Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Creator of the Universe and the God of Israel

Most Christians take for granted that the creator of the universe and the God of Israel are one and the same being. The one who made the heavens and the earth is the one who called Abraham. The one who brought Israel out of Egypt is the one who made man and woman in his own image. Not much debate here, at least within the hermeneutical circle of the Christian community.

But there is a subtle difference of approaching this equation that can have far reaching consequences. The question can be put this way: Is the Creator of the Universe the God of Israel, or is the God of Israel the Creator of the Universe? In other words, which is given priority: the universality of the divine creator or the particularity of the divine covenant? Let's take a look at each view in turn.

The Creator of the Universe is the God of Israel

The point here is that we all know something about the creator of the universe. There is a general human common ground here. Christians come along and say, "Hey, that thing you call 'God,' or 'The Ultimate,' or 'The Supreme Being' happens to be the God who linked himself up with the history of Israel culminating in Jesus Christ."

The advantage to this way of speaking is that the universal scope of God's reign is emphasized. Also, a point of contact is established between people's assumptions about divinity and their fulfillment in Scriptural revelation. The disadvantage is that the particular history of Israel can be construed as a mere "illustration" of what is already true between God and the world, rendering it superfluous. Also, the unique claims of Christ are harder to hold up when the universality of God is already assumed.

The God of Israel is the Creator of the Universe

The point here is that if there is a specific revelation of God we should start there, before moving on to the larger implications of who God is in relation to the world. God has chosen to focus his dealings with creation and humanity on the one little nation of Israel. Through this nation he desires to bless all the nations of the world. But this particular history always remains in the foreground, even as God opens up his covenant to the Gentiles.

The advantage to this way of thinking is that the particular identity of God is emphasized. Thus one is not caught in the forecourt of philosophical questions of whether God exists or what God is like, but rather turns directly to who God is. Also, this view can serve to support claims about the uniqueness of Jesus the Jew. The disadvantage of this approach is that one is always tangled up in questions of the scope of mercy outside the history of covenant (e.g., "what about the man on the desert Island?)". Also, this view has a harder time building bridges across cultural boundaries because the identity of God is so tied to the particularly cultural history of Israel

What do you think?
Is the Creator of the Universe the God of Israel?
Or is the God of Israel the Creator of the Universe?
How do you decide?
In what ways does this distinction play itself out practically?
For instance, do you communicate the Gospel differently in each case?Is there something missing from this discussion?
Is there a way to use both of these approaches?


11 comments:

Dakotaranger said...

The God of Israel is the Creator of the Universe. The fact that Christ focused so much on the individual relationship.
The Samaratan Woman, Zachecios, and Paul for examples. Then the whole thing about God numbering the hairs on our heads and knowing about the sparrows in the field.

While God obviously is big enough to create everything with one word. His desire that all be saved is amazing.

that's my Buck fifty

Anonymous said...

I think both.

I like to always think both when I can. Sorry Bud Bence who always wants us to fall off the log.

But I think I should qualify my both by actually saying "It depends." I think to those of us already swept up into the particularity of God's story in the world it must be that the God of Istrael is the Creator of the Universe. For us that is what is true. The particularity of who God is finds itself in the pages of history with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob etc.

But, those who have never been swept up into the history of God's story in the world yet (as we know it to be...) MUST find the Creator of the Universe. They may never find the God of Israel until that surprising day when they are invited to rest and they say "Lord?"

In other words, to me as I write off the cuff with whatever seems best at the moment, the guy on the desert island and the unreached tribal warrior all find God as the universal creator. Eternity has been written in their hearts, and they might act as a law to themselves.

But to those who have turned the pages of scripture, heard the scandalous story of the cross, and encountered this "good news" that smells like death at first, they MUST find the God of Israel if they are to find God at all.

At least...that's how I think right now.


GREAT QUESTION. LOVE IT!

If that's true...big missiological implications I think. Find the "divine markers" of God in the universal first, then bring in the particular.


Hmm....just had another thought though. What if the only reason the emphasis is on the particular for those who know is that they already know. They have already moved through the season of emphasis on the universal. Maybe we ALWAYS start with the universal (like the canon) and emphasize the particular knowing we will end with the universal again someday (like the canon)

I think I wrote too much already. :)

Dave Ward

Just . Jay said...

well, the Bible seems to think the place to start is God the Creator of the Universe. Am I wrong? The Canon doesn't start with the God of Israel... etc.

I think Creator is the greater emphasis, however they CANNOT be separated.

It is a tricky question, like: "which of the Trinity is the most important?"

How can you answer it without being right and wrong simultaneously? :) Kind of like the Trinity can;t be separated, neither can Creator and God of Israel. God IS love, not just loving. God IS truth, not just truthful. God IS the Creator and the God of Israel.

that's the best I can do (silly lay-people)

David Drury said...

Excellent question and framing of the debate. These "discusison starters" are so good... I've never really thought of this question so it's helping me gain a "fuller" theology, if not a tighter one.

On this particular question I would lean to the particularist side (no pun intended). However, I wonder if there is a third or even a fourth option that is more "descriptive" of "what actually happens" in one's theology.

#3: We start by believing in the Creator God and then we move to believe in the God of Israel. This is a nuance on the prior, because it's saying: "The Creator of the Universe was the God of Israel All Along." I think this "transition" has been the fundamental "modern apologetics" problem, as you implied in your post. Modern apologetics has started often with proofs of the Creator God's existence and then has struggled with trying to connect those dots with the God of Israel and special revelation of Scripture and Jesus.

#4 Others start believing in the God of Israel in a more traditional sense (it "rubs off on them" because they grow up in the church.) Over time they go through a transition in which they move beyond believing in the God if Israel simply because their Church and/or parents do, and begin to come to a realization that this specific God-talk has to do with he Creator God. So, they believer that "The God of Israel I've heard of is the Supreme Being Creator of the Universe" and you might say that their belief system simply expands--instead of truly changing.

These categories aren't really "within" your binary list... but are indeed another list that thinks of the "process" of belief rather than the mechanics. But that's why the world needs both theologians and pastors. :-)

Amanda said...

I wanna know what YOU think, John. You got to ask the question and pawn it off on us...no fair. ;)

Do you lean to one side or the other?

Amanda

millinerd said...

I'm with Amanda.

Is there some sort of Thomistic resolution to these disputations?

Anonymous said...

Who are we to separate who God is in one particular over another? Just as Jesus was fully God and fully man. God is fully the Creator of the Universe and fully the God of Israel. I guess I'm in line with Dave Ward in my thinking.

Happy belated birthday btw John!!

Later,
Corey Rockey

Brian Russell said...

I would argue for the position that the Creator of the Universe is the God of Israel for the following reasons:

1)As Just Jay suggests, the Bible begins with Creation;

2) I would also prefer this for missiological reasons. Emphasizing the universality of God reminds us of God's ultimate mission -- redemption not merely of Israel, but of all of Creation. Israel is the instrument.

Great discussion!

Keith.Drury said...

People should get graduate credit for reading your blog..and bonus points for reading the fine comments (except this one)

Summers said...

As usual, great theological questions for us to ponder, however, I do not think that one of two are wrong, however, missiologically I believe that “the God of Israel is the Creator”, poses a greater problem when trying to communicate who God is and all that He encompasses. As you stated, this view ‘is’ harder to bridge across cultural boundaries. When facing issues of Social Justice, Religions within Western and Eastern Religions societies, along with cultural norms and practices, missiologically, “the Creator of the Universe is the God of Israel”, provides avenues to insert their Story into the One that Created the Universe, while expressing His Love and Power through His People (Israel). Yet, as always, in practice, this is easier said and done.
Side Note: I agree with your dad…all who read your posts should receive some type of graduate credit :) …have a restful thanksgiving!

-J-

JohnLDrury said...

Great discussion everyone! It seems that there is a thematic thread running through this discussion that the universal and particular relate like an hour glass: we move from universal through particular back to universal again. I think this may be the image that recognizes the emphases of both statements as well as takes into account most of the concerned voiced here. Thanks for a great discussion -- very stimulating.

PS - Mandy asked for my answer, and I would contend that for the sake of Christ's uniqueness I would lean towards emphasizing the God of Israel as the identifer of Jesus, though certainly without every losing the universal aspect. The missiological problematic should be dealt with in terms of the particular God to whom we witness, and in our missionary zeal we should not be tempted to move upstream to adjust the doctrine of God in light of our ministry. Certainly this God has called us to this ministry, so they must go together even if it takes a little work to think it through.