A Timelss Wooden Throne

Derek Ouellette —  September 3, 2011 — 12 Comments

I feel like a boy in the Kings army who one day receives a message from a teacher in the royal court telling me there is no real King.

But I’ll get to that in a moment.

The theory of “divine accommodation” (that God “accommodates” himself to humans) needs to be approached with caution. It seems clear from a straightforward reading of Scripture that some language about God is figurative (i.e. God is not my husband nor should I suppose that he is flying about with eagles wings somewhere). But it seems just as clear from a straightforward reading of Scripture that other language used to describe God is not figurative. That God learns things, that he changes his mind, that he regrets and is sometimes surprised.

But we’re told that this way of speaking of our divine being is not appropriate. We’re told to believe what the historic Christian faith imagines God to be like. That this other language used to describe God is figurative as well. We’re told that God is “timeless” and that he is “emotionless”. That he doesn’t change and that he really doesn’t “feel” anything at all. That he doesn’t move or make decisions. He doesn’t really perform actions because actions require duration which a timeless being is incapable of doing – or else he wouldn’t be timeless. We are told that this is the image of the Christian God. He is not as he has revealed himself in the Bible. That “revelation”, we are told, is “not literally true”. The revelation of God’s word is a lie. We are not to trust the Word of God; we are to rather place our trust in theological and philosophical constructs. Paul Helm says as much:

“If a timelessly eternal God is to communicate to embodied intelligent creatures, who exist in space and time and to bring about his purposes through them, and particularly to gain certain kinds of responses from them, then he must do so by representing himself to them in ways that are not literally true.”[1]

If God is to communicate with us, he is to represent himself in a false manner? I don’t get it, what kind of communication is based on misrepresentation? What’s going on here – we are told – is a case of God not wanting to reveal himself as he really is, so he’s left that responsibility in the hands of the theologians.

When I became a Christian I did so because I believed in the God of the Bible. It was that plain and simple. He loved me. He died for me. He cares for me. He reached out to me. He feels my pain. And what’s more? He’s holy and yes, sometimes angry. He deals with sin one way or another. “He acted then, and he’ll do it again” was one slogan I knew well. I watched the Jesus film as God incarnate, Emmanuel, was illustrated before my very eyes through the medium of modern technology. I fell to my knees in belief. I prayed. I hold Jesus that I wanted to follow him. “I will serve you” I said.

But now we’re told to stop suckling on milk and chomp on some real meat. God is not really all of those things you just said. He only made you think he was like that because you were only a baby and he had to talk to you like a baby. He needed to accommodate himself to you.

But now, here’s the meat: God is static. He is timeless. He is emotionless.

So why then, I want to know, did God reveal himself as having emotions if he has none?

The answer:

“If dialogue between God and humankind is to be real and not make-believe, then God cannot represent himself (in his role as dialogue partner) as wholly immutable.”[2]

Have you ever felt like you’ve been duped? Like the mission you’ve set your mind to has been based on a false pretense? Because that’s what theologians are telling me: I’ve been duped. It’s like the day my mom sat me on her knee and explained to me that Santa Clause doesn’t really exist. I wondered how she could lie to me all of those years. I was devastated.

Christianity had lied to me. It had promised one thing and delivered another. It told me what God is like, and then told me that God is not really like that at all.

I feel like a boy in the Kings army who one day receives a message from a teacher in the royal court telling me there is no real King. There is a throne, of course. And that throne is emblematic of a once for all declared cause. But at the end of the day it is just a throne. Just a chair in a really large room. It does not give out any more commands. It does not comfort, nor protect. It does not care, love, get angry or act in any way.

One thing it does, it does not go away. It is there, as it always will be.

A timeless

Wooden

Throne.

I may only be a boy in the Kings army. I may not be a distinguished teach with accolades behind my name and church leaders like Aquinas and Calvin tucked away in my back pocket.

But I’m nobody’s fool.

I flip the letter over and write on the back these words before I send it with the messenger to return it from whence it came:

“I’ve met the King, and trust His word”

 I cannot accept systems of theology that try and go behind God’s self-revelation in Jesus and the scriptures and try and convince me that God is actually something else altogether. I cannot accept a system of theology that asks me to trust in it rather than the Word of God.

[1] Paul Helm in God and Time: Four Views, p.46

[2] Ibid., p.45

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Brian MacArevey

    Love it Derek. Great post. Accommodation can be a dangerous assumption on numerous levels (I’m also thinking of our understanding of Christ and ethics).

  • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

    According to the Bible itself, JESUS is the WORD of God, NOT the Bible.

    Further, Jesus founded a Church. He did not write a book.

    You are venturing into some dangerous territory, Derek. A go who is not all those omni’s is, in the end, the god of Mormonism and the god of Philip Pullman, not the God of the Bible (who is the God of the Church that Jesus founded).

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Greg, when I said “His word” I had both Jesus and the scriptures in mind. And keep in mind that God did in fact inspire the writing of a book (2 Peter 1:21).

      You only think I’m “venduring into some dangerous territory” because you misunderstand me. I’ve not denied God’s “omni’s”. :)

  • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

    God IS love. However, as Love, God infinitely transcends anything we can possibly mean by that word. It is not that the images lie. It is simply that they are inadequate.

  • Michael

    I believe that god=nature and it surround us all

  • Ken Stewart

    Derek:
    Paul Helm’s material is not within reach just now. It is conceivable that one could conclude that Helm over-reached, or that he expressed himself more in the language of the philosophers than of a biblical theology _and yet_ maintain that the category of divine accomodation is vital and necessary. I can think of two obvious reasons for maintaining its use:

    1) God’s being majestic and transcendant will ensure that his self-descriptions (recorded in the Scripture and provided supremely in Christ) are always about a being not describable exhaustively in human language. Humble theologians of all confessions acknowledge that language (even the Bible’s language) about God must employ analogies which draw on human existence and human experience in order for God to be described in terms humans can understand. God himself has authorized biblical writers to employ this analogical language as they have written our Scriptures under the influence Peter (2 Pet. 1.21) calls their being “carried along by the Holy Spirit”. This is why we read of divine wings, nostrils, ears and eyes. God has the faculties which accomplish what these organs and appendages do; but not the things themselves. So, His transcendance means that such analogies will be employed regularly. You, somewhat grudgingly acknowledge the limitations of biblical language about God.

    2) the systematic theological approach which you find a little worrisome is as necessary for you as for the next Bible reader. Of course it has its limits, and these can be overstepped. But a wise theologian of a century ago maintained that we need only have possession of _two_ distinct biblical statements about God and a systematic theology (of some sort) becomes necessary, inasmuch as the human mind will inevitably try to bring those statements into relationship with one another. Consider just a few examples of this:

    a) Is God visible? According to Isaiah 6, this prophet saw the Lord “high and lifted up; his glory filled the temple”. According to numerous other OT and NT scriptures (eg Deut. 4.15; John 1.18; 1 Tim. 1.17), He may not be seen other than in Christ. Bringing these Scriptures into a coherent relationship requires a common approach to them, and that is what systematic theology attempts.
    2) Is love the supreme divine attribute? There are many who claim this by appealing to 1 John 4.8. And by making this attribute supreme, they wittingly or unwittingly portray God as being incapable of acting in any way contrary to our human understanding of a perfect love (and here again is the importance of reckoning with the Bible’s analogical language). Yet there are additional Scriptures that, while emphasizing love, insist that in God there are multiple attributes active all at once (eg. Exodus 34.6,7; Romans 3.25,26). On this latter understanding, divine love ought not to be exalted as supreme any more than His justice or wisdom. It is systematic reflection on the various Scriptures bearing on the question that will bring us to a coherent understanding of them.

    If Paul Helm has not taken the trouble to explain himself with sufficient reference to actual Scripture passages, too bad for him! But you will find, on reflection, that this need for systematization is upheld by Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Wesleyan-Arminian, Baptist and Reformed theological writers. Do they agree in all details? No. But they do all recognize that we must acknowledge the Bible’s analogical method in speaking of God; they also agree that there is no substitute for bringing the major Scriptures bearing on a question into a coherent relationship.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Ken, my opening suggestion is that we use the doctrine of accommodation with caution. Not that we throw it out. Of course we need systematic theology, analogy, metaphors, and anthropomorphic language. But we need to approach the biblical language with careful and cautious attention. In the book I am currently reading – God and Time: Four Views – in my opinion Paul Helm throws caution to the wind. He represents – so he says from the start – the “classical view of God” which, in my experience, is verifiable true. But here Helm follows through with great consistency and draws out the implications of what it means to conceive of God as “timeless”. The resulting view of reality is disturbing to say the least. My article is largely a reaction to that resulting view of reality. It’s one thing to say that God is somehow more than he has revealed himself in scripture. It is another thing altogether to say that he is different than how he has revealed himself in scripture. It is one thing to say that our language is inadequacy, it is quite another to say that it is wrong. The language in scripture used to reveal God always reveals some truth about God. Never a mistruth.

      Cheers!

      • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

        One problem that Western theology gets into, going back at least to Aquinas, is that there is an assumption that because A is considered true about God and because it seems logical that B therefore follows, that B also must be true about God. This ignores the fact that all language about God is essentially analogical, especially when we are speaking of the Divine Essence.

  • Wade Sikes

    The point is that, while we certainly cannot know God and his character exhaustively, since we are finite beings, we CAN know truths about him. The danger of accommodation is that the truths about God that we can know (since they are stated in scripture) are so often twisted into an unrecognizable form as we try to fit them into a distorted framework based on philosophy rather than the clear witness of the Word. Thanks for a wonderful, thought provoking piece!

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Well said Wade. Thanks.

  • http://BeingTC.com T. C.

    Welcome to Open theology. We’ve been expecting you. All that’s left now is for you to do business with that pesky doctrine of exhaustive definite foreknowledge that Arminians tend to cling to.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      I once asked Roger Olson if Open Theists are Arminians. His answer was “yes”. Perhaps not classical Arminians since Arminius himself held to exhaustive divine foreknowledge. But he was also very young when he died and bits of his theology had remained in flux. According to Olson – and he says this in his book “Arminian: Myths and Reality” – some Open Theists speculate that there were signs that indicate that had Arminius had lived a life of longevity he may very well have accepted a view of divine omniscience similar to modern Open Theism.

      I already reject the idea of exhaustive divine foreknowledge in the classical Arminian sense, but I still embrace the term Arminian (though not “classical”) since I accept Arminian soteriology as many Open Theists do. I also embrace the phrase Open Theism since I hold to the particulars of Open Theism. I am an Arminian Open Theist. But your right, I don’t think I’ve done business with the pesky doctrine of exhaustive divine foreknowledge since I’ve focused most of my polemics on Calvinism. It’s time.