In studying various interpretations of The Bible including Bob Enyart’s “The Plot” which has inspired a couple of essays here, one question continues to nag: Do I trust The Bible to be “the word of God”? That is, how much … Continue reading
The main tenet of Open Theism is that man has free will and, consequently, God does not know what we are going to do. There is Biblical evidence that can be interpreted to be in support of this view. The … Continue reading
I’m studying Bob Enyart’s the Plot, the premiss being that God not only responds to what humans do, but also that God may, over time and in response to what we do, change His mind. That is, He may promise … Continue reading
A contract basically says that if one party does something, then the other party promises to do something in return. It implicitly acknowledges that the first party could choose to do otherwise but, if they do as stated, then the … Continue reading
Just as a parent is sometimes surprised, or horrified, at something his/her child may do, so too is God sometimes pleased and sometimes unhappy with our choices. So imagine, if you will, the lush Eden with the Biblical first two … Continue reading
Bob Enyart of the Denver Bible Church is a proponent of both Open Theism and Bible-based Christian teachings. But to me and my admittedly incomplete understanding of both, “Bible Church” and “Open Theism” seem to be at odds with each … Continue reading
Okay, you all probably know this one [Genesis 1:1]:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
And you’ll probably recognize this also [Genesis 1:14-16]:
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.
To me, this says a lot of things but, in particular, it says that before God created everything, there was nothing. No Earth, no stars, and with no matter there was no up, no down, and with no reference points and nothing in whatever the “it” was before all that was created, there was no left or right either.
It could even be argued that, before God created it, there was no space.
No space, no time, no dimension, no nothing.
So here’s my problem.
If I skip forward just a few verses to Genesis 1:27, I then read,
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
So, what did God look like? Did he have two hands? Two eyes? Hair? A nose and two ears?
What did God have those things for?
There was nothing to manipulate with those two hands.
There was no light by which His eyes could have seen anything, much less there was nothing — no “thing” at all — to see.
And certainly there were no smells and no sounds. What would have made them?
Before there was form, before He created the Heavens and the Earth, God had no need of a physical nature.
So when it says that God created man in his own image, what does it mean?
Clearly, this line in the Bible cannot be taken in a literal sense. God had no “image”, no appearance, no physical manifestation. Before the beginning of the beginning, he hadn’t yet created any of that.
My first point is that, when we draw pictures of God and give Him hands and feet, a face with a nose and gently loving eyes, that’s all a fabrication of our imagination. God doesn’t look like that because God isn’t look-able. He was there before anything we know ever existed. He doesn’t have a look.
Secondly, I am forced to conclude that this part of the Bible has to be taken figuratively, not literally.
And if one part has to be taken figuratively, then why not another?
If one part of the Bible is figurative, then why not the next, and the next and the next?
To put it bluntly, then, so what good is it?
What good is the Bible if nothing can be trusted to be literally factual? What good is it if nothing it says can be trusted as the truth?
The truth is what we’re after.
And there are truths that transcend words.
Sometimes you know them through a person’s look.
Sometimes you discover them through a person’s acts.
There is truth, and sometimes it can be expressed in words, but writing those words down is not what makes them “the truth”.
The truths I speak of are truths you know — Robert Heinlein invented the word “Grok” for this.
You “Grok” the truth.
And the Bible contains many truths.
The Bible is a guide to discovering them.
In Eastern teachings, the Buddha taught that the finger pointing at the moon was not the moon. If you concentrate on the finger, you will miss the moon.
The Bible is the pointing finger.
It’s purpose can only be fulfilled if, in reading and study, it becomes transparent, invisible, and you can then “see” what lies beyond.
When the Bible says that God created Man in His image, this ability to transcend what lies around us is what it means.
God transcends everything — every thing — and that potential is in us all.
Transcend the turmoil that surrounds you.
God gave you the ability to do that.
Let it go. Transcend your troubles.
Greg Boyd is an advocate of Open Theism as am I, but He is also a strong believer in the authority of the Bible. I am more skeptical of its authority but convinced, nonetheless, it has extraordinary value. I’m just not sure which parts of it I should apply in which situation in my life.
So when Greg’s blog, “What’s at Stake in Trying to Explain the Violent God of the Old Testament?” appeared, I read with great interest what he had to say. And although I agree with his general conclusion over what we, as individuals, may have to risk in attempting to reconcile the Old with the New Testament God, I also think Greg missed the boat because Free Will provides the key that unlocks this apparently contradictory behavior by God.
So I emailed Greg.
Subject: Old vs New Testament God, and Free Will
Date: Wednesday 19 March 2008 13:36
From: Ed Skinner <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: “Greg Boyd” <email@example.com>
In the discussion of Old versus New Testament God, you’ve neglected the role of Free Will which, I believe, plays an absolutely essential role.
In the old testament, as you have noted, we see a violent God but in teh New Testament, Jesus brought us a kind, loving God.
What happened to the old curmudgeon, the grumpy-gus? Where did the old mean God go and where did the new loving God come from? Are they one and the same?
And so to the question of did God change, I have to say, “Yes.” It is a necessary consequence of man’s Free Will and of God’s responses to our actions.
God gave man Free Will. In granting that gift, God had to give up His ability to predict what man would do. He had to because if He didn’t, we wouldn’t have true Free Will.
God truly doesn’t know what we will do at any given moment.
While I think most would agree there is a long term plan for the universe — scientists call the process entropy and it ends with everything cold and dark, no life — and in the shorter term there are certain eventualities called “day” and “night”, seasonal changes and so forth, man’s Free Will does, nonetheless, have its limits. We aren’t Gods, but we do have one God-like ability: Free Will. We don’t know what we will do in the future, and neither does God.
Free Will grants us certain abilities that God cannot predict. I won’t argue the details as I think you’d agree we are free to make choices.
So, here’s this creature, made by God but, like many parents know of their children, they have minds of their own which the parent cannot always predict. So when the child does something the parent doesn’t like, the parent tries something to change the child’s behavior. Perhaps sitting down with the child and appealing to their logic will work. Or sometimes the parent has to tell the child the rules and, when the child asks “Why”, the parent must respond, because of the child’s limited ability to understand the adult world, “because that’s the way it is.” And sometimes, parents resort to stronger methods and, whether or not we agree with that extent of response, the point is that the parent *responds* to the child’s behavior and uses different approaches to see what works. Sometimes an appeal to logic is sufficient. And sometimes the child is sent to the corner for “time out.” And sometimes the parent simply reaches in, grabs the child’s hands and removes the loaded gun from the child’s grip because to do anything less would be disastrous.
I believe the Old and the New Testaments simply show us that God gave man Free Will, that it is an awesomely powerful gift, so awesome and so God-givenly powerful, that God Himself doesn’t know what we will do, nor how we will respond to what He does.
And so when we do things contrary to His wishes, God tries things to try and guide our behavior. He reasons with us, He scolds us, He spanks us, He banishes us to wander in the desert for forty years.
In the New Testament, we see a watershed event, a realization by God (yes, that means He is fallable — because He gave us this awesome power called Free Will truly means He cannot outguess us) that maybe (!) sending his Son (Himself in human form?), and sacrificing Him, and through Him the message of His abiding love, that maybe through that, we might finally *get* the message.
And that message is, of course, that no matter what we do, He still loves us, and is ready to receive us into His loving arms.
This gift of Free Will makes us, to a very real degree, God-like, not in the ability to work seeming miracles (but some did), but rather in our God-given ability to do as we please. It is another facet to the phrase “made in His image.”
The parent accepts and marvels at the extraordinary creativity and exuberance of the child. What the parents sees, He had not imagined the child could, or would, do.
He loves us, wants us to be happy, will grant [some of] our requests for help, and He is fascinated by us because we truly are His children and because He gave us true Free Will.