God, the Great Communicator

God exists, and He makes Himself known. These are two basic tenets of the Christian faith. God is not only a Creator, God is a communicator. Have you ever wondered why God communicates the way He does? It’s a fascinating question. The problem that parents face when trying to communicate with their small children fades into insignificance when placed beside the problem that God faces in revealing His infinite self to His finite children. Not only is the infinite trying to communicate with the finite, but God has constrained Himself to communicate in a world of competing narratives and interests since the day that, in His divine wisdom, He allowed those fateful words to ring out: “Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?” Why did God do that?

Why let in lies and half-truths?

Why doesn’t God reveal Himself directly?

Why doesn’t God answer prayers verbally?

Why allow humanity to participate in the writing of the Scriptures and the spreading of the Good News?

Why parcel out revelation over thousands of years?

Why did God become a person?

There are so many why questions that we have for God, and complete answers to these questions are unknowable. That is clear from the ending of the book of Job. Job asks some why questions of God and God chooses to communicate by asking questions of Job instead of giving answers to Job. Instead of answering in a single sentence, “Because you wouldn’t understand”, God spends two chapters asking questions. These questions lead Job to a revelation, to repentance, and to renewed relationship with God. The Scriptures are full of hints and clues about why God communicates, like this one, if we are willing to look for them. Each hint, each clue, reveals something about God, and something about humanity.

The answer to the question, “What is God’s communication like?” is another interesting one. Where the rationale behind God’s communication is (for the most part) hidden, the characteristics of God’s communication are directly observable. We  have less information that we would wish (non-verbal clues, tone of voice, etc.), but it is still a rich resource. For the majority of Christians, it is an overlooked resource. We act as if the saying, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.”, does not apply to God. With God, too often we restrict ourselves just to what was said, not how it was said, or why, or how it could have been said differently. That is like walking past a pearl of great price.

God talks about His feelings. That is important. When an angel speaks in the gospel, the first thing they say is “Do not fear”. That tells us both that angels are scary looking, and that God doesn’t want us to be scared of angels. It may tell us something more about how fear affects our ability to hear and perceive God. We can see that God reveals parts of His plan for the future, but never all. We see that God uses metaphors, hyperbole, and other figures of speech. God regularly answers questions with questions. God seems to tailor His messages to the person who is receiving the message. God allows two-way communication. These observations give us insight into what God is trying to accomplish, and how, and why. It is shows us what it looks like to have God’s character and be an inhabitant of the kingdom. If we are honest, we won’t always understand why God chooses to communicate as He does, nor will we understand how a given communication embodies the values of His kingdom. But asking the question, and seeking to answer it, will surface issues that we would normally gloss right over.

Now for the relation to integral mission, which is both crucial and controversial.

There is no such thing as pure proclamation of the gospel.

It does not exist. It is a helpful theoretical construct, but every proclamation is already and always connected to demonstration and to being. To be more specific, the way that we proclaim the gospel is always a demonstration of our proclamation. In fact, sometimes the way that we say something is more important than the content of our message. The first step in integrating words and deeds is to integrate what we say with the way that we say it, which both arise from why we are saying it. A proclamation of the gospel with open body language, or with a haughty tone, or based on abstract logic instead of personal experience (or vice versa), or in a foreign language demonstrates something about the gospel. We are also aware that both the proclamation and the demonstration spring from our being. God’s being is the unpolluted source of His rationale, His why. As we seek to know God’s why, and to become aware of how God has chosen to demonstrate His proclamation, we become better integral missionaries.