Friday, July 20, 2007

God in History and in Creation

I was on vacation last week and did a lot of reading, so I've had more ideas rushing through my head than I've had time to blog. This post is a bit of compressed backlog.

Two books I read last week were Abraham Joshua Heschel's The Sabbath and J. Philip Newell's The Book of Creation. I paired them intentionally, as I thought they'd have a similar mood.

It's a bit odd reading a Jewish book on the Sabbath as a Christian, like an outsider looking in, but Heschel always has such brilliant insights that I'm willing to accept such a position to listen to what he has to say. Right from the prologue he blew me away with the idea that God exists in time moreso than in space. Listen:
Even religions are frequently dominated by the notion that the deity resides in space, with particular localities like mountains, forests, trees or stones, which are, therefore, singled out as holy places; the deity is bound to a particular land; holiness a quality associated with things of space, and the primary question is: Where is the god? There is much enthusiasm from the idea that God is present in the universe, but that idea is taken to mean His presence in space rather than in time, in nature rather than in history; as if He were a thing, not a spirit.
Then I read Newell's The Book of Creation, which happens to be precisely about finding God in nature. Newell's book is an introduction to Celtic spirituality by way of a meditation on the seven days of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4. It's very good overall, but in the shadow of Heschel's book, it left me with a certain disatisfaction -- namely, the God that Newell finds in nature tends to be "God-in-general" and not particularly the God of Christianity. He mentions Christ occaissionally, and even points to the Incarnation, but it's not really central to his thought.

On the seventh day he says:
The seven days of Genesis, as we have noted, are not a chronological account of the emergence of the universe in the past but a meditation on the ever-present mytsery of creation. The life of creation is a theophany of God. It is a visible expression of the One who is essentially invisible, an intelligible sign of the One who is beyond knowledge. Just as the first day points to the light that is always at the heart of life, so the seventh reflects the stillness that is part of God's ongoing creativity.
I don't want to knock this too much. It's a very solid theology of nature, and in the end I do agree that nature points us to God. But Heschel convinced me that you can't really have the blessing of the seventh day without the God who blessed the seventh day. The blessing, the very God we are experiencing, is necessarily tied to the historical event. I don't mean to hereby embrace seven-day creationism (nor do I think Heschel does), but ultimately the creation story doesn't tell us anything about God-in-particular if it isn't telling us about God's historical act of creation.

At least that's what I think tonight.

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