Friday, January 23, 2009

Divine repentance

layman said...

Steve, would you mind walking me through how a passage such as Genesis 6:6 should be understood? Thanks:

Genesis 6:6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. (NKJV)

Let’s discuss some general issues, then apply those considerations to the case at hand.

1.Does the Bible sometimes employ anthropomorphic depictions of God? I’d say yes. For example:

i) It uses certain human social roles to depict God, viz. father, son, farmer, potter, husband, shepherd.

ii) It assigns body parts to God, viz., arms, hands, mouth, eyes.

iii) It also employs inanimate and bestial depictions of God, viz. rock, wind, water, fire, light, lion, eagle, hen.

iv) In fact, God himself, in some theophanies, simulates a human role—complete with all the trappings (e.g. Isa 6:1ff.).

v) Of course, a pagan—with his pantheon of corporeal or metamorphic gods—might take all of these theistic metaphors literally. However, the Bible also goes out of its way to contrast the true God with heathen divinities.

v) This, of itself, doesn’t prove that we should interpret Gen 6:6 anthropomorphically. However, it eliminates any presumption in favor of a literal interpretation. The anthropomorphic interpretation is a live exegetical option.

2.We’d also expect anthropomorphic metaphors to be more common in certain literary genres, like poetry and historical narrative.

For example, God is the main actor or lead character in many Biblical narratives. So we’d expect the narrator to represent God in ways similar to the human players. The story is written in a common universe of discourse.

3.Certain human emotions are either contingent on the limitations of human experience, or amplified by the limitations of human experience. Unless God shares the same limitations, he won’t experience the same emotions. The anthropomorphic interpretation is a live exegetical option.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can automatically discount all emotive depictions of God as anthropomorphic. But it eliminates any presumption that such a depiction must be literal.

God and man share some things in common. But if a particular emotion is clearly contingent on the vicissitudes of human finitude, then we would treat that depiction as anthropomorphic.

Keep in mind that there’s also a certain amount of hyperbole in the way Bible writers depict human beings. You can find that in the Psalms, for example. This is not a clinical diagnosis of David’s physical or mental state at the time.

4.Apropos (3), the Bible ascribes certain properties to God, such as omnipotence and omniscience, which are incompatible with certain human emotions or reactions:

5.This raises a question of theological method. Some Christians don’t think we should harmonize Scripture. They think we should leave all these disparate descriptions in a state of tension.

However, Paul was a very logical thinker. And Dallas Willard has written on article on “Jesus the Logician”:

We can cite other examples of Bible writers who use logic to make a point (i.e. Isaiah’s satirical attack on heathen idolatry). Likewise, when Jesus and the Apostles debate their Jewish opponents, the question at issue is which side is consistent with the OT scriptures.

So I think it’s unscriptural to avoid harmonizing Scripture.

6. It’s easy to see why, for purposes of communication, a transcendent God would sometimes be depicted in humanoid terms. That helps the reader identify with God.

It’s not so easy to see why a humanoid God would be depicted in transcendent terms. In what possible sense are attributes like omniscience and omnipotence metaphorical?

7. Returning to the verse at issue, I think the language is metaphorical. I think it’s designed to express God’s literal disapproval of sin in vivid terms which a human audience could relate to.

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