For the moment, I want to set aside God's less direct communication and talk about the most direct form it takes in the Bible: words reportedly delivered from God directly to a person like Moses. The following is something I've been working on that some people might find helpful.
The Word of God as Infinite and EternalI would like to use examples from everyday life to make it easy to understand the complications involved in understanding God’s word as eternal and absolute rather than temporary or relative without distorting the evidence we have, but I have been unable to do so. It is too important to choose something that really describes it for a poor example to suffice, and the reality of God’s direct interaction in history is too far removed from daily life, as I know it, for me to find a fitting parallel. So I must make the best of the situation and explain something that is not fully comprehensible to the human mind using a subject very few people understand well as a starting point. So, I am going to try to explain God’s interaction with man in the framework of Geometry; fortunately, this explanation requires very little in the way of technical expertise and depends more heavily on visual and imaginative abilities.
|Figure 1.1: The tangent plane of a sphere|
Let’s assume that God is more complex than our universe, I think most people will agree with this assumption. Now, in order to talk about something more complex than one’s own universe, one must picture it as something closer to one’s own situation and imagine one’s own universe in terms that are less complex. The observable parts of our universe are three dimensional, so let’s imagine our universe as two dimensional, a plane, in geometric terms. A plane is like an smooth surface that stretches on forever but has absolutely no thickness. Now let us imagine God as a three dimensional object: a sphere. So, imagine a ball full of everything that is God and imagine a shadow on a piece of paper that is full of everything that makes up our universe.
If the ball wished to communicate in terms shadow people could understand, it would have to interact on the terms of the universe of the shadow people. Shadow people are made to see in every direction on two axes, so they might be able to see (the outside of) anything in the shadow, but asking them to look “up” and consider the sphere as it exists in its entirety is beyond the realm of the possible: they would have to be "ball" people to see the ball as it is.
The ball cannot be reduced to shadowness, a ball of clay or steel or glass or gold could never be squashed to the thickness of a shadow. If the ball shaved off the smallest piece of itself and squashed it down to a thickness of a single molecule, a single atom, it would not fit in shadow world, and if it were possible to crush it further and further until it approached the thickness of the shadow, it would take up the entire area of the shadow and crush the shadow people from existence and still overflow the dimensions of the shadow universe.
If God were to shove the tiniest bit of his being and timelessness, as it is in its fullness, into our universe it would have room for nothing else. I can hear you objecting that he did just that in the person of Jesus. Let me clarify, I contend that Jesus was a point of contact between God and our universe rather than an insertion.
In other words, if the ball wished to make contact with the shadow, it must be content to make a point of contact, a place where it touches the shadow and affects the shadow without trying to insert it’s substance fully into the shadow. In the case of Jesus, the point at which God contacted the universe is a baby, who grows into a man and is, in all dimensions of our universe, human. The belief in the divinity of Jesus is at heart an assertion that if it was possible to observe the dimensions above our own, we would see that point (Jesus) which appeared to fit in our shadow land is part of a being who is eternal and possesses greater “dimensionality,” greater being than we shadow people can comprehend.
Now we have established that God must interact with us in our own terms, which are incapable of fully comprehending or representing his eternal being and fullness. Because God’s timelessness cannot fit within our universe, at the point of contact between God and our universe, God must act within the framework and laws of time to allow the universe to continue to exist (which is not to say he cannot bend the rules, but that is beyond the scope of this discussion).
Let’s imagine that it is a little bit like an astronaut looking at the surface of the Earth (only God can see the whole thing, not just half a sphere). The astronaut falls in his craft toward a specific point on the earth and lands there. At the point where contact is made the astronaut can no longer see the edges of the Earth, for contact keeps him from keeping his poin of view, binding him to the laws of the shadow universe while not diminishing his eternal nature but, in the case of God, he does not become disconnected from his being in eternity just because one point touches our universe and plays by its rules.
In fact, at the point where God touches our universe, the “now” of his intervention, the future loses its fixed aspect for him and could be construed as “in motion” as a result of his actions because his actions change the future. So, what is prophecy? It is not God looking at a fixed future, though it may contain elements of prediction since God is obviously more capable of predicting the future based on the present than we. No, prophetic revelation represents a promise on the part of God to follow through on certain actions and is often contingent on the response of the hearer (see the story of Jonah).
This complicated situation leads to some interesting interactions between God and man. God meets with Moses and has determined to destroy the Children of Israel and raise Moses up to take their place, but Moses appeals to him and God changes his mind. If his timelessness were in effect, he could not do this because the future would already have been complete in his view and any such decision would be merely a pantomime, mimicking a change of mind to conform to the future he observes, but his timelessness is necessarily limited by his very act of making contact and allows us to understand his change of heart as an honest representation of God.
In the life of Jesus we have another interesting event: Jesus is God, yet he can grow “in knowledge and stature and favor with God and People.” If he had full access to the greater aspects of his divinity, he could not grow in knowledge for he would already have access to all knowledge.
Now, let us imagine that the Law of God is eternal, a part of the very being of God. God’s law in this fullness is beyond full expression which our shadow universe allows. As it comes into contact with the time-bound moment where God and Humanity meet, it must necessarily be expressed in time-bound forms. Therefore, at each moment during which God’s Law is revealed, it is truly the eternal law of God, but it is expressed in the moment of divine contact without being truly disconnected from its fullness.
So then, if one were to compare these moments of revelation with a naive eye, one might conclude that God’s Law is changeable or inconsistent and neither divine nor eternal at all. On the other hand, if one recognizes that the Law as we see it in the moment is a gateway into the Law as it exists in the heart of God in all his eternal fullness, one might hope to gather the clues that would would allow one to trace the shape of God’s eternal law as it exists in the given moment.
What is it we are looking for in the law of God as revealed in the past which might tell us about his law in the now of the present moment? In common terms we would call this a search for the principle, that is the “why” or “spirit” behind the law. We trace the way in which the historical law impacted its time to try to determine the reason why it took the form it did so that we can hope to live according to the spirit of the law in our present situation.
That process depends on two rather imperfect processes: discovering why the law was delivered as it was in past revelation and determining how that principle can be lived out now. We call the results of these processes interpretation. The lack of perfection involved in the constituent parts of the process make the interpretation an imperfect science and various legitimate interpretations may result from the same data. This is not to say that all interpretations are legitimate, that the law itself is relative, or that there are no situations in which a single interpretation overshadows all others in apparent validity. On the other hand, if we are experiencing conflict over our interpretations, the chances are that the positions taken by the different believers represent honest attempts to understand and interpret God’s law.