C.S. Lewis, Parades and Biblical Theology

In an attempt to better understand the conversation between process theology and open theology I’ve undertaken a bit of a reading project. The plan is to finish Clark Pinnock’s Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness before tackling C. Robert Mesle’s Process Theology: A Basic Introduction. I’ll be blogging thoughts, interesting findings, struggles and questions along the way. Here’s some interesting stuff to get things started:

“At least since creation, the divine life has been temporally ordered. God is inside not outside time. He is involved in the thick of, and is not above, the flow of history” (32).

It’s a common assertion, especially when talking about matters that have to do with the future, that God exists outside of time. This saying is usually employed in order to support the idea that God could certainly know the future because time is something only experienced by the created order. I’m reminded of an analogy that C.S. Lewis gives in Mere Christianity (which, coincidentally, I am reading right now for my Classics in Religious Literature course–yay for integration!). Essentially, Lewis asks his readers to imagine writing a book in which you write the following: “Mary laid down her work; next moment came a knock at the door!” For Mary, who lives in the imaginary story world, the knock comes directly after she puts down her work. You, as the author of the book, could choose to wait hours or even days to choose to write about Mary actually answering the door. You exist outside of the imaginary story world that’s been created just as God exists outside of time. Another analogy that is often employed is the parade analogy: we are in the middle of the parade marching forward in a linear progression. We know where we have come from and we know where we are presently at in the parade route but the future remains yet to be discovered. God on the other hand is said to be represented by a woman (read as intentional feminist plug) who is watching the parade from the top of a tall building, able to see where the parade has started, is at, and will finish, all at the same time.

What I like about Pinnock’s attempt to bring God back into time (beside the fact that I think  he remains faithful to the Scriptural narrative which tells the story of a God who always acts within history) is that his understanding is much more practical and experiential. Even if God were outside of time, we can only ever experience him in time. What use is a theology that imagines a God with certain characteristics that we never actually experience as temporal human beings?

Here’s one more thought:

“In tradition, God is thought to function primarily as a disembodied spirit but this is scarcely a biblical idea. For example, Israel is called to hear God’s word and gaze on this glory and beauty. Human beings are said to be embodied creatures created in the image of God. Is there perhaps something in God that corresponds with embodiment? Having a body is certainly not a negative thing because having a body makes it possible for us to be agents. Perhaps God’s agency would be easier to envisage if he were in some way corporeal. Add to that the fact that in the theophanies of the Old Testament God encounters humans in the form of a man. They indicate that God shares our life in the world in a most intense and personal manner. For example, look at the following texts. In Exodus 24:10-11 Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abidu and seventy of the elders of Israel went up Mount Sinai and beheld God, as they ate and drank. Exodus 33:11 tells us that ‘the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.’…Add to that the fact that God took on a body in the incarnation and Christ has taken that body with him into glory. It seems to me that the Bible does not think of God as formless” (34).

There’s a lot that could be said about the implications of this but, to be honest, it’s past my bed time so I’ll leave it at this: If Pinnock’s observation teaches us anything it is that we are really good at reading our understanding of God, in this case, his lack of embodiment (which is something that we’ve inherited from our ancient Greek friends), into the text rather than letting the Bible’s language and imagery inform us. This is certainly the reason why even the thought of imagining God with a body is so shocking to many of us (it was for me, at least). Oh, they joys of biblical theology!

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