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You Already Think I’m Right

November 9, 2012
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This post is part of a series that Jawbone (specifically Eric) is doing with David of Brick by Brick. There will be posts Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the two weeks this series is running. Posts will alternate between posts by Eric and posts by David.

Let’s continue our discussion of divine accommodation with a simple point: you already believe in accommodation. Or, at least, if you do not believe in accommodation it is far more likely that you do not believe in God than that you believe in God and that the Bible is inspired by Him but not accommodated. For instance, do you believe that God has arms? This isn’t meant to be a trick question. Obviously Jesus had (and has, I believe) arms, but what about the arm of the Lord that is bared in the sight of all the nations (Isaiah 52:10)? Giant arm coming out of the sky, right, sleeves rolled up, makes a world tour? I doubt it. Instead, you’ll invoke accommodation even if you don’t call it that. “The arm symbolizes power,” you’ll say, or perhaps agency, or God’s work, but the arm symbolizes. The arm isn’t an arm is what you’ll say. God talks to us and we have arms so God talks like He has arms. He’s being friendly and relatable, He’s hoping we’ll get it (although I’m sure He knows how slim that hope is) and so He doesn’t want to confuse us with some talk of “My agency will be shown to everyone in that actions will occur which will vindicate my prophets and save my people.” No, He says He’ll bare His arm and we get it – He’s going to show off a bit, it will be impressive, we should pay attention.

Ok, so arms are easy. Maybe too easy. Maybe you’re saying, “Eric, drawing bits about arms out of poetic texts isn’t accommodation in any real sense.” Maybe you’re not – maybe you’re calling me David because alternating articles has you confused. But if you said this, or something like this, let’s look at Genesis 6:6-7, Exodus 32:11-14, 1 Samuel 15:11 and :35, 2 Samuel 24:16, 1 Chronicles 21:15, Psalm 106:45, Jeremiah 18:8, 26:19, and 42:10, Joel 2:13-14, Amos 7:1-6, and Jonah 3:9-10 and 4:2. In all of these verses God says that He will relent, repent, or change His mind or that He regrets or is sorry. In Jeremiah 15:6 God even complains that He is tired of changing his mind because He’s done it so often! In fact, I can find all of these by doing a word search on נחם (nacham), the word that is translated here as regret/relent/repent/etc. Just to make things a bit more problematic, Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29 both insist that God will not change his mind (same word) because He is not a human. Now, נחם has a range of meanings. It can mean “comfort”, for instance, and if you go through my entire list I’m sure you’ll find places where you can argue that the translation shouldn’t suggest so strongly that God plans one thing and then changes His plan. However, there are a lot of verses. In fact, in 1 Samuel 15 we find God both regretting that He made Saul king (changing His mind) and declaring that He does not change His mind!

There’s an out to all of this: accommodation. It’s the route conservative Christians usually take. God is not saying that He actually changes His mind or actually has second thoughts about the wisdom of His plans, God is using language familiar to us to explain what it is like (very imperfectly) when He, for instance, sees Saul do wrong and knows that He put Saul on the throne. In some of these cases you’ll see that God even says, “Do this and I will change my mind,” indicating that He is not really changing His mind as much as making a conditional statement to provoke a response. Nonetheless, some of these verses are very difficult without invoking accommodation. In fact, some of these verses are the proof-texts for Open Theism which should make accommodation look wonderful by comparison.

The point of all of this is that if you are a conservative Christian you already believe in accommodation. You already use this concept to get around the difficult, anthropomorphic language of the Old Testament. You already deal with the inexpressibility of the Trinity, something that requires accommodated language by its nature. Objections to accommodation of any sort are no good. You already believe in it.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2012 11:10 am

    Hello to the Jawbone of an Ass. I’m new to this blog; sorry I didn’t find it sooner.
    Leaving today’s specific topic alone for the moment, I just want to thank you for engaging us out here in “thought about Truth” not just reflexive doctrinal statements regurgitating traditional understanding of Truth. Truth is Truth no matter how it’s approached or ignored or interpreted or discussed or questioned. It stands alone. But it’s always bugged me that some (many?) subconsciously feel that God can’t take care of Himself, that His ego somehow will be crushed unless we give Him positive reinforcement that “we believe Him… we believe Him… we believe Him… promise we do.” It’s so refreshing to see people not be afraid to jump into the mud of our uncertain understanding of absolute Truth with confidence that Truth will stand regardless of where our imperfect discussions and thoughts and ideas may lead us… that doing so isn’t going to tarnish or corrupt or nullify the Truth. I think the yet-to-be-redeemed might find this a very attractive alternative to “religion.” It’s very powerful.

    • Eric permalink
      November 10, 2012 11:26 am

      Thanks! I really do think it’s worth starting with the question, “How does God present His truth?” rather than the statement, “God presents His truth in the forms with which we are most familiar in the modern world.”

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