The God who Moves and Responds and Acts

One of the most significant ramifications of working out one’s theology from the starting point of Jesus Christ is that the actual involvement of God in the world curtails pious-sounding abstractions that, if true, would make God so distant and other as to be of no earthly good.

Because, let’s face it friends, on the day that we learn of the death of the great MCA of the Beastie Boys, we need to know that our God is not a pious abstraction, but a God who can and will and does act. (Can I get an amen?)

God’s constancy is not a constancy of one who is unmoved or unmoving. God’s life is “difference, movement, will, decision, action, degeneration, and rejuvenation” (Barth, Church Dogmatics §31.2).

With this litany of divine attributes, signaling what, exactly, God’s constancy looks like, Barth launches into one of the best discussions of divine identity and attributes I’ve ever read.

Barth's God Immutably Loves Mozart

In the world of theological abstraction, God’s “immutability” becomes “immobility.” But in the theology developed from the self-revelation of God in Christ, “immutability” becomes, instead, God’s constancy of action, as God chooses to act, in accordance with God’s desire to be in relationship with the world God created.

God is life.

We have also to understand it as a proof and a manifestation of God’s constant vitality that God has a real history in and with the world created by Him. This is the history of the reconciliation and revelation accomplished by Him, by which He leads the world to a future redemption.

God has tied himself to a history, bound himself to a story.

We know all this because as Christians we don’t start with abstractions about the identity of God and attempt to figure out how such abstractions make sense within our story. We begin with God’s actual revelation in Jesus and Christ and learn from there who this God is who is at work.

Two highlights from later in the chapter include small print sections on prayer and on the Philippians Christ-hymn.

An immutable God might lead one to believe that prayer can have no effect on the divine. “It’s all about changing us, not getting God to act.”

Wrong.

…the prayers of those who can and will believe are heard; …God is and wills to be known as the One who will and does listen to the prayers of faith… So real is the communication that where it occurs God positively wills that man should call upon Him in this way, in order that He may be his God and Helper.

The living and genuinely immutable God is not an irresistible fate before which man can only keep silence, passively awaiting and accepting the benefits or blows which it ordains. There is no such thing as a Christian resignation in which we either have to submit to a fate of this kind or to come to terms with it.

God acts. God acts in love. This is what we learn of the immutability of God as God is revealed in Jesus Christ. The God of love acts on behalf of God’s people. More specifically:

It is because God was in this way one with the creature in Jesus Christ, that there was and is fellowship between God and the creature.

No, the God of all did not need to bind Himself to humanity. But he did. In God’s freedom, God has bound himself to all humanity in Jesus Christ.

So when God is immutable and constant, that changelessness will be for us an our salvation, for the maintenance of the relationship God has created anew.

The surprise in this is that it is in self-giving, self-humbling love that “Christ is Christ and God is God.”

The upshot for us, of course, is that only in such self-giving, self-humbling love and “In it alone can Christians be Christians” (p. 518).

4 thoughts on “The God who Moves and Responds and Acts”

  1. 1: God’s constancy is not a constancy of one who is unmoved or unmoving. God’s life is “difference, movement, will, decision, action, degeneration, and rejuvenation”
    I’ve often wondered how God managed before the creation. Or is that too Platonic a conception of God’s being?

    2: Some years ago, when preparing to conduct a study of ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and for ever,’ I came to the conclusion that that unchangingness must be one of disposition because, as summarised in Phil 2, the glory of Jesus Christ resides in the changes he underwent. That in turn connects to the idea of God’s covenant faithfulness. ‘I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.’

      1. I meant that before the creation there was nothing for God to move or be moved about. If “God’s life is difference, movement, will, decision, action, degeneration, and rejuvenation,” then how could these have been aspects of his being before creation? I know there is a lot of theological speculation about the trinity which is intended to address this question, but that seems to me to be a logical/philosophical solution based on a logical/theological extrapolation from scripture (‘good and necessary consequence’ as the WCF puts it), rather than scriptural teaching.

  2. If God is adapting himself to people’s understanding of things in different times, then maybe the story is not God’s story but our story. It would be we who are changing, not God.

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