Upgrading to God 4.0

By: Wolfgang Vondey
Monday, July 5th, 2010

What have you upgraded in your life this year? If you have an iPhone, you are probably running OS 4 by now, or perhaps you pre-ordered your new iPhone. If you have a PC, you probably upgraded you Windows software, perhaps also your office productivity programs. If you play games, you probably upgraded to the latest version. Got the newest game console, a new TV, a faster computer, a better mp3 player, a new cable box, ebook reader, camera ….  Upgrading is what we do. As a TV commercial has it, your equipment is obsolete the moment you drive off the parking lot. We have made upgrading a part of our technological culture. And I can’t help but think that some are waiting on an even bigger event. The inevitable. The inconceivable: Upgrading God. What would such an upgrade look like? Why would it seem necessary? Is there any evidence of past upgrades that would support the idea? What would you expect from a new upgrade?

There are different perspectives on the upgraded God. Some view the entire history of God as an upgrade process that began with the Hebrew version of God 1.0. The failure of that operating system led to an upgraded version of God 2.0 or ”Jesus Christ.” In turn, the most recent upgrade is code named “Spirit” and has not been changed since the day of Pentecost.

The problems with this view of history are well known. At the very least, this perspective does not possess the necessaary trinitarian foundation for understanding the nature of God. It also presumes a lack of God’s foreknowledge or, worse, a lack in the perfection of God’s nature.

On the other hand, God has allowed himself to suffer a number of substantial changes. The most substantial change in the nature of God is doubtlessly the incarnation of the Son who became human. With the incarnation, human nature is forever participating in the nature of God in a manner that did not exist before the incarnation (the so-called “hypostatic union”). The outpouring of God’s Spirit on the day of Pentecost also introduces a substantial change in the participation of God in creation.

The difference between upgrading your technology and upgrading God is that the changes in history do not cause changes in the eternal nature of God as a subsequent event. God does not change in his eternal nature as a result of the historicity of the incarnation. Rather, the changes in history, like the incaranation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Christ, have always been eternally present. In this sense, Jesus can say that he was before Abraham was. In this sense, Christ is the lamb slain before the foundation of the world. In this sense, God is the same. What is different is the manner in which that same God is experienced in history. To put it in another way, it is not God who is upgraded to fit the need of an everchaning history. The upgrade is ours! Humanity, not God, is upgraded.

The incarnation introduced a substantial upgrade to the manner in which human nature participates in God. As Karl Rahner puts it in his famous essay “On the Incarnation” (Theological Investigations, vol. 1), while Jesus is the only historical realization of the incarnation, the same is in principle possible for all humanity. More than a hundred years ago, Matthias Joseph Scheeben spoke of a quasi-hypostatic union of Mary and the Holy Spirit as a necessity for her to conceive the incarnate Son of God.

Pentecost introduced another substantial upgrade to the manner in which humanity participates in God through Christ. The point here is not that God needed an upgrade to a spiritual outpouring. God has always been spirit. The change introduced with Pentecost is the possibility for all flesh to participate in God who is spirit. This is not simply a result of Pentecost. Much like your computer, or your cell phone, just because there is an upgrade does not mean that your system is upgraded. You have to accept the upgrade, prepare your system, initiate the process. In the case of God, the upgrade has always been available. It is like a little icon in your system tray, waiting for your to finally click on it.

What happens when you click on upgrade?

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Wolfgang Vondey
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