One of the things readers of scripture have to discern is which practices or statements or rules in scripture are “timeless” and which are shaped by the culture and practices of the era. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes not.
One of the things that can cause us difficulty is recognizing things that are unchanging, say an attribute of God, but which are done in different ways at different times. Today we’ll look at an example.
As Karl Barth wrote, ” He [God] does not will to be God without us”. I think Barth is correct but the ways in which God is with us have changed. Here is what I mean in broad brush strokes.
God is personally present to individuals in Genesis. Adam, Eve, Jacob and Joseph. God (and others) refer to God as the God of your fathers; the father of Abraham and Isaac. This is a relationship with an individual. Certainly more than the one individual are involved in God’s plans but God appears to work in and through one particular person.
In Exodus things begin to change. God,through a personal relationship with Moses, becomes particularly present to a larger group of people. There are now many more descendants of Abraham and when they leave Egypt they are joined by a mixed multitude of folks. God is now involved with a bigger bunch of people, and Israel is now a larger community. And all of them, Abraham’s descendants, the mixed multitude and God have to figure out how to live with each other. This increased number of people increases the complexity of relationship and seems to call for more structure and some guidelines about how to live life together. Since Israel has no land, God travels with them and guides them via the tabernacle. Later as history progresses and nomadic ways shift to settled communities, God is present through the Temple.
And then “in the fullness of time” God joins humankind even more intimately as Jesus. God becomes one of us and lives among us. Jesus tells us how to live with God and each other. Jesus enters into relationship with anyone who is willing.
And so God’s relationships expand even more- God is not just the God of Israel but the God of Gentiles too. God is not just the God over a particular nation but of the entire world. After the ascension, God sends the Holy Spirit. God is now present with each one of us. Everyone is included.
So God is present right from the start until now, but the way God is present has changed. God’s intentions haven’t changed in scope- in Genesis 12 God tells Abram that through him all the families of the earth will be blessed. In Exodus God tells Israel they are chosen to be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). Jesus includes the gentiles and marginalized, as does the early church.
Does God change? Yes and no. The ways God interacts with us, the ways God responds to us, the way God engages us- yes that changes.
Does the reality of God’s love change? No.
Does God’s desire for relationship with us change? No.
Does God’s presence with us change? No.
Changing Unchangeability. What do you think?