18 March 2005

no shadow of turning 5

In my first lecture I spent much of my time attempting to listen to the concerns of the open theists, particularly insofar as Scripture bears witness to the legitimacy of their concerns. The God of Holy Scripture who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ is a God who responds, a God who acts in history on behalf of his people, full of compassion and abounding in love. But Scripture also bears witness to a God who is the sovereign Creator of all things, who stands in absolute distinction from every creature who, even in his weakness, is stronger than human beings (1 Co 1:25). It is with God as the transcendent Creator, then, that I wish to begin now.

The Scriptures, of course, are not written in the language and thought-forms of philosophy and are not designed primarily to answer philosophical questions. Nevertheless, we as Christians must draw out the implications and assumptions of Scripture in order to think about and address even those areas to which the Scriptures do not directly speak. After all, how we answer philosophical questions about the being of God will have profound implications for who we believe God is and who we are in relation to him.

Thus, while the Bible does not often use the well-defined language and systematic methods of philosophy to speak of God, nonetheless, as God reveals himself in Scripture through his actions and in the experience of his people, his divine nature and relation to the world is made known. Even though, from the standpoint of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, we can recognize that the Old Testament’s witness to God is partial and incomplete, it is nevertheless from within the context of Yahweh’s prior revelation to Israel that God fully revealed himself in Christ. Thus, that revelation to Israel is where we will begin.

First, from the standpoint of Israel’s own experience, we must begin with God’s calling of Israel and establishing his covenant with them. Israel knew that Yahweh himself had initiated and renewed his covenant with them: the call of Abraham, the exodus, the exile and return, and so on. It was out of Yahweh’s own choice, loving initiative, and faithful promises that he established Israel as his own people, and not because of anything they had done (Ex 19:5; Dt 7:8-11; 9:4-6; 10:14-15; etc.). Thus Israel came to know Yahweh as a God who in his sovereignty initiated, created, promised, acted, and saved in accordance with his covenant.

From within this framework of the covenant, Israel also came to understand more about their God: [1] that Yahweh was not just one god among many, but the only God who had created all things, and [2] that Yahweh was a personal deity who acted in love and faithfulness towards his creation. In more philosophical terminology, Israel came to understand both [1] that their God was the transcendent creator who was, thereby, absolutely different from all created things, who alone could create and initiate a relationship with his creation, and [2] that their God was the immanent covenant God who was, thereby, intimately involved with his creation and present to it, particularly his covenant people. Moreover, Israel seemed to understand that God is able immanently to act within his creation precisely because he is transcendent over it.