Exchanges yesterday about God of the south Dublin schools’ Rugby XVs made me think about our images of God.
Across the north of my home county of Somerset there is a range of hills called the Mendips. They rise steeply from the lowlands to the south and they are cut by a number of deep gorges. The most famous of the gorges is Cheddar, home of the cheese that takes its name. On the north side of the Mendips there is another much less spectacular cut in the rocks called Burrington Combe. It was here that Augustus Toplady, curate of the local parish of Blagdon, was said to have been caught in a thunderstorm and to have taken shelter in a cleft in the rock in Burrington Combe. Sheltering in the rock was said to have inspired the writing of the hymn ‘Rock of ages, cleft for me’.
The tradition about the writing of the hymn is disputed, but of greater concern to me is the associations it has in my mind. The associations that particular words have can obscure the meaning of what is being said. Because of the stories I grew up with, when I sing ‘Rock of Ages’ it brings lots of associations with it. It takes me back to my home county and the Mendip Hills, the hills I could see from my bedroom window. It brings a picture of vast unchangeable, immovable rocks that have lain there for millions of years. It creates a in the mind a picture of a vast, unchangeable, immovable God.
Toplady’s intention was very different. He wrote about a personal relationship with a suffering Saviour, not a remote unchangeable God who is far remote from our lives. Jesus is the rock of ages, the one with his Father from all eternity, but he is the rock cleft by the nails of the crucifixion and the soldier’s spear.
The picture of God is not of a distant, unmoved being, who feels no more pain than the rocks of Burrington Combe, the picture is of a personal God who accepts this awful death for individual people.
Our associations, the links we draw in our minds, between one thing and another can sometime mask meaning. In seeing God as eternal, powerful and protect, like a vast rock, we can lose sight of Jesus of the Gospels.
God of the rugby is very far from the one who is killed in Jerusalem.