Shayne Looper: The story of God (Biblical version)
National Geographic is currently showing a five-part television miniseries titled, “The Story of God.” That a geographical society (rather than a theological one) is telling the story leads me to expect that it will not be about God as much as it is about how people from various geographical regions think about God. That is of course a fascinating story in itself. Morgan Freeman is the series host, presumably because he has prior experience: he portrayed God in Bruce Almighty and its sequel Evan Almighty. Of course, George Burns would have been an even better choice, since he also played God and, one assumes, has had some firsthand experience since then, but he isn’t taking new roles.
Now I have nothing against Morgan Freeman. He’s a great actor and seems to be a nice enough guy. I would love to have him as my neighbor (preferably in Malibu), but I’m just not sure about having him as my guide to God. Besides that, the story of God has already been told in a robust and coherent fashion in the Bible. Of course other sources have told it in other fashions, but I am most familiar with the Bible. The biblical story of God — or autobiography, as Christians in some sense believe it to be — reveals the Deity to be like humans in some ways (they were, after all, created in his image) and yet to be very different in other ways. Humans, for starters, are embodied; God is not. Humans interface with reality through the medium of matter — indeed, they are composed of matter. But God is spirit.
Humans can only be in one place at a time. But the Bible teaches that God is everywhere all at once. He transcends time and space. It is not that part of God is in one place while part of him is in another; God has no parts, as the theologians tell us. He is present in his entirety on the far-off moon of some distant solar system and he is present in his entirety on the spiral staircase of my DNA where, perhaps, he dances like Gene Kelly, just for the joy of it.
Humans are subject to time. God is not. In fact, as St. Augustine told us, time is subject to him. He created it. God never gets any older. He never has to wait for anything. All time is constantly present to him. We have a past and a future, but past and future are immediately present to God. We have a beginning and an end. He is the beginning and the end: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
We learn things. God already knows them. He knows everything, is omniscient, as the theologians say. He has never been taken by surprise. Never disappointed. He knows who the next president of the United States will be and how many hairs are on his or her head. He even knows how many will be left and what color they will be when that person’s term in office ends.
God is omnipotent; that is, he can do anything he chooses to do. This and the other qualities of God revealed in the Bible are so far outside human experience that we cannot even relate. We have no clear image of what omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence are. God remains “numinous,” to borrow Rudolph Otto’s description; “the Wholly Other.” With such a gulf between us and God, creature and creator, how can humans ever know anything true of him?
Enter Jesus. Because humanity lacks the resources to know God, God took the initiative to make himself known. While the Bible affirms that, “No one has ever seen God,” it goes on to say “but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” Jesus is presented as the entirely unique being who both reveals God to humans and makes it possible for God and humans to connect. This is not the oft-told story of humanity’s efforts to discover God, but the astonishing story of God’s action to recover humanity.
Morgan Freeman will undoubtedly tell a fascinating story of humanity’s search for God, but more compelling still is the Bible’s story of God’s search and rescue mission for us.
— Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County, Michigan. Read more at shaynelooper.com.