A "Culture of Dialogue" in the Bible

In response to discord in society, Pope Francis has called for a “culture of dialogue”. He encourages us not to ignore or stigmatize those we disagree with. Rather, we are to respect them and enter into open dialogue. In this way, consensus and agreement can be built. If we look carefully, we are able to find a culture of dialogue within the Bible. There are texts within the Bible that are clearly in dialogue and even disagreement with one another. Authors take up themes presented by previous writers and engage with them, offering another perspective. Over time, a clearer picture of God’s revelation is painted. 

For example, consider two questions posed by Isaiah. During a polemic against idolatry he asks, “to whom can you liken God and what form compare to him?” (Isa 40:18). According to the prophet, nothing on earth can compare to God. Some chapters later, Isaiah puts this question in the mouth of God: “where could you build a house for me, what place could serve as my abode?” (Isa 66:1). Again, the answer is clear. God cannot live anywhere on earth.

Isaiah’s questions are taken up in Genesis 1:26 and Exodus 25:8-9. These texts, which probably took shape sometime after the questions in Isaiah were written, give different answers. Genesis 1:26 narrates that God made man in his image and likeness. Unlike Isaiah 40:18, the author of Genesis 1:26 clearly believed that there was something on earth that could be likened to God: every human person. In Exodus 25:8-9, God promises Moses that if he builds a sanctuary just as he is commanded, then God will dwell there. Unlike Isaiah 66:1, the author of Exodus 25:8-9 thought that God could dwell somewhere on earth.

The questions of Isaiah are taken up again in the New Testament where new answers are given. Paul’s letter to the Philippians declares that Jesus was in the form of God (Phil 2:6). To Paul, it is clear that Jesus cannot be compared with God in the same way that Genesis 1:26 says every human being can, since Jesus is Lord, the one God has exalted and who all will praise. John puts things more clearly. Jesus wasn’t simply created in the image of God. Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30). Elsewhere, John responds to the question posed by Isaiah 66:1. Unlike Exod 25:8-9, which argued that God can live in a sanctuary made by people, John teaches that Jesus is the only true dwelling place of God on earth (eg. John 1:4; 2:21).

In the examples above, the Bible exhibits a “culture of dialogue”. First, questions are posed by Isaiah, who also offers tentative solutions. These questions are then challenged by the authors of Genesis 1:26 and Exodus 25:8-9, who engage openly with Isaiah. Finally, Paul and John give fuller responses in the light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This development illustrates the fruit that comes from engaging with the ideas of those who see things differently. With God’s help, this dialogue can lead to a deeper comprehension of the truth.