- On hearing God(published )
Hi Chris. Reading your thoughts and questions here and thinking back to our conversation the other night, I think I’m starting to get a better sense of where you are coming from and what you are trying to wrestle with. Hopefully this will be helpful. :) In Western culture (meaning, basically, European and European-derived culture), we have tended for the last several centuries to think of our world as having two “levels” or “spheres” or whatever: the natural and the supernatural. Some people think of these two spheres as overlapping or interacting a lot, some think that they do so only a little, some think that virtually never do, and some even think that the supernatural level doesn’t exist at all (this would include atheists, for example). In most Pentecostal and charismatic circles, this two-storey view of reality is the starting point for understanding how God interacts with us. Pentecostals and charismatics will insist that there is lots of interaction between the natural and the supernatural, and therefore that we should seek to interact with God supernaturally as much as we can. In this way of thinking about things, revelation from God obviously needs to be categorized as a supernatural event, an intervention in which something crosses over from God’s side into our side. Hearing God, therefore, should be a strange experience. One should be able to recognize “the real deal” in part by the how it is weird and doesn’t feel like our natural ways of perceiving, thinking, knowing, learning, etc. The Pentecostal understanding of receiving the gift of tongues, in which it is thought of as a distinct event when a person has this spiritual ability bestowed on them that they would not naturally have otherwise, is an example of how this plays out. However, this two-storey view of reality is actually very problematic for Christian faith and practice. Among (many!) other problems, it creates a relentless pressure towards expecting that God’s interactions with us will be rare and fleeting. If we consider God’s actions to be essentially alien to the natural world, then they are by definition abnormal and unusual. But Jesus didn’t think that God’s interactions with people were unusual. He taught his disciples to expect that God would interact with them, and that this would be NORMAL for them. Why? Because material and spiritual were not two separate sorts of reality existing in different realms or planes of existence or whatever; rather, they were simply aspects of one, single, unified reality. The Holy Spirit’s coming to the disciples was remarkable not because it indicated a metaphysical change, but because it indicated a relational change. The God from whom we had been estranged by our sin was now no longer a stranger to us. He has begun interacting with us all with a new intimacy and closeness, and so his people have begun to experience his Spirit with us in a way unlike before. This isn’t an incursion of the supernatural into the natural world, but a reconciliation with the God who has always been all around us. So, God’s interactions with us, including the sorts of interaction that we usually describe as him speaking to us, are how things are supposed to work. We human beings were made for this sort interaction from the very beginning. Our physical and mental processes are designed precisely AS the way for us to interact with God. He always intended to interact with us using the equipment he gave us, and as we become reconciled to him, he does that. So, imaginative impressions (e.g. visions and dreams), reading and pondering (say, the Bible, but also other things), experiencing stuff for ourselves, listening to the stories and wisdom of those who have gone before us in the Christian journey, and all the other human things we do to learn are EXACTLY how we learn from God. Heck, even when God does some astounding thing—burning bush, dramatic healing, pillar of fire in the desert, whatever—we still have to perceive and understand it with the same physical and cognitive faculties that we use to perceive and understand the presence and meaning of a hamburger on a plate. It is based on this kind of understanding of how God interacts with us that the Vineyard adopted the practice of using expressions like, “I’m seeing this image…” or, “I think God wants to say…” when sharing what we feel God is revealing to us. We know that we are all of us in the process of learning to hear him well, and that even though he speaks infallibly we are fallible listeners. It is also based on this kind of understanding of how God interacts with us that we say, “Everyone gets to play,” meaning that everyone can hear from God, pray for God to act, and participate in whatever God is up to. All human beings have the natural capacity to interact with God. We need only be reconciled with him and start relating to him in an interactive way. The upshot is that learning to hear God isn’t about him overriding or bypassing our normal ways of knowing, but about learning to recognize his guidance, direction, and revelation in what we see, think, imagine, hear, and feel. It is a matter of the content, not the form.
- Holy Spirit
- image of God
- Notes on McMartin, Jason. “The Theandric Union as Imago Dei and Capax Dei.” In Christology, Ancient & Modern: Explorations in Constructive Theology, edited by Oliver D. Crisp and Fred Sanders, 136–50. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013, updated (published )
McMartin argues for an understanding of the image of God as the capacity for a (certain sort of) relationship with God. This, however, is not just a relational understanding of the image, but is in fact an ontological and relational and functional model. This is because capacities are structural (i.e. properties of beings, like the capacity to think, to hear, to jump, etc.) but moreover are teleological. Furthermore, McMartin notes that this teleological aspect means that capacities need to be understood in terms of potentiality and actualization. Defining a “nature” as (at least in part) a set of capacities, McMartin therefore is able to conclude that natures have this teleological potentiality/actualization multivalence. McMartin also notes that capacities have a hierarchical structure, giving the example of the ability to see. A lower level capacity for sight deals with whether one has a functioning set of eyes, whereas a higher level has to do with whether one’s brain can process visual stimuli. A loss of functioning eyes de-actualizes the capacity to see, but the higher level capacity remains intact; if the eyes can be healed, the ability to see will be restored because the higher level capacity remained. Building on this teleological and hierarchical understanding of natures as a set of ultimate capacities, and in particular the idea of the image of God as the capacity for relationship with God, McMartin offers a Christological discussion of how the two natures and their union in one person could be understood in this light. First, he says the Son qua Son and thus qua divine is the true image of God (Col 1:15) and “exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3) because he fully actualizes the capacity for relationship with God—indeed, he says that this is why he is called the Son, since it is the result of having the divine nature. I am a bit leery about this, since it seems to be inadvertently setting up an almost Arian collapse of God with the Father while the Son is a separate being from God who is related to God. Perhaps this could be salvaged with some more carefully Trinitarian language. Second, he talks about this image bearing capacity in terms of Christ’s humanity. This, I think, is on more solid ground, although he actually does not develop this part very much. He jumps straight ahead to the soteriological implications this has for us in terms of growing in Christlikeness. I would have suggested here that the passages he cited earlier (Col 1:15, Heb 1:3) should be interpreted under this heading. That he is the image of the invisible God and the exact imprint of his nature does highlight his divine nature, it is true, but the whole point is that he is now the human being that is this. He is the “very image” because he is the culmination and perfect actualization of what human nature was made to be. This, of course, ties in with the supralapsarian view I take regarding the incarnation. Where things get interesting in this essay is where he turns to consider Christ’s person as capax Dei. Now he leverages the hierarchical and teleological aspects of capacities to suggest several things. First, he suggests a mildly kenotic Christology in which all the divine capacities are fully retained on the level of ultimate capacities (i.e. on the level of what is constitutive of a nature) but inevitably not all are fully actualized in the concrete particularity of the human being, Jesus Christ, since the finitude of a human body cannot fully actualize all divine capacities: “One positive and remarkable capacity comes at the expense of another. Christ’s full, embodied humanity may limit the expression of his divine capacities while not diminishing his full divinity” (147). I’m not convinced that this really is much of an advance; the notion that some divine attributes were retained but not exercised in the incarnation is not new, and is not without problems. Second, and more usefully, McMartin uses his ideas about capacities to turn aside the criticisms of an/enhypostasis. All the capacities of human nature are actualized by him—though of course, the finitude of human nature means that the actualization must be particular (e.g. he must be this height and not every possible height)—so there is nothing Docetic about an/enhypostasis. Third, and most interestingly for me, McMartin comes close to suggesting what I want to propose as a way past dyo- vs. monothelitism. As McMartin puts it, “The model may allow for two ultimate volitional capacities pertaining to each of the natures, but a single will in actualization of the capacities” (148). McMartin’s last section before concluding is a brief one drawing out some soteriological implications of his ideas. I particularly like what he has to say about the soteriological implications of the relationship between potentiality and actuality: First, Christ’s example shows that in our pursuit of Christlikeness, we need growth, process, and the movement from potentiality to actuality; even Jesus was not immune from these things (Luke 2:40, 52). This slow and often tortuous movement contrasts starkly with the desire inculcated in us by our culture. We are impatient; we want technological, immediate solutions. We want nonpersonal, nonmessy, less-than-human ways of solving our problems, even with respect to our growth in Christ. We long for supernatural, immediate intervention, in the manner of one of Christ’s healings, rather than long-developed strength of character. (149)