Even though he appears to criticise my stance on this issue in a review of Providence Made Flesh (see Evangelical Quarterly 82:3 (2010), pp. 286–288), Ian McFarland has since argued that God’s glorification of the creature entails God ‘returning’ to the creature through an intensification of the divine presence. He explains, ‘I am no nearer to a person sitting next to me before than after we are introduced, but the fact of acquaintance profoundly changes the quality of that nearness. Similarly, there is (because there can be) no augmentation of God’s proximity to creation in glory, but there is an increase in intimacy.’ (Ian A. McFarland, From Nothing: A Theology of Creation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), p. 178). In his review of my book, McFarland seems to believe that I was equating intensification of divine presence with an increase in divine presence, which I was not. Regardless, McFarland’s language of intensification suggests some mileage in the idea. But the task is to transfer the language of intensification from eschatological glorification to current events.
Some help comes from Vernon White’s Purpose and Providence, which, let me say, is the best book on providence I’ve read in quite a few years. White uses the idea of figural interpretation (‘the possibilities of seeing a patterned family resemblance between events, even though there is no visible causal relationship between them’, p. 7) to contend that divine meaning in events can be detected when it is interpreted in light of the Christ event. Naturally, such divine meaning cannot be stated absolutely; but, White argues, some events relate more clearly to the Christ event than others, and this gives us a basis for locating the place and significance of any given event within the purposes of God (see Purpose and Providence, p. 123).
It seems to me that there can be a happy marriage between my (and McFarland’s) talk of the intensification of divine presence and White’s use of figural interpretation if we can say that genuine meaning and purpose are found in those events that approximate not to the Christ event simpliciter, but to the eschatological rule of the crucified but exalted Christ; that is, to how far events are present instantiations of the age of come as brought about by the intensification of divine presence in those events. Is this plausible?