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Emmanuel as Narrator

A well-educated and very astute woman has been visiting our church for months now. Recently, she emailed me a list of questions, which she hoped would occasionally be addressed in a sermon. One of them is the following:

Do Christians conceive of God as a universal Presence, an eternal Spirit, and ethereal Intelligence or are we still promoting God in the form of man?

I have thought about this question over the past couple of weeks while reading two books. The first, Michael Malone’s Handling Sin, is a novel set in the American South during the 1970s. In many ways, it is a re-telling of The Odyssey, as the protagonist takes a long adventure with many twists, turns, heroes, and villains before finally coming back home. Alongside this epic, I’ve re-red Miranda July’s first short story collection, No One Belongs Here More than You. Apart from the obvious differences in genre, the two authors understand the role of the narrator in opposite ways. Malone has an omniscience narrator, a voice who directs the action of the story, including telling the reader the innermost thoughts of characters. There is nothing his narrator cannot do. July, however, writes stream of consciousness style, directly from her character’s point of view. As a reader, we learn the story as it unfolds to the character. Instead of hovering above the tale, we are in the story.

Might this difference have something to do with my friend’s question?

On the one hand, we think of God as all-knowing and transcendent of time and space. “You have searched me and known my innermost thoughts,” declares the psalmist. We think of God as the creator and the author of human history, as well as the cosmos.

But we also believe in the Incarnation: the preposterous idea that God became flesh, that immortality became mortal, that the power behind it all became limited to the constructs of our experience. A long time member at New Dublin believes that the most profound verse in the Bible is Luke’s aside that Jesus grew in stature and wisdom before God and humans (Luke 2:40). Jesus had to figure it out, just like anyone of us.

Perhaps this is really a question about the Trinity; maybe this mysterious doctrine holds that God is both transcendent and imminent, knowing full-well the whole story and yet participating one day at a time. In a few weeks, we will read about Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” What would it mean to believe that Emmanuel is our narrator?

About Andrew Taylor-Troutman

I am a pastor and a preacher, a writer, a husband and a father. My professional and personal lives are deeply involved with story-telling: stories that are silly and poignant or profound and commonplace. Stories that are tear-jerkers and belly-shakers. Stories about my son, Sam, and the congregation I serve, New Dublin Presbyterian Church. Each in its own way, these personal narratives shed light on the great story that God is writing with humankind and all of creation.

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