Friday, 12 June 2015

Ian McFarland on God’s Throne

Here’s a quotation from Ian McFarland I found illuminating:

That God’s presence to the earthly sphere of creation is not in tension with God’s dwelling elsewhere is reflected in the biblical identification of heaven as God’s throne (Pss. 11:4; 123:1; Matt. 5:34; Rev. 7:15; cf. Isa. 14:13-14). A throne is not simply a chair, but a way of making someone present: a monarch sits on the throne in order to be present to those assembled with a particular intensity, and yet a throne is not a means of drawing physically close to the people. On the contrary, it is typical for a throne to be set apart (e.g., above the level of the floor, at one end of a room), so that the one enthroned is at a distance from everyone else in the assembly—and yet this spatial distance serves precisely to highlight the fact of her presence. So God’s being in heaven is contrasted with human existence on earth (Ps. 115:16; Eccl. 5:2), without prejudice to the claim that heaven is the place from which God is present to earthly events . . .

Ian A. McFarland, From Nothing: A Theology of Creation (Louisville, KY: WJK Press, 2014), p. 161, italics original


  1. What's Ian McFarland doing on God's throne? ;)

    Or maybe I should say 'what on earth's Ian McFarland doing'... oh, never mind.

    It's an interesting point, but does this mean that God *isn't* directly present on earth? Surely in OT thinking God's temple is the locus of his presence among his people, and then post-Pentecost the church becomes the temple, as we're all now filled with the Spirit... ?

    And in my own shockingly panentheistic liberal thinking, God's presence can be mediated by just about anything earthly so I'm definitely miles away from throne-room-only thinking.

    1. So you appreciated the witty title. Good. My next task is global domination.

      And as far as McFarland's thoughts are concerned, he does say in the quote that God's being in heaven doesn't mean God's not present to earthly events. Presumably the Holy Spirit does have something to do with that - though I admit that I've found McFarland sometimes ambiguous on precisely the points where I'd want greater clarity.

      You mention that the Church is now the temple, but Jesus is also identified as the temple - and so if Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father, then we have the potential, if not the actuality, for throne-room thinking to be licensed by the NT as well as the OT. Much depends on what we conceive of the relation between the risen Jesus and the Church as his body.

      And you write: 'God's presence can be mediated by just about anything earthly'. Well, yes, I suppose it's fair to say that God's presence can be so mediated . . . but it's another step to say that God's presence is so mediated all the time, as your comment could be taken to imply.

      Theology is fun! :D

    2. I don't *really* disagree with throne-room thinking, but for me it's always both-and - God as transcendent *and* immanent; kind of absent (or distant) and present simultaneously, in a way.

      So I'm happy to believe that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father and yet also 'with us always, even to the end of the age'.

      Of course, Paul does somewhere seem to suggest that we're currently seated in the heavenlies anyway, or something like that. So maybe Ian McFarland really is on the throne...

      I'm not sure whether I really believe that God's presence is mediated through earthly things all the time... what I think I believe is that it may potentially be mediated at any time, but in practice isn't always... which may be partly to do with our receptivity, and partly to do with an imperfect world mediating imperfectly and partially...