Does Yahweh live in a box?

Kudos to skeptic Harry McCall for his “Yahweh in a box” title. Actually that’s not the whole title of his article, but as a fellow-blogger I admire phrasing like this. It was funny enough to send me to the article itself, and that’s what blog titles are supposed to do. By comparison, most of my titles are fairly bland.

It’s a curious article, though—and tendentious to boot. McCall keeps talking about the “God of modern Christian theology,” which suggests that a dramatic change in the Church’s understanding of divinity has occurred in the modern period (the last couple hundred of years or so?); but what in fact he is in fact talking about is the development within the Church of what is often called “classical theism,” a development that occurs in the second and third centuries. In fact, the movement away from a limited tribal God to the Creator of heaven and earth had already taken place within Israel/Judaism hundreds of years earlier. Everyone knows this, so what’s the polemical point? Are Christians supposed to find this intellectually embarrassing? Really? This is the kind of rhetoric one might expect from H. L. Mencken when he was writing on the Scopes monkey trial. But as much as one might enjoy Mencken’s rhetorical skills, let’s not pretend that he presents an intellectually superior position.

If I were a skeptic, I would never advance this kind of argument. Skepticism’s position is always weakened when it resorts to straw-man arguments and shoddy representation of its Christian and Jewish opponents.

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7 Responses to Does Yahweh live in a box?

  1. Mina says:

    Father bless!

    This reminded me of a quote from St. Gregory the Theologian, and when I was searching for it, I found your very own blog post:

    No need to repeat anything. As revelation increases, so does our concept of God. As I continue to read these “anti-God” or “anti-Christian” posts, I find them more reactionary than based on real substantial arguments.

    In any case, I posted there. I’m expecting them to gang up on me like a pack of wolves, but I hope for surprises 😉


  2. William says:

    Another thing about McCall’s argument is that he doesn’t understand that, for Christians, talk about God began and begins with his revelation of himself in Jesus Christ and in Christ’s saving acts. He doesn’t understand that the Old Testament is a shadow, even though the New Testament says as much.


  3. Ronald MURPHY says:

    God’s Shekina Glory was over the mercy seat of the ark, obviously not all of God (the universe can’t contain Him). The mercy seat over the Ark was sprinkled with a lamb’s blood once a year by the High Priest on “the day of atonement for the sins of the people (the representative of Christ’s coming blood atonement for our sins).


    • Mina says:

      I wouldn’t deny that the Shekinah glory was not “all of God”. Whatever you call it, whether the uncreated energy of God or an appearance of His fullness, “all of God” was still in the Shekinah. At the same time, we confess the universe cannot contain Him. We can even go far as saying infinity cannot contain God. So, it’s a mystery that “all of God” is indeed present at the Shekinah. It’s not a piece of God or a created medium.


  4. I suggest readers click on McCall’s notes at the bottom to go to a more “in depth” exploration of God in a box. The process of packaging God is explained more fully.


  5. Dante Aligheri says:

    Well, I actually did read the link to my detriment, and I don’t know where to begin. Yes, YHWH is depicted as enthroned on ‘a box,’ the ark, and eventually in a temple. However, this really only represents one strand of Yahwist theology – namely, pro-monarchic Zion/Priestly thought. Even in the Hebrew Bible itself, however, there is a competing view which posits YHWH as transcendent – that is, located in heaven almost exclusively, the ‘anti-god’ in the words of Jan Assman who cannot be portrayed by images of creatures as YHWH is a truly ‘super-natural’ Deity above all things in nature, a radicalization of his otherness, his holiness [separation] from creatures. This is exemplified, in traditional thinking, in the Elohist and Deuteronomist (varyingly dated from Judges and Samuel through Josiah or the Exilic periods but probably deriving from Shechemite traditions of the North) strands which were reconciled in the final form of the Torah to the Priestly immanence of YHWH by means of a hypostasis varyingly called “Word,” “Voice,” “Face/Presence,” “Name,” and “Angel” in the Old Testament – the early forerunner of the Logos and Shekinah figures. These OT thinkers had already solved this problem. Indeed, he is called “(ha)-Elohim” – “the God” (just like Al-Iah means “the God” in Arabic) – because YHWH encapsulates the authority of “elohim,” i.e. the plural gods, in his singularity, the priority of one over the many. Sometimes, I think the early Yahwists need to be given more credit as thinkers. If that’s not philosophy…

    If there’s one thing about Yahwists, it’s that they aren’t afraid to be critical of themselves.

    McCall seems to think that if religion develops, evolves, or is continually revealed then it is somehow deficient as though God must reveal himself all at once. If that was true, science would be false because Newton didn’t know quantum mechanics but believed in a “billiard ball” universe. If I remember correctly, Tertullian made the same point as McCall about philosophers – namely, that they argue and take so many different positions and, therefore, they obviously do not possess the truth which is not many but one. Therefore, all philosophy is so much air. Indeed, if theology is anything like science [invoking Thomas Kuhn here], studying as it is the One who said “I am the Way [and] the Truth” himself, then surely the road to Truth has many approximations along the way. Science itself does not pretend to have nailed down a Theory of Everything or exhaust the bucket of all truths or empty reality nor should we pretend to be able to nail down Truth himself in a syllogism. Indeed, the last time didn’t work either when Truth broke the chains of the final fact – namely, death. It ought to be given the freedom to prove and disprove various hypotheses over time as new data emerges and dialogue continues such as between the different voices in Scriptures – and other philosophers. For example, the bodilessness and immateriality and simplicity of God only makes sense if one accepts a distinction between essence and existence, matter and form. Prior to that point, God was merely depicted as the most unearthly, subtle substance possible such as a supernatural fire, light, or wind. Once that distinction was made (thanks to Hellenic philosophy), then the One God must be pure existence put above essence or any existent thing thanks to the Jewish understanding of YHWH’s incomparability – namely, that nothing, not even matter or any essential forms, can rival the priority of the One God if He is indeed the Unique and One God, Ha-Elohim. This added another layer to what it meant to say that YHWH is One and Uniquely God, the Creator – namely, his simplicity from which the other qualities follow. Yet the same doctrines are being expressed – namely, YHWH as One.

    And, as you said, the revelation in Jesus is certainly another datum. Paul had to adjust his whole worldview because of it – namely, a new factor that didn’t match his old theories.


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