A synergy of theophanies.

Theophany, Theodicy, and Tradition

Definitions and Meanings

Home for the seeking spirit Theophany and Tradition

Tradition does not define God or the Christian life.

Tap or click on the buttons for the words below. The text will roll down; re-tap to roll it back up. These articles are meant to be a start, a step beyond mere definition.

What is a Theophany?


  1. word origin: Greek, < theo- (God) + phanein (to show oneself, appear).
  2. Definition: A theophany is when God shows up, mostly in a majestic, Almighty-ish manner. That is, in a theophany it is rather impossible to miss that it is God who is there, and not a stand-in or a projected image.
  3. primary Jewish examples: with Moses, on Mount Horeb (Exodus 3:1 - 4:17), and again, on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16-25).
  4. primary Christian examples: Jesus' baptism, the Transfiguration, and his resurrection.

In the ancient world, the appearances of gods was said to provoke awe, quivering, total fear, and falling as if dead, preceded by earthquakes and thunderstorms. The small quiet voice that Elijah heard qualifies as a theophany for the Jewish or Christian or Sufi-Muslim God. Yet even there, it is not what it usually means. In a theophany, we're blessed not to be instantly sublimated into sub-atomic particles just from the pure presence of the Lord, not to mention any voice or visual hint. (This is one reason God almost always sends angels in His place. You may shake a bit, but you'll be okay.) And we're not sublimated because God wants us to catch God's vision at a particularly special time and place. The very fact that God shows up means that God is not remote or removed, but is paying full attention to what's going on among us.

One amazing image of theophany is of Moses on Mount Horeb, before . A vigorous image, to be sure. But the remarkable thing is that God committed to continue to speak to Moses for the sake of God's people. It was such that , not in allusions, riddles or visions. This is what makes Moses' theophany so much bigger than others. Instead of a one-time thing, it marked the start of a relationship. When most people think of God appearing to a human, they think of Moses' later theophany . Thunder, lightning, flames, trumpets, smoke, quakes. And even God's own backside. The works. Now, that is a theophany! If this makes you yawn, you have to pay closer attention to the story -- and to your own daily life, if you're that jaded. The momentous thing is that God established the Covenant with Israel at that moment, marked by the Ten Commandments. The Jewish and to some extent Christian faiths still live in the afterglow of these theophanies with Moses.

For Eastern Orthodox Christians, 'The Theophany' refers to the holy day of the Baptism of Jesus. At that time, the Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and a voice from God spoke: "This is my son." Thus, God showed up as a human: Jesus. Reflecting back on that, church thinkers noticed that the entire Trinity showed itself to those present (and to us who read it in the Gospel) at that moment, in some way. This makes it a unique theophany. For all Christians, that is when we saw not just God's purpose, but God's full self.

What are Synergy and Synergism, in theology?

synergism [ < Greek sun- (together) + ergos (working)].


Synergists believe that in spiritual things humans are not wholly dead to being good, even if perhaps almost so; that human beings have a limited but nonetheless natural -- not Spirit-given -- capacity to work with God to make themselves holy. For them, the Spirit helps us to make ourselves like Christ in this life. This makes salvation at least partly into a work of the human will rather than solely a free gift of grace from God. Synergism may convey what a person senses is happening to them, but it does not convey what is actually happening. It's what inner change looks like from where we're at. But we're too close to what's going on to be able to see the real picture. In order to see beyond where we're at, we must get outside of ourselves and into the full biblical vision of what God is working on. One of the best and most faithfully Christian synergists was the great Catholic scholar Erasmus, who lived in Reformation times and got into a famous (and nasty) dispute with Martin Luther over the powers and freedom of the human will.


In a less-religious sense, synergy is when what people do together add up to more than the sum of the work of each. 1+1 equals 3, or 4, or even 4 x 4. When used in the business world, synergy produces greater effectiveness and efficiency, and thus a business can do more for less. It is said of many a corporate merger that the merger was done to 'take advantage of synergies'; this is usually a fig leaf to cover up an otherwise-naked power grab and explain why so many people are being fired. Synergy is one of the characteristics that marks a work as being the Spirit's. The Spirit gave gifts with 'working together' (or in St. Paul-speak, 'building up') in mind, and provides the 'flow' to make it much more effective.

What Is Theodicy?


  1. word origin: < the title of a written work by Leibnitz; < Greek theos (God) + dikē (order, justice, rule of law).
  2. Definition: Theodicy is the attempt to rationally justify the belief that God is good and just despite the strong presence of malice, evil and injustice in the world.

A theodicy asks a most stubborn question: why would a good God allow such deep evil, such searing pain, such powerful oppression, such subtle deception, such waste of time, resources, and lives, such murder and mayhem? Theodicy is a mystery that has eluded the very best of logicians. It's even used as an argument against the existence of God. Even the most blissful of Christians has to deal with this, eventually. Theodicy is a conundrum, by its nature it is baffling. Yet it is precisely this belief that God is good and is working for good in a world full of evil that is core to the Christian's belief. And there are so many signs of goodness, and even of a good God, that an honest non-believer has to deal with it eventually. Forgiveness is illogical. It is also present and available.

Many Christians take the question of theodicy as a call to action. If it were a simple thing to explain why there is suffering, it would also be a simple thing to explain it away. Once that happens, the compassion we might have for suffering would not push ahead by turning into acts of mercy. The mystery of suffering forces us either to shrug our shoulders and walk away, or to follow the course Jesus called us to take and personally do something about it when we can.

What Is Tradition?


  1. word origins: < Latin trans- (crossing, spanning, going beyond) + dare (to give).
  2. Definition: Tradition is that which is handed down from generation to generation; a characteristic manner, method, style, or way of life that's not new with the current generations.
  3. Biblical terms: Hebrew qabbalâ; Greek paradōsis.

Christian tradition is founded on Jesus Christ, as described and told about in the New Testament. (Not that it begins there; Christian tradition begins where Jewish tradition begins, with Abraham. And it still draws from Jewish tradition, even today.) The core tradition is fixed. It's called the 'apostolic tradition' because it is the story of Jesus that the apostles, His closest associates, handed down to us. (Whether they themselves actually wrote it down or not, they were the sources of both the story and its meaning.) From that foundation, other traditions developed: schools of thought, approaches to the faith, various forms of worship, morals, and lifestyle. Some of these developments have been rejected on the basis of the apostolic tradition; other developments have made those apostolic traditions fresh for changing times. Tradition is not all bad or good. As each generation adds its own layer, the new tradition might get in the way of seeing the original work, like layers of grime on the Sistine Chapel, pre-cleaning. Or it can enlighten and energize the original, like when a great storyteller passes along a great story.

Traditional Quotations

"Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around."

What Is Trauma?

trauma [ Greek ]. Definition: Trauma is the experience of injury or loss of control due to sudden or extreme circumstances; a shock to the body or mind; the lasting psychological after-effects of such an extreme circumstance. Adjective form: traumatic. Synonyms for trauma: devastating, harrowing, shocking, jolting, damaging.

In a state of trauma, you feel you're at the mercy of something else around you. This can make you think and act weird, or to not think much at all and just react. We call what happened 'traumatic'. We usually sort ourselves out after a short while, but often the effects linger. Trauma comes from the fear, the anger, the raw overload of trying to get enough control of your situation to make sure it stops happening. The healing that you need is often physical and psychological, but your spirit needs healing too. Key to that healing is the fact that God loves you. God doesn't want you to go around numbed by what has happened to you. The shellshock of trauma eventually fades; the overload eventually loads under again. Through people who care, those who enter trauma can learn to trust and to assert their responsibility over life again. Through them, God restores the fruit of self-control. Trauma does not have to define your life. Your life after the trauma redefines the trauma, determining what it really means.