Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Wright on Time

I just received my CDs of N. T. Wright's lectures at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake on March 23. At the end of the first lecture I asked this question:

The popular Christian view tends to see time as an illusion. If, as you argue, time is real and an enduring fact continuing into the new creation, it seems to me that this requires that God interacts with time in a way that involves genuine participation in the passing of time. I'm sure you've given this some thought. Could you comment on this please?

Here is his answer:

Yes, there is, of course, quite a debate at the moment I'm aware of, within North American not least, about God's interaction with and engagement with time, with the question being really whether things that happen in time can, in our cricketing image, put God on the back foot, whether God thinks, "Hmm, never thought you were going to get up to that."

There are, of course, places in the Bible which do seem to say that. You know, when Jeremiah inveighs against the practice of offering children to Molech, he says as the Word of God, "Not only did I never command that, it never entered my mind." That's an extraordinary idea for us, that humans can do something which God would never have dreamt of. And it kind of puts God in a different position. But God remains sovereign.

Jonathan Sachs, the chief rabbi of the UK, is one of the finest commentators on our present scene in Britain, wrote a piece no long ago likening the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness to what happens when you have a sat-nav or GPS system in your car. The voice says, "In half a mile turn right." And you say, "Actually, no. I don't like that road. I'm going to turn left in a quarter of a mile." And there's a pause, and the voice says in effect, "Well, this wasn't what we had in mind, but since we're now here, you're going to need to go this and this and this and this." And it seems to me that this is a perfectly proper way to think about how the sovereignty of God plays out through the responsibility of humans.

It's all to do with image-bearing-ness as humans and the sense that our job in worshipping God is to reflect him into the world. And because God has made the world like that, it is part of God's sovereign determination rooted in the triune nature of God himself that he will act through and with what humans think and do, and that actually you can collapse that back but you're actually moving away from the Trinity if you do so. Equally, you can move it too far forwards into a kind of totally indeterminate idea where really there is no sense of God as creator and judge, but merely of God as one player in a rather odd game. So for me, bring it back to the Trinity. Think through particularly creation and judgment, and you may be able to hold together what some people at the moment find is falling apart. Not a very adequate answer, but that's a starting point at least.

I'd be interested in your reaction to his answer.

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"


daniel the smith said...

Hmm, I just realized that I always added a mental "[to command you to do that]" after "it never entered my mind" and took it as hyperbole.

Now I'm not at all sure how to read it... I like both ways. :(

M. Pease said...

Being the ponderous thinker that I am, it takes me time to find the words I want to express my position.

I feel an instinctive rebellion against the idea that we could, in any way, surprise God. I read the Jeremiah passage more as a disclaimer on God's part that there could be anything in His imputed image in us that could justify the murder of children as a sacrifice.

One might feel obliged to point out that He had asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but in fact, He was really asking Abraham to change how he thought about Isaac (and by extension all he had) by offering him back to God.

Now I'll look at the next post. :^)