The Future of God

by Tom Greggs.

This last week was my birthday—another year old but no sense at all of being any wiser! Inevitably, for me at least, birthdays involve some reflection on the past—not only the past year but also further back, thinking about where one has come from and where one has got to, and what one has achieved and what one has failed to achieve.

Thinking about God within the life of the church can be a little like reflecting on the past from the standpoint of an anniversary or birthday. Within the church calendar, we mark specific events of God which we commemorate each year. We remember Christ’s birth at Christmas, the temptation of Christ during Lent, the events surrounding Jesus’ death in Holy Week, the resurrection of Christ at Easter, and the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost, as well as many other events marked within the rhythm of the church year. And in the weekly life of the church, we give praise to God and thank God for all God has done, and we celebrate communion to commemorate the body of Christ broken for us and the blood of Christ shed for us—the inestimable grace of God. We also proudly look backwards and commemorate the great moments of God’s favour within the life of our denomination or within the life of our individual congregations. Looking back in thankfulness to seek and gain encouragement is a significant part of what we do in the life of the church.

Our God is certainly forever the God of our past. In the story of Moses and the burning bush, in which God reveals God’s holy name to Moses as Moses is called to lead the people out from slavery, God reminds Moses of God’s identity in relation to the past, in relation to God’s faithfulness to Moses’ ancestors. God says in Exodus 3:6: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And we, I am sure, would want to add: and of Sarah, Rebekkah and Rachel! There is assurance in being reminded of the faithfulness of God to all generations.

But God is also for all eternity the God of our future. At this moment in the story of the Hebrews and their liberation, God reveals God’s own name to Moses, a name which is so holy it is not even spoken by Jewish people today:

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14)

This name is usually translated in English (as in the above) following the Vulgate’s (the Latin translation) rendering ego sum qui sum (I am who I am). However, that translation does not capture the vitality, dynamism and depth of the Hebrew phrase. That phrase does mean “I am who I am”, but the Hebrew name equally could be rendered: “I will be who I will be” or “I will cause to be what I will cause to be.”[1] Indeed, given that God is poised at this point of the story to do a new thing with the Hebrew people, this future and causative rendering might be more fitting than the rather philosophical sounding and detached “I am who I am” (though that sense is also certainly included). But what is more, this future orientated understanding of the name is one which does not cease when God has accomplished God’s new work. The name God names Godself with is the name God has for all eternity. God says: “This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations” (Exodus 3:15b); the Hebrew here emphasizes the ongoing nature of this title which God has forever and ever.[2] God will for all eternity be who God will be. God is always the God of the future.

When we think of our faith, when we think of the wonderful acts of God throughout history, let us not imagine that God is somehow a museum piece who needs dusting off and dragging into the present—that this is some part of our past but not our present or our future. God is always the God of our future, the One with whom we need to catch up, and even when we do catch up with God, like the pillar of cloud and of fire of God later in Exodus, God allows us to rest with God for just a while but then is once more quickly leading us on to the future God has in store. In our church lives, let us not only commemorate the wonderful acts of God in the past, but anticipate in these commemorations not only the never ending future of God but the God who in every present is always our future.

 

[1] See H. C. Brichto, The Names of God (Oxford: OUP, 1998) p.24; B. W. Anderson, The Living World of the Old Testament 4th Edition (London: Longman, 1993) pp.62f.

[2] The Greek Patristic idea (particularly associated with the Cappadocians) of epektasis captures this never-ending aspect of God’s futurity: even in eternal life we shall journey for all eternity ever deeper into the boundless future infinity of God.

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5 thoughts on “The Future of God”

  1. I enjoyed this topic and these ideas. How easy it is to try to recognise God in only those ways which appeal to us. We make rules about what he wants from us and what he likes forgetting that he is incarnate not just in Christians but in all his creation. I am so glad that this is true for me. I had the privilege of worshiping with prisoners for a while and in a multifaith situation led a meditation group. I learned so very much from other traditions about meditation and its value and watched with great joy as Hindu’s and Pagans worshiped along side Christians. I also see God in those outside of any faith – in their service – their love and their integrity. I think many folk have begun to understand the nature of God in many news ways. The old views pass and give way to new. If I have problems worshiping in Methodist Churches (and I sometimes do), it is still with joy I remember my Methodist heritage and all the great folk who taught me. If my ideas are different now it in no way undermines the views I held previously. The other story which comes to mind here is Jacob wresting with God. Who are you he repeats – I will not let you go until I know – the answer is of course love.

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  2. Thank you Tom. Your thoughts resonated with me and, in particular, the line from Joy Dine’s hymn about God ‘pulling up our tent pegs’ and moving us on!

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  3. Absolutely, Graham! I have a sense of God being the movement, the journey, the flow or the dance.
    The questions move with us; they (and we) don’t need answers.
    All we need to do is participate.

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