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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

a feeling God? (part 1)

A few gentle musings on a hefty topic, which is far bigger than my tiny hands.  After throwing out a whole lotta words, I've divided it up a bit into a series of posts, which I'll put up at certain points.  Otherwise, it would be an eye ball roller1.  Of course, this means I won't cover all points in one go and have to resist the urge to clarify everything at once - which, being me, I'll find quite difficult, as I hate being misunderstood!

In my gentle blogging the bible over at Thirsty Ground, I tend to stick with the story and not widen it into big theological conundrums - but that is not to say I am unaware of wider issues of how we read and interpret the bible, nor am I uninterested in such discussions.  In fact, I'm regularly going off on tangents in my mind, connecting ideas and themes with other things I'm reading or thinking about.  (The joy of being able to think - to perceive, to compare, to relate - does anyone else ever find this startling?)

In looking at the story of God's interaction with Noah, I am doing what I have decided at the start - reading the story and commenting on the story, not trying to squeeze things into categories or make them 'fit' with certain frameworks or, in some cases, make them more palatable.  That's not my purpose.  I'm reading the text as story - looking at the words themselves, applying, i suppose, the kind of technique when reading and reflecting on any story. I do this within the belief that this is of course, not just any story.

Nonetheless, I'm aware that some things, read in this way, will cause our minds to fizzle.  I note, for example, in this post that 'this is a story of a feeling God' which may cause problems for those who struggle with the idea that God has feelings, taking this to imply that God is subject to change.   I would say that I am reading it as story, and therefore am not trying to make a theological point about this.

But I do struggle with the belief in the impassibility of God - apologies to those of you who find theological jargon off putting and who do not like hefty blog posts (feel free to turn off or tune out)!  A couple of months ago Clayboy posted on his blog about this topic, saying

It is now quite common to find Christians believing that God has feelings.
He says that this idea, that God can be affected by what he has made - us - is based on what he calls a 'largely discredited' theory of 'static Greek essentialism' and 'some kind of  Hebrew dynamism'.  He talks about this in specific reference to the emotive language used about God in the Old Testament.  Obviously this is something I am particularly immersed in due to my journeying through Genesis, but I am also doing a more generalised 'bible in a year' reading, which I found helpful the first time I attempted it in 2009. 

I feel I cannot possibly approach the topic with any thing like the thoroughness and astuteness that he does, but I am still wary of the influence of Greek philosophical thought on classical Christian thought in this area, in spite of the suggestion that this has been 'widely discredited' - I'd have to examine that claim further in order to be able to comment on that, let alone argue against it.2  But was it not Aristotle who pronounced God as the 'unmoved mover' the one static source from which everything finds its motion? 

If God is moved by nothing, then why should he care, love, or even create?  I feel there must be degrees in this, that it is not merely one fence running through two fields - the passible and the impassible.  Why, I ponder, are we so ready to assume that because we say God must be such-and-such in order to be God (the more philosophical argument, I suppose), therefore he cannot be other than what we say?

I'm not the only one who feels that the image of God we conjure is influenced by a kind of dualism - in her post 'God in a Psychotic Rage?' Lesley notes that

...I am also aware that I tend to look at God through the lenses of the Greek dualism of the earthy being emotional, full of desire, changeable and grubby whereas the spiritual is beautiful, serene, knowledgeable and wise.
Lesley and I may choose to put different items in our wardrobes (see her post here) and we inhabit different traditions/denominations, but I appreciate her honesty, as its something I've always tried to be myself (honest, that is).

The Hebrew narratives feel rather muddier and more complex than our 'pictures of God'.  So, do we try and squeeze the biblical images to fit?  Or do we merely dismiss them?


I don't believe we should create God in our own image - it's the other way round.  I'm not saying God suffers from human feelings (aside from what he does in Jesus - hardly insignificant), thus implying that God feels like me (yikes!).  But I can't at this point condemn the language used as merely our interpretations of God.  Isn't that approach in itself an interpretation of God, open to exactly the same flaws?

More later!

A feeling God? (part 2)

1Eye ball roller -  not, in this case referring to mere rolling of the eyes, but referring to posts so long that your eye balls dry up and fall out, rolling around on the floor.  Nice.


2 I've not been clear here about what Doug meant.  Please see his comment on this post.  


4 comments:

Red said...

Personally I can't beleive that God doesn't have feelings. We are taught that he is a loving God, that he sees us a Father does, so how can he do all that without feeling? BUt I think there has to be a line between what his feelings are and ours. I don't think God 'feels' in the way that we do, he is after all, God. But I believe his heart breaks for what hurts us, when we are ill, when we turn from him, when we are sad. I love this skit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyheJ480LYA
It is so simple but shows God as he loves us, and how he reacts to our choices.
red x

Lucy Mills said...

Gosh, Red, thanks for posting that link. That last bit really got to me!

Yes, I'm with you, and I don't think God's feelings are the same as ours either, and I think perhaps this is where some of the confusion lies. Will reflect further...

Doug Chaplin said...

I'll look forward to seeing how this develops, Lucy.

If I may clarify what (IMO) has been discredited, it is any clear gulf between Hebrew and Greek thought by the time we get to Jesus. There are different histories and different cultural perceptions, but they have been exaggerated and too much tied to ideas of language and the biblical text.

For a biblical example, consider the way in which the book of Wisdom uses largely Greek language and categories to express a traditional Jewish critique of idols, and an assertion of Jewish religion. Or consider the way in which one of the most Greek statements about God – that he is "without variation or shadow of change" is in one of the most Jewish books, the letter of James.

The big book that really showed the blending of Greek and Hebrew culture and thinking pre-dated the NT by long decades was Martin Hengel's Judaism and Hellenism.

That doesn't settle the suffering question, which remains complex, but I hope it clarifies what I was getting at.

Lucy Mills said...

Thanks Doug for that clarification. That's a helpful corrective to what I wrote - I'm sorry if I took you out of context; I hate it when that happens to me!

"The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people."- Richard Foster