Church, Theology

J. I. Packer on De-Mystifying God


By “mystification” I mean the idea [often held in traditional views of God] that some biblical statements about God mislead as they stand, and ought to be explained away….

[S]ometimes [in the Bible] God is said to change his mind and to make new decisions as he reacts to human beings. Orthodox theists have insisted that God does not really change his mind since God is impassible and never a “victim” of his creation. As writes Louis Berkhof, representative of this view, “the change is not in God, but in man and man’s relations to God.”

But to say that is to say that some things that Scripture affirms about God do not mean what they seem to mean, and do mean what they do not seem to mean. This provokes the question: How can these statements be part of the revelation of God when they actually misrepresent and so conceal God? In other words, how may we explain these statements about God’s grief and repentance without seeming to explain them away?

[A]t every point in his self-disclosure God reveals what he essentially is, with no gestures that mystify. And surely we must reject as intolerable any suggestion that God in reality is different at any point from what Scripture makes him appear to be. Scripture was not written to mystify and therefore we need to ask how we can dispel the contrary impression that the time-honored, orthodox line of explanation leaves.

J. I. Packer, “What Do You Mean When You Say God?” Christianity Today, September 19, 1986, 30, emphases in original.


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