Let me see. Today I have a problem. I want to construct a box for God to fit in. “What a ridiculous notion,” you say. “God cannot fit into a box of your creation.”
If I understand the meaning of hermeneutics it is the Biblicist’s job to try to trace outlines of the box that God has made for himself. It is a high calling and many do a wonderful job, yet sometimes the box can be drawn too narrowly. I remember many years ago arguing with my Bible college peers about something called “dual fulfillment”. I think it is a classic illustration of what I wish to discuss in this paper. I have named it the box problem.
Dual fulfillment, as I understand the term, is the belief that God can indeed make a single prophecy that has one fulfillment, often in the time of the prophet, and a second fulfillment, often a messianic one. The prime example of dual fulfillment is Isaiah 7:14 where the prophet says: The virgin shall be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. This was fulfilled in Isaiah 8:3, where it says: Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. It is fulfilled in a more wonderful and far more established way as is made plain by Matthew 1:23, where it says: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel.
Some professors at Biola taught dual fulfillment; others vehemently disagreed. We students were also divided; some of my good friends did not see dual fulfillment at all. I perceived that they had a box problem. In other words, they were so busy building a box for God, folding and tucking him into each corner very neatly, and then very tidily sealing the box that they forgot that God makes his own boxes. I am reminded of Aslan, of whom Lewis tells us again and again, is not a tame lion. Not wanting to establish or disestablish dual fulfillment here, I instead would like to point to the box my good friends had inadvertently built when denying dual fulfillment. I think it is easily seen when I pose the question, Can God be big enough and wise enough to say one thing that will have different meanings at different times?
If you say no, God is not that big then you have a box problem. You have just built a box for God that he himself did not build. No where in scripture is dual fulfillment denied, and if you insist on moving forward with this negative answer, then it seems to me that you will have to establish why God would restrict himself to this box.
God does restrict himself to some outlines of a box. He tells us often what he is like. For instance, scripture tells us that he cannot deny himself, he cannot lie, and he is both truth and light. But, as far as I know, nowhere does he say prophecies cannot have two meanings. And that, in a nutshell, is the box problem. If God has not stated a limit of himself, who are we to restrict him?
I am often guilty of the box problem analogy in my own life. I see something evil happening to someone, and instantly I feel that to be so wrong, and sometimes I take the next step of questioning God. Whenever that happens I am constructing a box, however large, in which I wish to fit God.
What a wonder we are that we can question our Creator! What a folly we commit we do so! He came as the Lamb of God the first time, and we in the world rejected him. He is coming as a Lion of God the second time, and he is rejecting the world. In all probability most of us living today will see his coming. It will probably be more bloody and messy than anything we wish to dwell on, but we should remember that he is not a tame lion. We are not telling him what he ought to be; he is telling us what we ought to be.