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The God Who Was


Yesterday I mentioned how many times daily I said the Doxology while on my recent trip to the Tappist monastery in Kentucky.  I guessed it was thirty or forty times.  Of course, that seems like a big number and, truly, I may be exaggerating.  But it was many times.

Of course, I lived a great deal of life before I really knew what a “doxology” was.  I knew it was something most people knew.  But why it was important was beyond me.  It was simple…a kind of spiritual no-brainer.  And then I learned Greek.  I learned the Greek word, doxa, means “praise” or “glory.”  So when I say the doxology, I am literally praising or giving God the glory.  That made it important to me.

The Doxology we shared at the monastery at Gethsemani was a little different than the version I grew up saying. The opening line was praising the three persons of the Christian trinity: in traditional language, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  That is and was standard.

Then the next line was the one which intrigued me.  It intrigued me every time I said it.  “The God Who Is” was the first piece of that line and it was the object of some reflections in yesterday’s meditative selection.  The next piece is what I want to give focus in this new day.  And so the line goes: “The God Who is, Who was….”  “Who is” clearly is present tense.  It is the God of today, the God of the here and now.

“The God Who was” is the God of yesterday.  It is the God of last century and last millennial.  Indeed, it is the God who has existed from the beginning of time.  It is easy to wonder why bother with that God…the God of our history and the old God of our world?

With that question, I realize I am wandering into some significant theological waters.  It can get tricky.  Nevertheless, I wander in and want to explore this “God Who was…”

“The God Who was…” is the God of tradition.  Of course, “tradition” is also a tricky idea.  For some, tradition is old stuff and should be done away with as soon as possible.  It is seen as dated, dilapidated, and sometimes, detrimental.  “Out with the old and in with the new” is the cry!  “Trash Tradition” seemed to be the mantra of the 1960s.

But tradition has a salutary side.  Tradition can be seen as the treasure of memory.  Tradition does not necessarily mean fossilized.  It can be lively…a living tradition.  As far back as Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries, memory was the way the past was held in the present.  If I can remember, then I have “yesterday” in the present of today.  Otherwise, “yesterday” is gone.  It no longer exists.  Just think if someone came along and wiped out your memories.  No longer would you be “the real you.”  Just think if you could only recall what happens in one day!

Thank God for memory…that storehouse of all my “past present times.”  That’s tradition.  And it is no different for God as we relate to that God.  God did not just become God for me in my present.  God was God for countless people in countless places long before I existed.

There are stories of that God interacting with all those people before me…people God also cared for and loved.  Of course, they may have experienced God differently than I currently experience the Divinity.  They may use different language than I do to describe my God.  But that does not make them wrong…any more than my language to describe God is right. We are all linguistically helpless creatures wrestling to articulate the mystery and majesty of “The God Who is, and Who was…”

I take solace in the fact that “The God Who was” somehow foundationally undergirds all that I am and do.  It is not all novelty.  There is history; soon I will be history.  I will become part of the tradition wrapped up in “The God Who was…”  Tradition is the repository of yesterday’s truth and meaning.

From the depths of my heart I praise “The God Who was…”

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