a barrier against the teacher.

The less we are attuned to the Spirit, the more enticing context becomes. It is an arena in which we can meet and compete using a universal set of rules. What we don’t want is someone popping in here & there, someone who ignores our rules, someone who says that his approach makes complete sense if you use the playbook of an insubstantial being. It’s a lot easier to just kick him off the field.

So, where does this put us? How then should we consider the word?  One crude image that springs to mind is Spiritual Lego. Every piece interlocks with every other piece, and an infinite variety of shapes are possible; however, not every shape is well judged. There are an infinite number of both the beautiful and the banal. And, just as with physical Lego, ability depends upon learning the pattern of assembly. An expert assembler will construct a masterpiece given just a handful of parts, while the unlearned make garbage with even a truckload of pieces at their fingertips.

Context can be managed if you carry a whip and a chair, and this isn’t an argument about invalidating context as a learning tool. Just remember that context deals with the surface of a matter. If you want to chart the depths, you have to move beyond context.

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