As I embark on the Theophany Project, I am faced with the question of where to begin.
The purpose of the project is to examine ways in which God has revealed God’s self so that we can grow in our own experience of God. I want to look at encounters that people have had with God as God has revealed God’s self so that we can learn better how to be on the lookout for such manifestations; I want us to know how to look for God.
This is important because I believe that the majority of Christian people, not to mention the majority of people in general, miss out on the encounters with God that they could have because they are not looking to encounter God. There are, of course, people who think they experience God in a face in a plate of spaghetti, but that’s another story and it’s not the kind of experience in which I’m interested.
Perhaps the best place to begin is with the human experience; after all, were there no one here for God to reveal God’s self to, could we really say that revelation has occurred? And, given that I believe that I have had and continue to have my own experiences with God, maybe I should start with my own human experience of God. Integrity compels me to admit that I can, for my part, start nowhere else, because I can only experience anything, including God, as me; I can only know God from who I am and from where I stand—as can you.
But I don’t want to be entirely subjective in my approach; I don’t this project to be just about my encounters with God.
Perhaps another good place to begin is with Jesus. After all, as a Christian, I believe that Jesus is God incarnate, that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us,” that in Jesus “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” I believe that if we human beings want to have the best shot we can have at knowing who God is, we best look at Jesus. And I will get there, especially since I believe that the most appropriate lens through which we can read the Bible is Jesus Christ.
Which brings to me to where I am going to begin: I am going to begin with the Bible. Among the many things we could truthfully say about the Bible is this: the Bible contains a record of the revelation of God to people and of their experience of and response to that revelation. Besides, I’m a Christian preacher working in the Baptist tradition; where else would you expect me to start?
Let me be clear, though: while I believe that it is vitally important that we closely examine the Bible for what we can learn from its words about the ways in which God reveals God’s self to people and the ways in which people experience and respond to such revelations, it is even more important that we have our own personal encounters with God—and we can have and even should have them a lot more often than we do.
So I will begin with the Bible.
I will moreover begin with the beginning of the Bible…