Any rock climber knows the frightening sensation of reaching for a rock that appears to be a suitable hand-hold, only to discover that it is a loose stone. At the same time, the rock climber is grateful that he discovered that it is a loose stone before he put his full weight on it.
I find the same frightening sensation when reading philosophy. A writer demonstrates to me that one of my assumptions or beliefs is actually unfounded–as dangerous as a loose rock for a rock climber, and I must find a surer truth, and perhaps even a different path up the mountain.
This is what Nicholas Wolterstorff did to me yesterday when I was reading his essay “God Everlasting.” In this essay, Wolterstorff lays bare the profoundly Hellenistic assumptions of Christian theology that do not mesh with Biblical data. Plato reasoned that the highest form of reality is that which is not bound by the strictures of temporality. Christian theologians naturally take this highest form of reality to be God, and conclude that God exists outside time. As Boethius states in his Consolation of Philosophy, “God sees all things in His eternal present.”
Wolterstorff asks the penetrating question, “How can we square God’s non-temporality with the way that the authors of Scripture portray God–as a being who very much acts and responds within time?” He strongly concludes that “God as presented by the biblical writers is fundamentally noneternal. He is fundamentally in time.” I believe that Wolterstorff has an important point, one which we would do well to take seriously. The reasons why I am attracted to Wolterstorff’s ideas are because 1) he draws his evidence from biblical data, 2) he adequately demonstrates that Christian theology has been profoundly affected by non-biblical Greek thought, 3) his conclusion does not seem to injure God’s transcendence or glory.
Having stated why I find this idea attractive, I have not yet committed to putting my full weight on that rock, to circle back to my opening metaphor. Perhaps there is a way to retain God’s essential non-temporality, while seeing his temporality as the way in which he is portrayed so as to make sense to our time-bound minds. I have not fully explored this concept, but it seems that I cannot not think without reference to the progression of events.
Either way, considering these things leaves me in awe of God’s majesty. He truly is the Object of greatest delight.