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K. Scott Oliphint on the “distance of being between God and man”

 

K. Scott Oliphint on the “distance of being between God and man”

 

There is, then, a distance of being between God and man. How can the Infinite One relate to finite creatures? [1]

 

[There is a] problem (for us, not for God) of the distance of God, which distance constitutes a boundary between the being of God and the being of creation. [2]

 

The problem of distance and the dilemma of God’s relationship to creation is no problem or dilemma for Him. [3]

 

The reason why “the problem of distance” is not a problem for God is found in God. For, in the words of Oliphint, “the absolute and the relative exist, first and foremost, in the Triune God Himself!” [4] By “absolute” Oliphint intends what God is essentially or “God’s characteristics as God (and, thus, quite apart from creation).” [5] He lists among these characteristics God’s infinity, eternity, immutability, and impassibility. [6] What he intends by “relative” is “[t]he characteristics that God has because of His voluntary condescension . . .” [7] He also labels these as God’s covenantal characteristics. [8] He says, “Some of those [relative/covenantal] characteristics are now permanent (e.g., grace, wrath), some only temporary (e.g., theophanies, human forms, appearances as fire, in the Old Testament).” [9] So the “distance of being between God and man” is bridged by God himself. God remains eternal, infinite, and immutable in his essential characteristics, but he also must be viewed as “expressing Himself in ‘new’ characteristics in order to relate to us.” [10] And both God’s absolute and relative character exist in God. Recall these words of Oliphint: “the absolute and the relative exist, first and foremost, in the Triune God Himself!” [11] If the relative is not infinite, eternal, immutable, and impassible as the absolute, this entails it is finite, temporal, mutable, and passible. But if the relative really exists “in the Triune God Himself,” then, in the words of Porter, God assumed “an acquired mode of being that affords him the ontological conditions by which he can interact with his creation,” and thus, the boundry or “distance of being” has been bridged. The answer to Oliphint’s question, “How can the Infinite One relate to finite creatures?,” seems to be that he assumes finitude in himself.

Oliphint’s thesis assumes an ontological problem that must be overcome. He says, there is “a boundary between the being of God and the being of creation” (emphasis added). But is there such a problem or boundary? McFarland asserts there is no “sort of ontological barrier that might limit God’s intimacy with creation.” [12] Bavinck says, “Implied in creation is both God’s transcendence and God’s immanence . . .” [13] I think McFarland and Bavinck are right. This is to be continued at SCRBPC ’17. Watch for live-stream next week.

 

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[1] K. Scott Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery: Celebrating the Glory of an Incomprehensible God (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), 95.

[2] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 97.

[3] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 101.

[4] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 103.

[5] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 102.

[6] See Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 102.

[7] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 102.

[8] See Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 102.

[9] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 105.

[10] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 101. It seems that Oliphint has changed the way he states his covenantal properties/characteristics proposal in this book. In God with Us he uses the language of God taking “on attributes, characteristics, and properties” (110). In The Majesty of Mystery he uses “expressing Himself” (101) and “the covenantal characteristics . . . are expressed by God” (103), for example.

[11] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 103.

[12] McFarland, From Nothing, 55.

[13] Bavinck, RD, 2:110.

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