Thursday, 23 March 2017

Lent Week 3 Thursday

Readings: Jeremiah 7:23-28; Psalm 94; Luke 11:14-23

The best known 'finger of God' is the one painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Across the gap between the tip of God's finger and the tip of Adam's finger the mysterious energy of creation is transmitted. The phrase has also become part of the hymn Veni, Creator Spiritus as a title for the Holy Spirit who is dextrae Dei digitus, the finger of God's right hand.

The image is not used very often in the Bible but whenever it is, it is in relation to the most significant things. In the Book of Exodus, the magicians of Pharaoh describe the power working through Aaron as the finger of God (Exodus 8:19). The law or wisdom of God was inscribed by the finger of God on the tablets of stone given to Moses (Exodus 31:18). Psalm 8 celebrates God's power as Creator: 'when I see the heavens, the work of your fingers'. 

So in creation, in the giving of the Law, in mysterious events, in the casting out of demons, the 'finger of God' means the power of God is at work.

There are two other references, less clear but each of them intriguing. At Belshazzar's feast, as recounted in Daniel 5, the writing on the wall is done by the fingers of a human hand. But it is another divine intervention, a revelation of God's providence for the people concerned. In John 8 Jesus wrote on the ground with his finger in the presence of the woman taken in adultery. Nobody knows what he wrote or what the gesture meant but presumably something to do with God's providence in relation to the woman and to her accusers.

So an ordinary thing, the finger, applied to God as an image, is used rarely in the Scriptures but always in contexts of great significance: creation, revelation, covenant, providence. As a result it finds its way into one of the great hymns of the liturgy and onto the ceiling of Christianity's most famous chapel.

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