Chapter 3: God’s Word Spoken (1)
In the last post, I quoted Dr. Packer from the lectures I attended at Regent College. “Some theologians say that God doesn’t speak. Well, He says, He does.” Packer resists the wedge that modern scholarship and liberal theologians drive between between revelation and the Christian scriptures. Those who divide the text from revelation treat the text as witness to God’s revelatory activity in the life of Israel and in the life of Christ but not as revelation itself. Packer and the tradition of the Church see this wedge as a false divide.
Packer, again in accord with Church tradition, insists that the Creator can be known not by human achievement but by the Creator’s self-revelation. In this chapter, Packer emphasizes the most important questions that Scripture seeks to answer about God. These are 1) Who is this God? 2) What is God’s purpose in speaking to us? 3) Who is God speaking to? These he answers in terms of God’s character, God’s redemptive and relational purposes, and human purpose and human plight.
In the West, our cultures have been so influenced and shaped by Christian teaching that it is no longer seems like the fact that Creator God is good or that a Creator God could be good is worth telling anyone. Of course, God is good. What other kind of God or Creator would there be? Why would anyone devote themselves to a god that wasn’t good?
Yet, in the ancient world and for many in the modern world, the world is self-evidently not good. For many of the ancients and again many modern animistic and polytheistic religions, the world is only a source of suffering and place from which we are going to escape. (Despite some versions of Christianity, an emphasis on escaping the earth is not biblical. See N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope via Amazon and Iain W. Provan’s Seriously Dangerous Religion via Amazon) In many of the creation myths that the authors of Scripture are countering, the earth is a byproduct of violent or sexual activity of the gods. When read against this backdrop, the insistence of the biblical authors that God is One and there is no one like this God actively rejects any notion that the cosmos was created out of violence or out of the Creator’s sexual activity. Expressed positively, the cosmos is gift.
So, what is God’s purpose? According to Packer, and again Packer’s view is in accordance both with Scripture and tradition. God’s purpose is pleasure. God delighted in creating the cosmos. God delighted in creating human beings. God created human beings for friendship. Not friendship out of need but out of abundance. Again, the myths to which the biblical authors are responding generally presented human beings as a byproduct just like the rest of the cosmos. If there was some intent in making human beings, it was to slave for the gods. In this way, the gods resembled human kings and rulers. Human beings worked to feed the gods through sacrifice so that the God’s could rest. The God of Israel invites human beings (and even the animals) into His rest. God’s rest is a party after a week of work. It is a family meal, a Saturday brunch. Who eats the sacrifices? Not the Creator God but the people.
This highlights to whom God is speaking and why. But Packer also acknowledges the human “plight”. Human beings ignore the Creator. We distort our understanding of ourselves, the cosmos, and the Creator. We even openly reject his invitation. Yet, God has spoken and God continues to speak. Why because He is the same God who created out of delight and seeks our friendship.
Non-Christian Religions & People in Darkness
In this chapter, Packer also addresses the question of God speaking in other religions. As C.S. Lewis and others have insisted, Christians need not deny that other religions, philosophies, or individuals have something of the truth. Yet, in popular culture, the vast differences in the beliefs of various religions are often glossed over in an effort to be tolerant. Again, Iain Provan’s Seriously Dangerous Religion via Amazon offers a good dose of reality on this common approach to religion. While on the one hand, you have the popular idea that all religions are equally good. On the other hand, you have the popular notion that all religions are equally evil. A good book which challenges this other popular myth that “religion poisons everything” is William Cavanaugh’s The Myth of Religious Violence (via Amazon).