Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Christian Believer: Week Five {God}

[Maybe one day I will catch up and post about the actual lesson we did this week.  I'm still a week behind, but hopefully since it's a thirty week study, I can catch up at some point! I'm really glad that I didn't decide to combine this with the week before though, because it turns out that for this post, I wrote a short novella.  Ha!]

Last week's study was really interesting.  The topic was "God: Personal" (Giving a Name to God) It was about names and attributes of God.  That sounds really general, but it kind of focused in on some major aspects. 

I enjoyed the video part of the study last week more than I usually do.  It was so full of information that I actually ended up rewatching it at home!  The video started by stating different thoughts on God throughout history:
Medieval Period (5th-15th centuries)- the church espoused various proofs for the existence of God
Reformation (16th century)- discussion about God revolved around the sovereignty of God and the absolute priority of divine election
Modern Era (16th-20th century)- due to the rise of naturalism, the very existence of God was questioned; the issue for theologians was how to impart knowledge of God through experience
Contemporary Age (21st century and onward)- new questions arose, such as what language is appropriate for addressing and talking about God and how is God involved in our history?

The movie then moved to some interesting insights on the Doctrine of the Trinity.  It said that the Doctrine of the Trinity sought to answer if it was appropriate to worship Christ as God and what relationship the Holy Spirit had to God the Father.  To me, the answers to those questions are obvious, but I have to remember that it's only because earlier believers hashed them out- the specific doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly stated in Scripture as such. To the end, the video went on, early church councils answered how Christ can be fully human and fully divine in a union that fully respects both His divinity and His humanity.  The need for a statement of beliefs about God arose when the church confronted Greek culture- when the inherited Jewish thought was put into the more universal thought of the Greek world using more philosophical language.  Early doxologies, benedictions and hymns tried to express this.  The video listed several councils and because I'm a bit of a history nerd, I noted them all:
The Council of Nicaea (325 AD)- defined the true and perfect divinity of Christ
The Council of Constantinople (381 AD)- defined the true and perfect humanity of Christ
Cappadocian Teachers (after 360 AD)- emphasized the Holy Spirit's divinity; they used two terms to explain:
- ousia- the single essence of God
- hypostasis- diversity that is the three manifestations of God
Council of Ephesus (431 AD)- defined the nature of the union of the divine and human within Jesus
Council of Chalcedon (451 AD)- asserted that in their union neither Jesus' divinity nor his humanity is violated
Third Council of Constantinople (681 AD)- decreed that God has two wills- divine and human and two operations- divine and human

The video emphasized that the heart of the Trinitarian Doctrine is that the three persons of the Godhead are of the same essence but distinct in their operations and offices. That is, among other things, God the Father creates, Jesus redeems, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies.  All three persons work together for our benefit.  I found this all so fascinating!

I also enjoyed some tidbits from our study book.  The first point the book made was a really good one-- "Some of the revelation [of God] is painful, because set alone a particular story gives a name that distorts our perception of God, at least until we have a further insight.  This is how heresies develop.  Heresies are not utter distruths, but fragments of truth given undo proportions."

The study went on to focus in on two important aspects of God's nature- his love and his holiness.  I think too often modern believers focus on just God's love and not his holiness.  That's one thing I love about John Wesley- he was a man who fervently asserted his belief in God's holiness and the desire for his own. The study book defined holiness as otherness and emphasized that we do not talk about the Loving Spirit or the Gracious Spirit or the Redemptive Spirit (all worthy terms), but rather the Holy Spirit. Back to the video- the movie quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. as saying that God's righteousness is displayed both in justice and in love.  He called it the "tough mindedness and tender heartedness" of God. What a fitting description!

One passage from our other book further explained- "Holiness speaks of God's transcendence, his otherness, his remoteness from us; love of his immanence, his giving of Himself to us.The one affirmation is distance-making, the other distance-breaking.  Yet the authors of Scripture never think of God's holiness and love as mutually exclusive, they rather view them as mutually inclusive.  Not that God's holiness and love are ultimately synonymous....but his holiness and love encompass each other, contain and comprise each other in a mysterious embrace."

The book also focused on several of God's natural attributes in addition to moral attributes like love and holiness.  These include:
Omniscient- God knows all things and His knowledge is perfect and immediate
Omnipotent- God's power is unlimited, except it is limited by His nature (He cannot do anything outside of His divine character)
Omnipresent- God is everywhere present at all times
Eternal and Immutable- God is before and beyond time, without beginning or ending, and immutable in the sense of being absolutely unchangeable (here we talked about process theology

Finally, we talked about names for God- "Shepherd", "Fortress", and so on.  We talked about how some take issue with terms like "King" and "Father", because the word King is "time and culture bound in a world that cherishes democracy and independence". We read that although this may be offensive to our self image, we ARE under God's ultimate rule whether we submit ourselves or not.  Similarly, we discussed how some view the paternalistic language of calling God Father as offensive.  The book said and I really liked this "We have no language to convey our understanding of God except human language... and no language and no name is ever adequate." Further, it said that we should "work as earnestly as possible to free ourselves from cultural associations that negatively affect our response to biblical language" and also "seek for terms, images, and figures of speech that are most hospitable to our own experiences.  These ought not violate biblical revelation, nor should we make them into a new body of doctrine.  But if we can find concepts that are helpful to our own understanding of God without entering some private heresy, it is all to the good".

Our readings in the text book focused a lot of a personal relationship with God and I really enjoyed that.  Here are few of my favorite exerts:

"A personal God is one of supreme intelligence, supreme goodness, and supreme creative and controlling power.  One who grants the presence of an infinitely complex, yet ordered, structure in the universe and the predominance of value over evil in human existence may be ready to affirm the existence of a personal God upon these grounds.  Yet this is not foundation enough for a doctrine of providence.  The Christian's faith in providence requires a further, and to many minds, a more difficult affirmation, for it roots in the conviction that the God who guides the stars and atoms in their courses also guides and cares for you and me" - Georgia Harkness

"Though the Bible does not use the philosophical term "personal God", its assumption throughout is that God is personal.  The God who not only creates but loves, rebukes, judges, redeems, delivers, guides, guards, and sustains His people; the God who sorrows for their sins and in mercy offers salvation; the God who is the basis of the Christian's faith and hope and love in meaningless unless conceived of in personal terms.  The Bible does not argue this position; it assumes it, for the Bible is not written as speculative philosophy but as the record of living religion.  On this assumption the entire structure of the great drama of creation, judgment, and redemption rests. -Georgia Harkness

"When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is Someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance...I am convinced that in the struggle for righteousness man has cosmic companionship." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Whew, I told y'all this post was going to be a novel!  It was one of my favorite weeks so far, though!

1 comment:

Mallory Pickering said...

Love that y'all are doing this! Interesting stuff!