This is not an article, and I apologize if you thought it would be. It is the exploration of one small word, a word that can and does change everything.
What does it mean?
It’s one of those words from the vast storehouse of theological jargon that has actually stuck a significant chord in my life, more than a chord actually. Theos (θεος) is the Greek word for god. However, Theophany is not just a word relating to God but relating God to us.
It is a word that captures the essence of both Shavuot and Pentecost. Encapsulated in these nine-letters is the entire scope of humanity’s experience of the One True God.
Theophany is Mount Sinai.
The moment heaven and earth moves. The instant God shatters human expectation, leaving trembling husks in his wake.
Theophany is the voice speaking from a burning bush. It is the moment a prophet is so filled with the in-pouring of God that nothing can stop the outpouring of Him.
It is the moment a blind man opens his eyes and the first face he sees is God.
It is Emmanuel.
It is the Ruach.
It is love.
It is Judgment.
It is all-encompassing fear, all-reaching power, and mind blowing holiness.
It is the purpose of Creation, yet the Creation’s very nature repels it.
It is the story of Scripture and the climax of history.
Theophany is the moment God shows up.
I love C.S. Lewis’ synopsis of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia: “He is not a tame lion.”
And God is not a tame God.
It is so easy to ignore the danger and speak only of love and the Holy Spirit- forgetting that these are only parts of a whole. We don’t want to think about the utter terror God’s revelation on Sinai caused Israel. Even the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in the upper room set the disciples’ lives in an inevitable path to pain, loss, and eventually martyrdom.
Yet… Theophany is also Jesus. His blood, his tears, and his pain. It is the earth shattering moment on Golgotha.
Theophany is not a tame word, a painless concept, or a safe idea.
In this season of Shavuot, as you pray like the disciples for God’s Ruach to be poured out on you…know what you ask. Because Theophany will not leave you unscarred.
I think I’m a little closer now to grasping the true significance of the Holy Spirit than I ever was when I saw it as an island. Something apart from the entirety of God.
Again, I think C.S. Lewis sums up the experience of Theophany best:
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
― The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
It may not be safe, but if it was, it couldn’t be God.
So, I search for Theophany, praying for God to show up and shake my world.