Real relationships without divine risk: The biblical portrait of divine-human relationality
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An important struggle to define and describe the nature of divine-human relationships exists in contemporary evangelicalism. This dissertation presents the biblical case for genuine relationships between God and humans given that God takes no risks. These relationships occur within the context of a world which God created preeminently to display his own glory and which he rules meticulously. In this context genuine divine-human relationships are based on God's taking a place within time and acting with rational freedom. These relationships are also based on the fact that God created humans in his own image and granted that they exercise compatibilistic freedom. To be real, relationships depend upon minimally sufficient criteria. Meaningful explanations must exist for what persons decide to do. This demand rules out coercion and requires that persons make choices and act within the structure of their own beliefs and desires. These necessities cannot be fulfilled where divine risk and human libertarian freedom are present. The criteria can be fulfilled without divine risk in a conceptual model which adopts the divine exercise of middle knowledge in the formulation of the divine decree. In this model God takes the relational initiative by powerfully revealing himself to human beings in order to make himself known. Within his own decree and according to his middle knowledge, God truly responds to various human responses to him. He experiences emotions, answers prayer, and relents concerning threats he has made. Human sin results in divine responses of mercy and severity. Salvific mercy effectually brings the called into a reconciled relationship of fellowship with God. Judicial severity is God's just and eternal relational response to the unconverted. These will suffer eternal conscious torment before God. The human experience of genuine divine-human relationality is dynamic and meaningful for both the unconverted as well as the people of God. The unconverted experience God's dealings in their lives and ultimately his judgment. Meanwhile, God's people enjoy a rich relational experience, rooted in the knowledge of God. Their richest relational experiences include worship, petition, guidance, comfort, and self-sacrifice.