Wednesday, January 23, 2013
In Search Of Truth, Anthropomorphism
And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them."
We're about to look at Genesis chapter 6, but before we do, I want to briefly talk about anthropomorphism. Specifically, the attribution of human form or behavior to God. In Genesis 6:6-7, we see God regretting and being sorry for something he had done. But God is also described in the Bible as being perfect.
Matthew 5:48- You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
God is also one who does not change his mind.
Numbers 23:19- God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
So how can God be sorry for anything he has done?
The answer boils down to the methods of communication God has chosen to use with humanity. (This is the part where us geeks can enjoy exercising the part of our brains that love exploring strange, alien concepts.)
God is infinite in every aspect of his being. Infinitely powerful. Infinitely good. Infinitely just. Infinitely intelligent. But even though we like throwing the word around, we can't really comprehend what it means for something to be infinite. In fact, the word infinite only means "NOT finite". Much of the time, the best we can do when describing God is to say what he is NOT, rather than what he IS.
Human language is itself finite in its capacity to convey information. No matter how much time we spend describing God in human language, we can never arrive at a point in time at which we have finally, exhaustively, described even one attribute of God.
As humans, we are made to process ideas using language and sequential thoughts. We don't think about an infinite number of ideas all at once. We think our thoughts one after the other, because we exists and operate in time.
God has been who he is, in all of his complete, unchanging "Godness", since before he created time.
Psalm 90:2- Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
He can and does operate in time, but is not in any way limited to time. Still, being an infinitely knowledgable God, he knows that we don't have the capacity to understand what he is like in his fullness. We can only understand limited ideas.
So in scripture, God presents glimpses of himself that are filtered through our human limitations, resulting in a representation of God that, while accurate as an analogy, falls infinitely short of a full representation of God.
Looking at the text at hand, we see the key words "regretted", and "sorry". Both come from the Hebrew word, Nacham, which essentially means a change of heart, disposition, mind, purpose or conduct. It also conveys the idea of grief.
God can't truly change his heart, disposition, mind or purpose. But in his interactions with humanity, in which he interfaces with time, God CAN change his conduct from one moment to the next, and be motivated by his own feelings of grief. In response to his feelings about something, God will even change his standard operations and shift into a new status quo. That's what we see happening here.
God knew this time of human sin and rebellion described in Genesis 6 was coming. He knew it before he created the universe. But in the context of this human evil, God was in some way grieved when thinking about his creation of humanity. Grieved at how his beautiful intentions in creating humanity were being grossly rejected by humanity.
And though his feelings about that time of rebellion have been and will be timelessly present within him, I believe God reacted at that time, in part, to display his character to us. To clearly link his displeasure and wrath to evil behavior, and contrast evil with himself.
Protestors indicate something about their own character and values when they speak in contrast to what they oppose. Likewise, by intervening in Genesis 6, God was revealing something to humanity about himself. He revealed that he is not content with human suffering and violence. He does not approve of selfishness and hatred. He made it clear that human life is not meant to persist in evil and that we were created to be good.
As we move forward, we'll see more and more of who God is and who we are, as he reveals himself both in analogous description and in the laws and covenants he makes with humanity.