If you start with certain notions of God, e.g. that God is undivided, changeless, eternal–a view given to us by Greek philosophy and now wed to much Christian theology, particularly reformed varieties–then Scripture has to share those qualities to represent that kind of God. Diversity in Scripture is not allowed. “Cultural” aspects have to be either ignored or stripped away in favor of a timeless message. You get the idea.
But if your starting place in understanding God’s identity is God’s holiness (a more biblical starting place), then a different view of Scripture might very well follow. If we begin with the notion that God is other than us, and beyond our ability to fully grasp, then any text that represents God cannot have as its aim to settle God’s identity once and for all. Instead, such a text would have to keep the question of God alive, so that we might never confuse our understandings of God with God. Such a text would have to be a living text, that continues to produce understanding of an inexhaustible God. And this kind of text would not rub out diversity or cultural realities, but would see them as part of the testimony concerning a Holy God. And this is what we actually have in the Bible.
Speak amongst yourselves.
Once again, “the map is not the territory.” Makes sense to me.
When I think of God’s holiness, my mind goes to the thought of being far off and static almost deist. Now I know my understanding of holiness comes from a western tradition that is steeped in Hellenistic thought as opposed a healthier version of God’s Holiness from a Jewish/Hebraic understanding. A starting point for me is creator, which suggests activity, change, and an involved presence. God’s withness (Emmanuel) is also big and coupled with a creator seems to promote diversity, because of the diversity of his creation. God is with the Christian, Jew, Muslim, aka all of creation. God’s world is diverse, so why wouldn’t his scriptures be diverse. All this to say, I can see how God’s Holiness keeps my and/or my groups understanding of God from being the GOD, but how does God’s Holiness keep the text living and/or dynamic? Creation seems a whole more dynamic than scripture. Its difficult to see scripture as living.
Jeff, I guess its all what we mean by the words we use. While I think holiness communicates otherness, this is not primarily an ontological difference, ala classical theism. Rather, biblically defined, God’s holiness is a relational quality. Just as people can’t be abstracted and turned into principles, so God can’t be put defined by a set of generalities. So, the biblical testimonies must be diverse to keep God’s identity alive and not subject to idolatrous, abstracting impulses.
“God’s holiness is a relational quality.” If God’s holiness is primarily ontological, then it might stand to reason that God’s otherness causes separation between God and humanity. However, if as you say holiness is primarily relational then otherness is needed in relationship and community. For example a community where both genders are represented is more relational then a boys club or a girls club. I am trying to see how holiness is relational. This is a bit of shift for me. Am I anywhere close?
yes, you’re on it. but we know that holiness is relational, largely because its a descriptor of Yahweh’s identity, and one thing that separates Yahweh from onto notions of deity is that he is named. This, in turn separates Yahweh from other unnamed rulers (like Pharaoh) who care nothing about Hebrew children. In this, God is not like other rulers or gods. He is holy.
So very well said! I look forward to these dei-liberations. It’s akin to way you once described the satisfaction of receiving a new issue of Interpretation in the mail. This is my theological Saturday Evening Post or News from Lake Woebegone.
“So the we might never confuse our understanding of God with God.” That’s going up on a bulletin board in my office friend. Keep writing – we need it.
“undivided, changeless, eternal” — I see this in “The Problem of Pain” by C.S. Lewis. As if God had no choice but to create this world the way it currently is, full of pain and suffering. “God Forsaken”, by Dinesh D’Souza, presumes the same thing. The Bible says otherwise: that this world was once “good”, without death or decay; that suffering and death were introduced into the world as a result of sin. The fact that God changes his mind, is shown many times in the Bible.
I’ve said this before, but too many (legalistic minded) people treat God like a Cosmic Vending Machine. Put in x tokens of good works and it has no choice but to dispense salvation. They forget that God is a living person, able to change, choosing to save those whom he loves. I believe Jesus implied that we will only be saved if God knows us. And how can He know us unless we come to know (at least part of) Him?
The Bible tells men and women true things about God. Therefore, they can know true things about God. One can know true things about God because God has revealed Himself. The word God is not contentless. God is not an unknown “philosophic other” because God has told man about Himself. When God revealed His attributes to people, the attributes are not only true to people but true to God. That is, when God tells people what He is like, what He says is not just relatively true but absolutely true. As finite beings, people do not have exhaustive truth about God, but they can have true truth about God; and they can know, therefore, truth about that which is the ultimate universal. And the Bible speaks to men and women concerning meaning, morals, and values and doctrines.
Francis, thanks for reading and taking the time to respond. I agree with virtually everything you say. The Bible reveals true things about God in ways that humans can understand. While knowledge of God is inexhaustible, we can know God. We agree. I wonder if you agree that the Bible is diverse, plural in its perspectives. I think this is indisputable. In its most benign forms, it’s simply seen in the need for a 4-fold gospel. Or, in Paul giving opposite advice in two different letters. Or the fairly significant differences found in the accounts of Chronicles and Kings. Or the different views of what God might be doing post-exile in Isaiah or Haggai or Ezra. Or the differences related to the meaning of the monarchy in the 8th century prophets, or the place of wisdom in the overall economy of knowing God. I’m saying that in this case, my view of God and Scripture line-up, and other views that demand Scripture be a certain way simply don’t.
Thanks for this. Learning about the holiness of God cannot be confined to the pages of a book. John explained this in his Gospel account. He did say that the things written were so we could believe, but he didn’t say we had to stop there. Praise God He continues to teach us through the Spirit.
Why then the pages?
I do not agree it indisputable that the Bible is plural in its perspectives but that it is indisputably singular in its purpose. The working out of the singular problem: How can a Holy God dwell with His sinful creation?
Chekhov’s gun enters the stage in Genesis 3. And from that point we follow the skull crushing seed of the woman to its firing. That can only be realized if we believe there to be One Author behind the story. Following of the Seed, development of the Seed, explanation of the Seed, protection of the Seed. Instead of looking for the plurality of perspectives, we must discover the purpose of the Author. The story is complex but it is not incoherent.