Many years ago I had a chance to take a group of High School Students in St. Petersburg Russia on a short term mission trip. It is a trip I reference many time for there is so much that I learned and observed while there. One of my favorite stories is a shopping trip to a large market that I took with a young man from my congregation. Sid was a great kid and a lot of fun to have along on the trip. Most of the advice I had given Sid prior to the trip to help him prepare he followed. I did say most, there was one simple piece of advice however that Sid choose to skip. I encouraged Sid to learn just a few simple Russian expressions, to show respect for the people and to help get along better while in the country.
Sid and I arrived at the market which was a large open air market in a walled courtyard. The layout of the court yard was a giant circle. Sid headed out one way and I headed the other. When I met up with Sid sometime later I had purchased many souvenirs, which was our mission on this day. Sid by time we connected had purchased nothing. He said he was not able to buy anything because no one would talk to him. I explained that his English was not the language of the day here. Sid quickly wanted to learn a little Russian. I asked him what he wanted to learn how to say. His reply was quick, “How much does this cost? teach me to say that.” I asked him if that was what he for sure wanted to learn. He was confident that would make his shopping adventure a success. . So He was in luck I was able in my broken Texan/Russian to tell him.
Delighted he ran off to purchase all the things he had seen earlier. I followed at a distance to see how it was going. It was not long before he came back to see me. Turns out there was a problem. When he asked them “How much does this cost?” they told him. Do you see the problem? Sid does not speak Russian. Deeply frustrated he said “this is not working at all.” So i let him know that it was a simple case of asking the wrong question. He was close with the question that he was asking but when we modified the question to be “How much does this cost, in English?” the results were very different.
The traders did not speak English but they all had pocket calculators and they would simply type in a number and show you. The game then went on when you would type a new number and this continued until you both came to a number you could live with. “How much does this cost?” seemed like the right question, but it never got to the real matter at hand.
I tell you that story to set up my next point. There is a new movie out, now playing on a few screens in America, Oh My God. It is a documentary from director Peter Rodger. Oh My God asks people from all walks of life, from celebrities, to the religious, to atheists and the common Man – the question – “What is God?”
I must admit I have read reviews and watched a few clips from the movie but have not seen the whole thing. But even without watching it I know that it suffers from the whole wrong question dilemma. You see the question is not “What is God?” But “Who is God?” As Scripture, creation, and the very heart of man all declare, God is not a “what” but a “who.”
John opens His Gospel, the account of Jesus the Son of God come down to earth, with these words:
John 1:1-4 (NIV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
“He was with God in the beginning”, “In him was life” John introduces his Lord to his reader not with a “what” but with a “who.” Though out the pages of scripture God is defined in “person” terms. The trinity of God is revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit who are all listed as the “persons” of the Trinity.
John ends His Gospel, the account of Jesus the Son of God come down to earth, with these words:
John 20:30-31 (NIV)
30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Many might think I am getting overly picky here with the English language and the difference between “What is God?” and “Who is God?” but this language difference points out the deep issues of our culture. Our culture today has ascribed, as did ancient pagan religions of the past, divine attribute and names to “stuff”.”
This advent season we wait and watch for Jesus to return in all his grand and majestic glory as a person – the true and only God who cares and deeply loves His people. We don’t wait for a warm and fuzzy feeling of peace and solstice harmony on earth, but for the celebration of the Babe, the “who” of Christmas, Jesus the Messiah.
Just a poor beggar seeking more of more of the living Christ as i wander through this life Pondering…. God!