Part XXXVII Matthew - The Impact of Deuteronomy on the Journey of Jesus to Jerusalem

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 15 January 2015 0 Comments
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It has been said that we do not know who or what God is. In light of that, do you believe that Jesus had a different concept of God, particularly since he referred to him as “Abba” and seemed to expect that his prayers would be answered?




Dear Joe,

First, let me affirm your opening line that no one knows who God is or what God is. The “Being” of God is simply beyond the capacity of the human mind to embrace. Insects cannot know what it means to be a bird, horses cannot know what it means to be a human being and human beings cannot know what it means to be God. That is why all human definitions of God are drawn from human experience with all human limitations removed. So God becomes, in our human speech, infinite, immortal, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent since we know ourselves to be finite, mortal, limited in power, limited both in knowledge and by time and space. These words tell us nothing about God, but much about the fears of our humanity. God is the mystery into which we walk, but that mystery is never finally entered and it is certainly never understood. It is difficult for human beings, and especially for human beings who think of themselves as “religious” to accept this reality, but it is true.

Secondly, where do you propose to go to find out Jesus’ concept of God? Your quote about “ABBA” as the name for God used by Jesus comes first from Paul, who wrote 21-34 years after the crucifixion (Gal. 4:6 and Rom. 8:15) and who never had contact with the Jesus of history; and from Mark, who wrote 42 years after the crucifixion (Mark 14:10). Were Paul and Mark accurate? Why did none of the later writers use this term? You will not find “ABBA” as a name for God in Matthew, Luke or John. How did Jesus understand his relationship to and with God? The four gospels differ dramatically on that. In Mark, Jesus prays to God “to remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36), while in John Jesus says, “Shall I not drink the cup which the father has given me” (John 18:1)?

A person who prays, expecting God to respond, is one who does not understand that God is not ours to command. Life is so much more complex than your question seems to imply. So is God! Perhaps this answer can at least start a new conversation.

My best,

John Shelby Spong




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