Edging Toward Enchantment: A Sacramental Ontology

As I noted in my last post, we can edge back toward enchantment by emphasizing the immanence of God.

As I pointed out in that post, when you emphasize the transcendence of God in an age of doubt the whole thing tends toward deism. That is, we believe in God existing "above creation" (transcendence) but have increasing doubts, as modern scientific people, in things like miracles. And a God existing above or outside of creation who doesn't do miracles is the God of deism.

In a sense, transcendence increases the burden of faith by upping the ante on miracles. The actions of a transcendent God in our lives, almost by definition, have to be outside intrusions--miracles. To believe, then, in the existence of God or, at the very least, the activity God, you must also believe in miracles, the very thing many modern Christians have trouble with. Basically, when we emphasize the transcendence of God--in sermons, songs and prayers--we place strain upon the weakest parts of a disenchanted faith.

So as I'm arguing it, I think we can shift all this and edge back toward enchantment by emphasizing the immanence of God--God indwelling creation.

In his book Heavenly Participation Hans Boersma describes how we can embrace the immanence God by recovering what he calls a sacramental ontology. According to Boersma, a sacramental ontology argues for the real presence of God in the world. Consequently, a sacramental ontology can also be described as a participatory ontology. The life of creation participates in the life of God.

In a sacramental ontology there is an overlap between God and creation--an intermingling of the earthly and the heavenly, the human and the divine, the mundane and the holy, the secular and the sacred, the natural and supernatural, the material and the spiritual.

With a sacramental ontology the world is "haunted" by God continuously from the inside rather than through episodic and miraculous intrusions from the outside. Creation itself, because it is "charged with the grandeur of God," is miraculous, sacred and holy. Creation is an ongoing and unfolding miracle rather than a disenchanted machine occasionally interrupted--if God answers our prayers--by an external miraculous force.

To rethink a famous metaphor, creation isn't a mechanism, a watch separate from the Watchmaker. Creation isn't a machine. Creation is alive

Tweaking some diagrams from Boersma (page 23), we can visualize the sacramental ontology this way:

Boersma makes the point that the sacramental, participatory link between God and creation goes beyond a relationship based solely upon covenant, as important as that is. Boersma writes,
There is, I believe, a great deal of value in highlighting this covenantal relationship. But the insistence on a sacramental link between God and the world goes well beyond the mere insistence that God has created the world and by creating it has declared it to be good. It also goes beyond positing an agreed-on (covenantal) relationship between two separate beings. A sacramental ontology insists that not only does the created world point to God as its source and "point of reference," but that it also subsists or participates in God.
Biblical texts Boersma points to that are supportive of this sacramental ontology:
Acts 17.27-28a
God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

Colossians 1.17
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

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