About Providence, Divine Action and the Church


In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Does God Have a Body?

In one brief section of Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 74–81, Stephen Webb suggests that there is a new consensus about God, that God indeed has a body – whatever that might mean. Webb points out that although the Old Testament warns that no one may see God and live (Exodus 33:20), the presupposition remains that God can be seen. And Webb cites a number of Old Testament passages that he takes to imply God’s visible, bodily presence: 2 Chronicles 3:1; 1 Kings 3:5 (Webb mistakenly has 3:15); Isaiah 6; Jeremiah 31:2-3; Exodus 19–20; and, perhaps most importantly, Genesis 18:1-15 and 32:23-33.

But is not all of this anthropomorphism? Webb thinks not. He comments,

At this point I would introduce this rule of how to govern interpretations of God’s embodiment: Whatever God is, he is much more than what we are, but he is still more like us than he is like anything else. The anthropomorphic descriptions of God are literally true, even if they do not penetrate to God’s essence. (p. 81, emphasis original).

On this account, it would seem that God truly does have a body, though God is free to adopt whatever body God chooses. God chooses the body that best enables communication with humans. Webb concludes,

The bodies God assumes are means of communicating with us, not manifestations of God’s essence. I suppose this is the only conclusion that one can reach—that the bodies God occupies in these revelations are not really his own—unless one thinks that God really occupied a very specific body from before creation. (p. 81).

Given that Webb’s overall concern in Jesus Christ, Eternal God is to look at the place of matter in Christianity, I suspect that that last clause – unless one thinks that God really occupied a very specific body from before creation – reveals the direction in which he’s heading.

4 comments:

  1. Of course has "a body".

    It is all of "creation", every seemingly separate human body, all of the Earth World, and the entire manifest universe with all of its space-time paradoxes.

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  2. If you haven't seen it, you might appreciate the dialogical interaction with Webb's thesis in the current edition of Sacred Tribes Journal at www.sacredtribesjournal.org.

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  3. This looks good, John. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

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