noun (plural theophanies)
a visible manifestation to humankind of God.
God enters and is present with us in the conditions; he doesn’t abolish the conditions. The conditions stay the same. From Exodus on, save/salvation is the distinctive and miraculous work of God among us that he works seriously and savingly with us in our troubles and difficulties, our sicknesses and addictions, our devastations and disappointments, through assault and opposition… Creation and salvation are juxtaposed. (Eugene H. Peterson)
When God reveals Himself by means of His own creation the supernatural occupies and inhabits nature itself, and the word we use for this is Theophany. The Exodus journey is full of such creation-centric pictures of God. The burning bush, the ten plagues, the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, the parting of the Red Sea, and the thunderous overshadowing of Mount Sinai are all examples of God revealing Himself in the natural order of creation. These are all instances of Theophany.
If you asked an Old Testament Israelite about what “salvation” was, she or he would immediately tell you about the Exodus. They would point back to Moses, how God called him from the burning bush to lead the people out of Egyptian chains and into Promised Land glory. For the Jews “salvation” was physical, but today it seems as if we have flipped the script. In our minds “salvation” is primarily spiritual. We think of sin as a spiritual problem rather than physical. We don’t offer animal sacrifices anymore. We even look at Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, not as physical graces, but as signs that point to spiritual truths.
I wonder if we have missed the point. I wonder where and when Christians stopped seeing salvation as physical, as a grace connected to creation. The truth of the matter is that salvation has always been, and will always be, physical. Redemption is for all of creation. Theophany assures us that God saves people in the concrete and tangible world. Theophany gives us hope that our bodies, real flesh and blood bodies, will be raised incorruptible from the dead in resurrection. Theophany reminds us to take off our shoes every once in a while and to remember that we walk on holy ground. (Exodus 3:5)