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Twilight Musings “Victor, not Victim”

By Elton Higgs

A linguistic quirk in the history of the English language has resulted in the term “Good Friday” being applied to the day on which Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified. Other languages, though, have more intuitively appropriate designations for this liturgical day, such as “Sad” or “Dark” or “Mournful” Friday. This variation of nomenclatures can serve as a catalyst for some comments on the fact that the events of Crucifixion Friday in scripture can be seen as both sad and good. Today, of course, we have the advantage of knowing what came on the Sunday after Dark Friday, when Jesus burst out of the tomb. On Friday, He appeared to be the victim, but on Sunday, He was clearly the Victor. On Friday, the darkness eclipsed the light; on Sunday, the Light overcame the darkness.

In our life experiences, the shadow of Friday is sometimes all we see and feel, but we still walk in the Light of that Resurrection Sunday, with an additional firm hope of eternal glory to come. We mourn the events of Dark Friday when Jesus was the victim of evil men, but we are buoyed by the realization that Jesus’ death was the necessary door that He had to go through to become the Victor over sin and death. He did not so much overcome His victimization as transform it by showing that victory was embedded in the very act of willing sacrifice. So His death can be seen as a sort of mine planted in the cross that the Devil stepped on unawares, bringing about his own doom and the explosive Life of the Resurrection.

This point of view is very effectively conveyed in the Old English poem, “The Dream of the Cross” (or “Dream of the Rood,” to use the Old English word for cross). In this poem, Jesus is represented as a hero coming to do battle with and overcome his foes. In the narrator’s dream, the cross of Christ speaks:

Then I saw the King of all mankind
In brave mood hasting to mount upon me.
. . . .
Then the young Warrior, God the All-Wielder,
Put off His raiment, Steadfast and strong;
With lordly mood in the sight of many
He mounted the Cross to redeem mankind.
When the Hero clasped me I trembled in terror,
But I dared not bow me nor bend to earth;
I must needs stand fast. Upraised as the Rood
I held the High King, the Lord of heaven.
(trans. Charles W. Kennedy, 1960)

This is a lovely picture of Christus Victor as He “mounts” the cross, fully capable at any time of exercising His heavenly power to defeat His enemies. But scripture makes it clear that He had a more profound purpose than the exercise of worldly power. His design was to implement the “deeper magic” of God’s world (to use C. S. Lewis’s terminology in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), and through the redemptive power of the Lamb of God to bring about an eternal victory, not just a temporal one. Jesus did indeed come as a conquering hero, but in the heavenly way of things, He had to endure defeat as an avenue to victory. Let us be willing to follow Him through that door of suffering and sadness to reap the victory in Jesus that lies on the other side.

 

Image: “Crucifixion” by Rooztography. CC License. 

To Know the Cross

by Thomas Merton

I pray that we may be found worthy to be cursed, censured, and ground down, and even put to death in the name of Jesus Christ, so long as Christ himself is not put to death in us. – Paulinus of Nola

The Christian must not only accept suffering: he must make it holy. Nothing so easily becomes unholy as suffering.

Merely accepted, suffering does nothing for our souls except, perhaps, to harden them. Endurance alone is no consecration. True asceticism is not a mere cult of fortitude. We can deny ourselves rigorously for the wrong reason and end up pleasing ourselves mightily with our self-denial.

Suffering is consecrated to God by faith—not by faith in suffering, but by faith in God. Some of us believe in the power and the value of suffering. But such a belief is an illusion. Suffering has no power and no value of its own.

It is valuable only as a test of faith. What if our faith fails the test? Is it good to suffer, then? What if we enter into suffering with a strong faith in suffering, and then discover that suffering destroys us?

To believe in suffering is pride: but to suffer, believing in God, is humility. For pride may tell us that we are strong enough to suffer, that suffering is good for us because we are good. Humility tells us that suffering is an evil which we must always expect to find in our lives because of the evil that is in ourselves. But faith also knows that the mercy of God is given to those who seek him in suffering, and that by his grace we can overcome evil with good. Suffering, then, becomes good by accident, by the good that it enables us to receive more abundantly from the mercy of God. It does not make us good by itself, but it enables us to make ourselves better than we are. Thus, what we consecrate to God in suffering is not our suffering but our selves.

Only the sufferings of Christ are valuable in the sight of God, who hates evil, and to him they are valuable chiefly as a sign. The death of Jesus on the cross has an infinite meaning and value not because it is a death, but because it is the death of the Son of God. The cross of Christ says nothing of the power of suffering or of death. It speaks only of the power of him who overcame both suffering and death by rising from the grave.

The wound that evil stamped upon the flesh of Christ are to be worshiped as holy no because they are wounds, but because they are his wounds. Nor would we worship them if he had merely died of them, without rising again. For Jesus is not merely someone who once loved us enough to die for us. His love for us is the infinite love of God, which is stronger than all evil and cannot be touched by death.

Suffering, therefore, can only be consecrated to God by one who believes that Jesus is not dead. And it is of the very essence of Christianity to face suffering and death not because they are good, not because they have meaning, but because the resurrection of Jesus has robbed them of their meaning.

To know the cross is not merely to know our own sufferings. For the cross is the sign of salvation, and no one is saved by his own sufferings. To know the cross is to know that we are saved by the sufferings of Christ; more, it is to know the love of Christ who underwent suffering and death in order to save us. It is, then, to know Christ. For to know his love is not merely to know the story of his love, but to experience in our spirit that we are loved by him, and that in his love the Father manifests his own love for us, through his Spirit poured forth into our hearts. . .

The effect of suffering upon us depends on what we love. If we love only ourselves, suffering is merely hateful. It has to be avoided at all costs. It brings out all the evil that is in us, so that the one who loves only himself will commit any sin and inflict any evil on others merely in order to avoid suffering himself.

Worse, if a person loves himself and learns that suffering is unavoidable, he may even come to take a perverse pleasure in suffering itself, showing that he loves and hates himself at the same time.

In any case, if we love ourselves, suffering inexorably brings out selfishness, and then, after making known what we are, drives us to make ourselves even worse than we are.

If we love others and suffer for them, even without a supernatural love for other people in God, suffering can give us a certain nobility and goodness. It brings out something fine in our natures, and gives glory to God who made us greater than suffering. But in the end a natural unselfishness cannot prevent suffering from destroying us along with all we love.

If we love God and love others in him, we will be glad to let suffering destroy anything in us that God is pleased to let it destroy, because we know that all it destroys is unimportant. We will prefer to let the accidental trash of life be consumed by suffering in order that his glory may come out clean in everything we do.

If we love God, suffering does not matter. Christ in us, his love, his Passion in us: that is what we care about. Pain does not cease to be pain, but we can be glad of it because it enables Christ to suffer in us and give glory to his Father by being greater, in our hearts, than suffering would ever be.

Editor’s Note: This essay comes from the devotional, Bread and Wind: Readings for Lent and Easter, published by Plough Publishing House in Walden, New York, in 2003. It’s found on pages 43-4

 

Image: By Drawn by Gustave Doré, engraved by J. Gauchard Brunier. Scanned by Michael Gäbler with Epson Perfection 4490 Photo. – Wood engraving drawn by Gustave Doré, engraved by J. Gauchard Brunier. Printed in: Heilige Schrift 1867 by Stuttgarter Druck- und Verlagshaus Eduard Hallberger. Reproduction by this reprint: Die Heilige Schrift des Neuen Testaments illustriert von Gustave Doré, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2005., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18598259

Twilight Musings – “Incarnation: The Intersection of Two Universes”

By Elton Higgs 

The word “incarnation” gets a lot of use this time of year, and like most frequently-used terms, its full meaning tends to get lost in its commonness. Literally, it means “being manifest in bodily form,” and it can refer to any disembodied entity assuming physical shape. However, when Christians say “The Incarnation,” they are of course talking about the Son of God being born and living out an earthly life as a human being. That bare fact would be astounding even if God had taken human form in the perfect world of the Garden of Eden; but His being incarnated in a world corrupted by sin betokens a cosmic intersection between changeless Divinity and the ever-changing sin-diseased heavens and earth. When the apostle John wrote the prologue to his Gospel account (John 1:1-18), he called the part of God that took human form “the Word,” which “was God” and was “with God” (v. 1) before He “became flesh and lived among us” (v. 14). Deathless Eternity was enveloped by mortal flesh, locking them in a battle from which either Eternal Life or endless Death would emerge victorious. Praise be to God, we know the outcome of that battle won by the Savior Jesus, whose incarnated flesh suffered death, but was raised in glory, the firstfruits of the victory over Death.

Both of the poems below reflect the process of the Word being encased in flesh, but then also emerging from flesh to become the Eternal Word again, having triumphed over Sin and Death. In the first poem, I have assumed a symbolic correspondence between the “swaddling clothes” in which Mary wrapped Jesus at His birth and the customary shroud in which His crucified body was buried. Although there was great rejoicing at Jesus’ birth because of the promises associated with His Advent, the lowly circumstances surrounding that birth indicated that His earthly existence would not fulfill the conventional expectations of powerful king and conquering hero. Just as His birth hid the death embedded in it, so His death was the womb of the Life embedded within it.

The second poem traces the same cycle of progress from the absolute and timeless Presence of God, to the extension of His Essence into the original creation of Earth, and finally to that Essence taking on human form, but without the corruption of sin. Through that Birth, Earth will be delivered from its corruption once again to embody the Essence of God’s original purpose for it, thereby empowering it to be the dwelling place for God’s eternal Presence.

“And the Word Became Flesh”

(John 1:1)

When Word invested in flesh,

No matter the shrouds that swathed it;

The donning of sin’s poor corpse

(Indignity enough)

Was rightly wrapped in robes of death.

Yet breath of God

Broke through the shroud,

Dispersed the cloud

That darkened every birth before.

Those swaddling bands bespoke

A glory in the grave,

When flesh emerged as Word.

Take up this flesh, O Lord:

Re-form it with Your breath,

That, clothed in wordless death,

It may be Your Word restored.

1985

Immanuel

In God’s Presence

Is the essence

Of perfect earth;

In one birth

Knows all earth

The essence

Of God’s Presence.

Elton D. Higgs

Nov. 12, 1977

May the wonder of the Word becoming flesh be made real to each of those who rest in its redeeming power; and may each of those inhabited by the Spirit of Christ know with assurance that “this flesh . . . clothed in wordless death” is being transmuted to the “Word restored.”

 

Image:”Gerard van Honthorst – Adoration of the Shepherds (1622)” by Gerard van Honthorst – Google Art Project. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gerard_van_Honthorst_-_Adoration_of_the_Shepherds_(1622).jpg#/media/File:Gerard_van_Honthorst_-_Adoration_of_the_Shepherds_(1622).jpg

All Saints Day, Scenes from Heaven, and the Resurrection of the Dead

By Ronnie Campbell 

In the book of Revelation we find powerful images of the saints who have gone on before us. We catch a glimpse of twenty-four elders who, along with myriads of angels and other heavenly beings, fall down before the Lamb, worshiping Him in heaven because He alone is worthy to open the scroll (Revelation 5:8-14). In another place we see a portrait of the souls of our brothers and sisters who were slain because of their witness of Christ, longing for God to judge the inhabitants of the earth and to avenge their blood. They are given white robes and told to wait just a bit longer until their fellow siblings and servants join them (Revelation 6:9-11). Again, we catch another scene of a great multitude of people who have come out of the great tribulation—people from every tribe and nation—all standing before the throne of the Lamb in worship (Revelation 7:9-17).

Christians have long held differing views on the timing of when these heavenly events take place, whether in the past or in the present or in the future. Regardless of the timing, we can, nevertheless, capture deep theological truths about the afterlife and our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone on before us. Namely, these heavenly scenes bring us hope, not only eschatologically, but in the here and now.

Death is the great neutralizer. It is the enemy that none of us escapes. It snatches up our loved ones, bringing heart-wrenching pain and suffering into our lives. Yet these heavenly scenes remind us that we are not to grieve like those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Biological death is not the end; it’s just the beginning.  Our hope is ultimately in the Lamb of God who was slain for the sins of the world. For the same Lamb who was slain is also the one who rose triumphantly from the grave. He has gone before us, and we too shall receive a resurrected body in His likeness. As the Apostle Paul describes it in his first letter to the people of Corinth, “the body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-43, NIV). Though our bodies may die, we can be assured that that’s not the end. Our brothers and sisters are waiting in anticipation of having a resurrected body, just as we are. The Lamb has defeated death, and His victory has swallowed it up and taken away its sting (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). We who are alive (bodily), along with our brothers and sisters in heaven, await the day when the Lamb of God brings about His sovereign judgment and puts the world to rights.

The Lamb has defeated death, and His victory has swallowed it up and taken away its sting.

These portraits of the afterlife also remind us that heaven is not a place of inactivity. Because of our limitations, it’s difficult for us to keep in our purview that heaven, and the activities of the saints therein, is just as much a part of reality as our own existence. Though we can’t know the exact goings on of heaven, these scenes provide for us a hopeful glimpse.

Each year Christians from all over the Western world take November 1, or the first Sunday in November, as a time to commemorate the saints who have died. Protestants recognize saints to include all who have been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. This is what it means to be a part of the church universal, which includes all saints, at all times, who have been united by a common salvation in Christ.

All Saints Day is a time to celebrate the great cloud of witnesses who have gone on before us. It’s a time to reflect on and to thank God for their lives. It is also a time to await in eager anticipation when God will one day reunite His family. All who are in Christ will be raised and we will see the coming together of heaven and earth. We can rejoice that there will one day be no more death or mourning or weeping or suffering. God will dwell among us. We will be His people, and He will be our God. All things will be made new (Revelation 21:1-5). Maranatha!

 

 

Image:”John Martin – The Last Judgement – Google Art Project” by John Martin – dQEGwOc0m1PjWQ at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum – Tate Images (http://www.tate-images.com/results.asp?image=T01927&wwwflag=3&imagepos=6). Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Martin_-_The_Last_Judgement_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg#/media/File:John_Martin_-_The_Last_Judgement_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Cyprian, Mortality, and Future Hope

By Chad Thornhill

Cyprian of Carthage was a third century bishop in North Africa. He is most famous for his pastoral interactions during the Novatianist schism. His writings evidence his pastoral concerns not entering into theological reflection for the sake of doctrinal elegance, but rather focused upon the needs of those connected with his ministry. He influenced later thinkers, including Augustine, and was himself influenced by Tertullian’s writings. His most famous work is On the Unity of the Church, in which he wrote what is perhaps his most well-known statement: “He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother.” In his On the Mortality, Cyprian also addressed how the Christian ought to respond to suffering and the imminence of death in this life.

On the Mortality no doubt reflects Cyprian’s concern, as do many of his works, for the threat of recantation which faced many of his flock. Cyprian ministered in an age where persecution was an ever-present threat for the Christian community. Much of Cyprian’s theological reputation comes from his opposition to Novatian, who had set himself up as an anti-pope and was opposed to reinstating the “lapsed” (i.e., those who had denied their faith when faced with persecution) to good standing in the Church. Cyprian, though he advocated for re-instating the penitent, nevertheless did not encourage laxity among believers. In On the Mortality, Cyprian encouraged Christ-followers to remain faithfully obedient to God, even when faced with death. Part of Cyprian’s plea is for the believer to keep the reality of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God ever present before them. He wrote:

The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world; already heavenly things are taking the place of earthly, and great things of small, and eternal things of things that fade away. What room is there here for anxiety and solicitude? Who, in the midst of these things, is trembling and sad, except he who is without hope and faith? For it is for him to fear death who is not willing to go to Christ. It is for him to be unwilling to go to Christ who does not believe that he is about to reign with Christ (Cyprian of Carthage, On the Mortality, II, translation by Robert Ernest Wallis).

Cyprian, assured by the words of Jesus that the kingdom of God is both here and near, maintained that confidence in the face of death is available to the Christian. This, though, does not mean—because of the “not yetness” of the kingdom—that Christians can expect a life free of suffering in the “now.” As Cyprian continues:

Thus, when the earth is barren with an unproductive harvest, famine makes no distinction; thus, when with the invasion of an enemy any city is taken, captivity at once desolates all; and when the serene clouds withhold the rain, the drought is alike to all; and when the jagged rocks rend the ship, the shipwreck is common without exception to all that sail in her; and the disease of the eyes, and the attack of fevers, and the feebleness of all the limbs is common to us with others, so long as this common flesh of ours is borne by us in the world (Cyprian of Carthage, On the Mortality, VIII).

According to Cyprian, not only should believers expect to experience the same pain and suffering as the unbeliever, they should in reality expect more, since the spiritual powers will battle all the more fiercely against them (Cyprian of Carthage, On the Mortality, IX). They are ultimately, however, assured that they will overcome death even if they must traverse through it in order to do so. Cyprian wrote:

What a grandeur of spirit it is to struggle with all the powers of an unshaken mind against so many onsets of devastation and death! (Cyprian of Carthage, On the Mortality, XIV).

In On the Mortality, Cyprian referenced Philippians 3:21 in his word of assurances. Because of the power of the risen Jesus, who has been given authority over all things, those in Christ will be transformed into the state of his glorious body. As Paul writes elsewhere (1 Thessalonians 1:12), Christ’s glory will be shared with those united with him. Ultimately the assurance of believers’ resurrection can be held firmly because Jesus himself is the firstfruit of that resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20). The greatest threat which the cosmic powers can wield against God’s people (O, Death) must ultimately be viewed as no threat at all. Death’s sting departs. Death’s failure arrives. And in the face of the suffering inevitable in this world, that truly is Good News.

 

Image: “Resurrection 60″ by Waiting for the Word. CC License. 

Transfiguration

By Emily Heady 

Celebrated on August 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration commemorates the vivid, but baffling, passage in which Jesus ascends Mt. Tabor to pray, taking along his closest friends and disciples—Peter, James, and John. Jesus’ Transfiguration, a shift in His shape or form, occurs there, as His clothing becomes dazzling white and His face changes in some indescribable way. Friends appear with Him, the law-giver Moses and the prophet Elijah, and the three converse about Jesus’ coming passion, the “exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Lk 9.31). The disciples, who apparently had fallen asleep prior to this moment, find themselves fully awake, and Peter, as is his wont, externalizes his confusion by running his mouth, suggesting that they make a camp, so that the six of them could hang out there for, presumably, all eternity. Luke helpfully fills in that Peter “did not know what he was saying”—and we know this, too, because the voice of God the Father cuts Peter off, identifying Jesus as his son and urging them not to talk, but to listen.

Like many kids who got in trouble in school for talking, I identify with Peter. He is always running his mouth, saying the thing that someone might just say if he lacked a filter. But to be fair, the Transfiguration is anything but easy to parse. It is murky, dream-like, otherworldly—all those things that don’t make for great storytelling or witty one-liners. So Peter’s bumbling reaction makes sense for a certain sort of person who processes things verbally. But so also does the advice Peter receives, and the take-away is clear: in a situation where we can’t possibly know what we are talking about, where our coming to consciousness is as a waking from a long, hard sleep, it’s best to listen and watch and learn.

By the time Peter was writing his epistles, he had apparently taken this lesson to heart, and he was urging his readers to do the same: “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pt 1:19). Peter is neither a wordsmith nor a mystic; it is likely, then, that his somewhat confusing advice to “be attentive . . . as to a lamp shining in a dark place” derives in part from the way that the original passage in Luke, or the experience it describes, mixes imagery of sight with imagery of sound. Slumbering disciples are shaken awake by a blaze of glory and a conversation overheard—two occurrences that amount to the same thing, a prophetic utterance. Similarly, we are called from our own sleepy lives to watch and hear a new world coming into being.

But really, this confusion of sight with sound, image with word, as a harbinger of what the future will look like presents no surprise, for we’ve been there before. The scene of the Transfiguration—the most spectacularly visual of biblical images—is an echo-chamber. Jesus in the Luke narrative looks and sounds like the Ancient One from Daniel, with clothing “bright as snow” (Dan 7.9) and a face that evades description. The words God the Father speaks over Jesus are a direct echo of the words He spoke at Jesus’ baptism, when the Spirit descended like a dove. The Transfigurative moment itself is a fulfillment of the prophecy Jesus had uttered immediately before, when He said that some of those with him “would not taste death” until they had seen His kingdom (Lk 9.27), and it flashes forward, a sort of ante-echo, to Jesus’ new and glorious post-resurrection body. The “altogether reliable” message that Peter understands is such because it both shows and tells in unison, as does Jesus Himself, the Word made flesh and the Image of the invisible God.

Given this, the Transfiguration pushes us to re-evaluate one of our most fundamental Christological doctrines: the Incarnation. The Incarnation, the having-been-made-fleshness of Jesus, occurs within the boundaries of this world. It is the way God chose to enter the reality in which we live and move and have our being. It is the way He taught us to follow Him—apprenticeship-style, doing as He did, in our suits of skin and bone. But the incarnation does not stop at the limits of this world; it continues, forever, with embodiment being perfected and made right, rather than set aside altogether, as we move beyond this earth. The Incarnation pulls back the veil on heaven by bringing it, by bringing Him, down to earth. And the Transfiguration pulls back the veil on heaven by inviting us to go there, or perhaps, to wake to a realization of just how close it is already. God with us looks different on the mountain.
The Incarnation pulls back the veil on heaven by bringing it, by bringing Him, down to earth. And the Transfiguration pulls back the veil on heaven by inviting us to go there, or perhaps, to wake to a realization of just how close it is already. God with us looks different on the mountain.

Poor blabber-mouthing Peter, as mistaken as his words may be, seems to get this. He suggests putting up some tents, tabernacles, so that the kingdom into which he has just been invited may continue indefinitely. Any number of sermons could be preached about why Peter’s suggestion makes no sense; one doesn’t just go camping with Moses and Elijah, for instance, and one doesn’t get to nap through all of eternity, even in a tabernacle.

The tabernacles Peter imagines resonate with the Jewish fall feast of Sukkot, in which meals are taken in a small tent or hut in commemoration of the dwellings the Israelites used in the desert during their forty years. In later years, the festival came to be associated with harvest time, and with the dedication of King Solomon’s temple, the very space that made communication with God possible and the very space whose veil would be torn not long after this conversation. For Peter the celebration he was suggesting simply falls in line with older patterns that celebrate the plenitude and presence of God on the journey toward the Promised Land.

Yet Peter misses that Jesus’ transfiguration does not so much change the reality he lives in; it reveals it more fully. God himself has already chosen to “tabernacle” with his people, to dwell among them in flesh made word. So the rejoinder God the Father gives to Peter’s well-meaning suggestion might be taken not as a divine smack-down but as a corrective: “You’re already dwelling in the kingdom when you hear my Son.” Watch, and listen; wake, don’t sleep.

The Collect for the Feast of the Transfiguration (from the Mass of St. Pius V) shows this movement between voice and image, dialog and scene, as a harbinger of the future into which we’ll wake and through which we are now, it seems, sleeping:

O God . . . Who didst wonderfully foreshow the perfect adoption of Thy children by a voice coming down in a shining cloud, mercifully grant that we be made co-heirs of the King of glory Himself, and grant us to be sharers in that very glory.

Prophetic utterance rests alongside foreshowing, and the suggestion is that both seeing and hearing are necessary, both for the trials that lie immediately ahead and for waking up to the significances of our present. The Catechism reminds us of the glory bound up in suffering, and the fullness of what flesh, an incarnation, can hold: “the ascent onto the ‘high mountain’ prepares for the ascent to Calvary. Christ, Head of the Church, manifests what his Body contains and radiates in the sacraments: ‘the hope of glory’” [CCC 568]. Christ’s body, broken on the cross but bookended by awe-inspiring revelations of its gloriousness, doesn’t just envelope the divine in human flesh, but shows the hope we have of camping—tabernacling in incorruption—in a new way in the future as well.

In Ephesians, we are promised that “in the dispensation of the fullness of times” God will “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him” (Eph 1:10). This, ultimately, is the promise of the Transfiguration. If we are asked to see and hear together in ways that do not resonate with our fleshly lives, or that seem to strain at the limits of what we believe flesh can hold, that is because we do not yet tabernacle in the fullest of realms. The “unsearchable riches of Christ,” the mystery that has from the beginning of the world been hidden, is breaking out. But not to us only. With Paul we want to “make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery,” but we also know that the same mystery is being declared “now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places” (Eph 3:9-10).

The Transfiguration is not speaking to us alone, but it is speaking to us. So we, with Peter, are asked to listen and see and know beyond the way we have listened and seen thus far—not just to build tents because in the way we know how to build them, but to camp out in the real spiritual world Jesus reveals, and to do it not by building anything, but by being.

 

Image:”Savoldo, trasfigurazione 2″ by see filename or category – scan. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Savoldo,_trasfigurazione_2.jpg#/media/File:Savoldo,_trasfigurazione_2.jpg

The Trinity: Knowing the Loving God, an Essay for Trinity Sunday

by B. T. Scalise

Immutability is one of those technical theological words or attributes of God that some believe was contrived by theologians. Put simply, immutability means unchangeable or unalterable, and it is a classical attribute of God. This attribute, however, is not generated by theologians but directly derived from Scripture. Hebrews 6:17-18 states, “In the same way, God, wishing even more greatly to show to the heirs of promise the immutability of His intention, mediated it by an oath in order that through two immutability things — for God to lie is impossible by these immutable things — we refugees might have strong comfort in order to attain the hope which is set before us” (trans. mine, italicized words represent words implied by translation). Similarly, Malachi 3:6 records, “For I, Yahweh, do not change, and you, sons of Jacob, are not exterminated” (trans. mine from MT).

Perhaps more important is the belief that we can truly relate to God, which is the magnificent truth of the greatest commandment: “You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). When God’s unchangeableness is paired with the mutual love shared between God and humanity (John 3:16), a tension presents itself. To love is to relate, but in all relating — it seems — is some measure of change.

If we were to relate to a rock, or a tree, we would be sorely disappointed since there is no mutual relating, and why is this so? We could change our attitude towards the rock, but the rock will never adjust itself — how could it? — to relate to us. This relationship is a one-way gig; we adjust to relate to the rock, but it never adjusts itself to relate to us. Love for a rock is bound to go unrequited. Few of us, I suppose, would believe this to be a good relationship; indeed, if my father were to relate to me in such a way — always expecting me to change, but never himself changing — I suspect that I would find the relationship malformed. At the least, we might not find him personable or relatable. Thus, the theory of Aristotle that the Divine (God) is the Unmoved Mover leaves us with a rather mechanical and non-relatable God.

Both God’s immutability and His relationality are equally important and non-negotiables, so we must find a way to uphold them together. To do this, we will employ the nature of the Trinity using Maximus the Confessor as our foundational thinker while deploying John Zizioulas’ commentary on Maximus. The key to success in this endeavor will be to discuss how God can be unchangeable while also showing how God adjusts (and in this sense is changeable) so as to relate to us.

God is One in nature, Three in persons; this is the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. When Scripture says that God does not change, the question we must ask is whether this should be taken as absolute immutability (Unmoved Mover) or qualified immutability. It also should not be missed that, if we look closely at the contexts of the Scriptures cited earlier, it is God’s intention for Israel (Malachi 3:6) or for the future of the church (Hebrews 6:17-18) and God’s complementing oath that are described as immutable, not God directly. These texts are cited frequently as metaphysical statements about God’s total being, but the contexts look less supportive of using them that way. Although this contextual fact is important, we will nevertheless assume that God is immutable (unchangeable) in some respect. For Maximus the Confessor, God is both changeable and unchangeable, which, prima facie, looks inherently contradictory. However, Maximus explains that God is unchangeable in regards to nature (what God is), but changeable with respect to the Persons (Father, Son, Spirit). John Zizioulas clarifies Maximus’ thought:

Maximus uses . . . a distinction between logos [what/nature] and tropos [how/Persons]: in every being there is a permanent and unchangeable aspect and an adjustable one. In the Incarnation, the logos physeos [nature] remains fixed [unchanging], but the tropos [Persons] adjusts being to an intention or purpose or manner of communion [changing]. In other words, the love of God bridges the gulf of otherness by affecting the changeable and adjustable aspect of being, and this applies equally to God and to the world: God bridges the gulf by adjusting his own tropos, that is, the how he is . . . . This amounts to a ‘tropic identity’, that is, to an ontology of tropos, of the ‘how’ things are. This is a matter of ontology, because the tropos of being is an inseparable aspect of being, as primary ontologically as substance or nature.[1]

This may be difficult to follow, but the point we want to draw from Zizioulas is that God must adjust or be changeable if we desire to speak meaningfully of God relating to us. If God does not adjust to have communion with us, that is, to relate to us, then all our talk of God desiring to have relationship with us is meaningless. What type of insight can we gather by returning to Hebrews 6:17-18 and Micah 3:6 with these points in view?

Hebrews 6:17-18 tells us that God gives us confidence based on two immutable (unchangeable) truths: 1) that God’s faithful intention is unchangeable, and 2) that oaths are unbreakable, especially ones taken by God. If we had to pick only one attribute that explains why this is the case, we might choose God’s goodness (or maybe veracity). It is God’s nature that is good, but it is the Persons (Father, Son, Spirit) that make this goodness communal with us. God’s nature is good, and that goodness becomes faithfulness to us by the Son’s (and Spirit’s) relating and sharing it with us. The Trinity’s communal faithfulness, that is, the love the Father, Son, and Spirit share, is adjusted outward when They create the world. The goodness/faithfulness remains the same; with whom the communion includes is extended. Namely, it is extended to us creatures; it is adjusted to embrace us. Persons are capable of adjusting themselves to embrace others; nature, like the rock example above, is not.

The Trinity’s communal faithfulness, that is, the love the Father, Son, and Spirit share, is adjusted outward when They create the world.

Micah 3:6 is discussing God’s continued faithfulness to Israel despite their failings (vv. 1-6): “I, Yahweh, do not change, and you, sons of Jacob, are not exterminated.” The implication is that God’s faithfulness to Jacob and God’s promises to him and his posterity is keeping the sons of Jacob from being exterminated. God’s nature is one of inherent goodness or faithfulness. God, through the promises made to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, extends that faithfulness to Israel. Again, only persons are capable of adjusting themselves to have communion with others. It is the Persons, therefore, the Father, Son, and Spirit, who embrace others, and, in so doing, intimately relate to us.

A practical takeaway from this is that the more personal someone (even an animal) is or becomes, the more she or he will make room for deep, intimate relationships. God the Trinity is the Communion of the relationships mutually shared among the Father, Son, and Spirit. The Trinity makes room for relating to humans so that those who trust the Lord Jesus will have fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14; 1 John 1:3). To be like God, then, we should make room for intimate relationships both with God and with others, but what more is this than fulfilling the two greatest commands: “ . . . love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind . . . [and] the second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:37-39). The Trinity makes room for relating to humans so that those who trust the Lord Jesus will have fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14; 1 John 1:3). To be like God, then, we should make room for intimate relationships both with God and with others, but what more is this than fulfilling the two greatest commands: “ . . . love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind . . . [and] the second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:37-39).

It is correct to say God is immutable, but when we place this statement together with God loving and relating to us as Trinity, we need to consider this a qualified immutability. Again, the Trinity is immutable in His essentially loving nature and changeable regarding the Persons “making room” for others. Who and what God is does not change, but He does change to relate to new creatures who respond to His overtures of love and come into communion with Him.

Notes:

[1] John Zizioulas, Communion & Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church, ed. Paul McPartlan, rep. (2006; London: T & T Clark, 2009), 24 – 25; Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua 1, 5, and 67. Maximus uses the Greek phrasing of τροπος ὑπαξεως (tropos hypaxeōs: mode of existence) and πως εἰναι (pōs einai: how being exists) to explain. Grammatical brackets mine.

Image: By PJParkinson (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Pentecost Sunday and the Power and Presence of God

By Marybeth Davis Baggett

Today is Pentecost, the ecclesiastical festival commemorating the establishment of the church itself. On this fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection, the Holy Spirit descended on Christ’s disciples as they prayed in one accord in the Upper Room, thereby launching their ministry, a dynamic outreach that would burst the confines of Jerusalem and Judea and would spread the Good News throughout the world.

Ten days before the events recounted in Acts 2, before the disciples of Christ had watched Jesus ascend to heaven, they had asked him when the restoration of Israel would come. He was the promised Messiah, they knew, but what did his departure portend for a restored kingdom? Instead of an answer, they heard Christ’s promise of the Spirit. So they waited. They obeyed Jesus’ command, remaining together in Jerusalem.

At this time, many pilgrims were in the city to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, the Jewish holy day recognizing God’s giving Moses the Law at Mount Sinai. This feast is known as Shavuʿoth in Hebrew and Pentecost (fiftieth day, after Passover) in Greek. As the disciples gathered together, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, setting them aflame by the transforming presence and power of God. The imagery of wind and fire of Acts 2 echoes that of Exodus 19, chronicling God’s presence on the mountain Moses ascended (as Kent Dobson notes in his commentary for the NIV First-Century Study Bible).

As God made abode with Moses and the Israelites, so too he was with these disciples, and now would take up residence within them. Far from abandoning or forsaking them, or leaving them desolate, he planned to animate and inspire them, write his law on their hearts, and fulfill his promise to pour out his Spirit (Joel 2); in fact, he planned to anoint them for a work whose breadth and profundity they could have scarcely imagined, of which the kingdom of Israel was just the beginning.

The Holy Spirit empowered these unsophisticated Galileans to preach the Gospel message with power both to Jews living in Jerusalem and to those on pilgrimage for the holy day. Despite sharing the same Jewish faith and religious tradition, the onlookers hailed from a wide range of geographical locations including Mesopotamia, Asia, and Egypt and spoke a number of different languages. They were culturally diverse as well—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Cretans, and Arabians, and both ethnically Jewish and converts to the faith. Through the miraculous work of the Spirit, the Gospel message, relevant to all, was now heard by all, in their own native tongues.
God used the obedience of these disciples to begin reconciling the whole world to himself. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead was now at work within them, to effect nothing less than the complete restoration of his created order, a process still underway.

And that message, boldly proclaimed with divine unction, radically changed the lives of those who heard and heeded, responding to God’s gracious and glorious overture of love. Three thousand people, Acts 2 tells us, were baptized and welcomed into Christian fellowship that day, a fellowship depicted by Luke as nothing less than extraordinary.

In Glimpses of Grace Madeleine L’Engle describes the life of the early church in these terms: “[O]n that first Pentecost the Holy Spirit truly called the people together in understanding and forgiveness and utter, wondrous joy. The early Christians, then, were known by how they loved one another.” She continues by challenging the contemporary church to live in such unity: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people could say that of us again? Not an exclusive love, shutting out the rest of the world, but a love so powerful, so brilliant, so aflame that it lights the entire planet — nay the entire universe!”

These early Christians held property in common, submitted themselves to one another, studied scripture and learned from the apostles, praised God, lived in gratitude and generosity. And their numbers continued to increase. God used their obedience to begin reconciling the whole world to himself. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead was now at work within them, to effect nothing less than the complete restoration of his created order, a process still underway.

For Pentecost not only reminds us of Mount Sinai by way of the Feast of Weeks; it also harkens back to the Tower of Babel from Genesis 11—except, where language divided those at Babel, it united those at Pentecost. While scripture contains many instances of the devastation wrought by human sin, few stories capture the imagination as fully as that of Babel. As the population grew after the flood, people settled in Shinar, later deciding to build a city with a tower “reach[ing] to the heavens,” motivated by a two-fold purpose: to “make a name for [them]selves” and to avoid being “scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Seeing their plans, God thwarted them, confusing their languages and dispersing them throughout the world, the very thing they hoped their building project would prevent.

Although the precise sin of the people is not named in Genesis 11, historical context suggests that pride was at its root. (Dobson says that “[t]owers in the Bible usually are associated with human arrogance,” pointing to Isaiah 2:12-17 and Ezekiel 26:4-9 as examples.) Fear, too, perhaps motivated them (as Brent A. Strawn explains); they may have craved self-protection, isolation, and stability—all of which would have come, they supposed, from a city. Even so, such self-protection came at the expense of obeying God’s command to Noah (and Adam and Eve before that) to “[b]e fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” Rather than submit to God, the people of Babel relied on themselves, cutting themselves off from others and fulfilling their own desires, not God’s will.

Pentecost reminds us that God does not call us to live in our own strength, in the comfortable confines of our own devising. Rather, we are altogether dependent on the only true Source of our strength and victory. God’s plans for healing, hope, and restoration are far grander than our narrow terrestrial dreams forged in the finite minds of mortal men. Ours is a calling much too high for us to achieve with the resources of our own meager devices. God’s Spirit is still available to take up habitation in our hearts, to flood us with waves of liquid love, transforming us to be like Christ, empowering us to obey God’s call, with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.

 

Image: “Pentecost” by Jean II Restoust. Public Domain. 

Ascension Day, St. Athanasius, and Theosis

 

By Ronnie Campbell

Ronnie Campbell lives in Gladys, VA, with his wife, Debbie, and three children. He is a PhD candidate in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary and he holds a BA in Youth Ministry from the Moody Bible Institute, an MAR in Biblical Studies from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, and an MA in Religious Studies from Liberty University’s School of Religion. Ronnie’s research interests include God and time, the problem of evil, the doctrine of God (Trinity), afterlife studies, and spiritual formation. In addition to co-authoring an article with Dr. David Baggett on moral apologetics in Philosophia Christi, Ronnie regularly writes articles for Fervr.net, an online magazine dedicated to youth ministry.

Christians celebrate throughout the year a number of holy days, each of which emphasizes the life and work of Jesus. Of notable importance are Christmas, the commemoration of the Son’s entrance into the world whereby he takes on our humanity through the incarnation, and Easter, a celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection. In liturgical traditions from both the East and West, Christians also celebrate Ascension Day, which commemorates Jesus’s ascension to heaven.

Ascension Day is one of the earliest Christian celebrations. Tradition states that it is apostolic in origin and dates back to as early as the first century. According to Scripture, after the events of his death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to his followers over a span of forty days (Acts 1:3) and then was taken up into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father (Mk 16:20; Lk 24:53; Acts 1:9). Christians, therefore, celebrate Ascension Day on the fortieth day after Easter Sunday.

Jesus’s ascension remains an essential teaching of the Christian church. As with the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the ascension is intricately connected to our salvation. Each should be taken as part of the seamless and inseparable work of Christ, as demonstrated in the writings of the early church.

In his defense of the incarnation, Athanasius (c. 297 C.E. – 373 C.E.), the Bishop of Alexandria, remarked that “it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 1.4). Death had dominion over us because of sin, and it was only through the incarnation of the Word that God could put an end to death and corruption. The Word, who is immortal and who is also the Father’s Son, is incapable of dying. “For this reason,” claimed Athanasius, “He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, . . . put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 2.9). Toward the latter part of his work on the incarnation, Athanasius says something startling: the Word “assumed humanity that we might become God” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 8.54). This may sound strange to our modern ears, but Athanasius’s claim would have made perfect sense among his Greek hearers. It is not that humanity becomes God in an ontological sense, as one might find in pantheism. For Athanasius and the other Greek Fathers, a clear distinction remains between God and creation. God alone is eternal, immortal, uncreated, and incorruptible. Rather, his point was that through the work of the Son of God we become a “holy race” and “partakers of the Divine Nature” (Athanasius, Letter 60, to Adalphius, 4; cf. 2 Peter 1:4). God, by his grace, shares eternal and abundant life with his creatures.

By no means was Athanasius the only church Father to emphasize this teaching that we now call “theosis” (deification). It first appeared in the work of Irenaeus, who claimed that God became incarnate through the Son in order to “win back to God that human nature (hominem) which had departed from God” (Against Heresies, 3.10.2). The doctrine of theosis places emphasis on restoration. Not only was Christ’s work for the forgiveness of sin and for our reconciliation to God; it was also for the restoration of our fallen humanity, for our healing, and to bring us into union with God. Theosis, then, refers to the full saving work of God in our lives, which ultimately culminates in our glorification and immortality.

Jesus, who is our advocate and intercessor before the Father (1 Jn 2:1), and who sympathizes with us in our suffering (Heb 2:17-18), experienced the full weight of our humanity while on earth (Heb 2:10-18; 4:15; 5:7-10). Yet, he did so without sin (1 Pet 2:22; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Jn 3:5). He went before us and is now present with the Father. Because of the completed work of Christ we too may share in the full restoration of our humanity and in our future glorification (Rom 8:18). Not only do we experience forgiveness and a relationship with God, our bodies also will be raised in the likeness of Jesus’s resurrected body—mortality has been clothed with immortality (1 Cor 15:54). Jesus’s resurrection and ascension gives us the ultimate hope and assurance that God has defeated death. One day, those who are in Christ will bask in the indwelling and glorious presence of God in the renewed heavens and earth (Rom 18:21; Rev 21:1-3).

 

St. Anselm and the Perfection of God

By David Baggett 

April 21st is the birthday of a great philosopher, Jerry Walls. Also, and perhaps slightly more acclaimed, it is the anniversary of St. Anselm’s death celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church, much of the Anglican Communion, and in parts of Lutheranism. St. Anselm of Canterbury was a Benedictine monk, philosopher, and prelate of the Church, holding the office of Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109. He was born circa 1033 and died in 1109, 906 years ago.

After entering the priesthood at 27, he was elected prior of the Abbey of Bec, which, under his jurisdiction, became the foremost seat of learning in Europe. During his time there, Anselm wrote his first works in philosophy, the Monologion (1076) and the Proslogion (1077-8), followed by The Dialogues on Truth, Free Will, and Fall of the Devil.

Greatly influenced by Neoplatonism, Augustine, and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, he exerted a strong influence on Bonaventure, Aquinas, Scotus, and William of Ockham. His motto was “faith seeking understanding,” which for him meant “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.” His academic work was notable for many reasons. Two of his most important contributions to theology were his satisfaction theory of atonement and his ontological argument(s) for God’s existence.

An Anselmian conception of God has largely come to be seen as the standard for classical theism—a God who is omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and the like. Regarding God’s moral perfection, God is impeccable, essentially sinless, maximally loving; in God there is no shadow of turning. Irrespective of one’s take on the ontological argument, the idea that God is the ground of being, that on which all else depends for its existence, is central to theism classically construed.

On MoralApologetics.com we have argued at length that God, thus conceived, is uniquely able to provide the best explanation of objective moral values and duties, human rights, meaningful moral agency, the convergence of happiness and holiness, and the full rational authority of morality.

On occasion some suggest that God understood as the possessor of the omni-qualities is inconsistent with the God of the Bible. Yoram Hazony, author of, most recently, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scriptures, wrote an interesting and provocative opinion article for the New York Times a few years ago (“An Imperfect God,” November 25, 2012) in which he summarized in no uncertain terms his skepticism about the idea of a perfect God.[1]

Hazony suggests that there are various compelling reasons the God of classical theism and, thus, the perfect being theology of Anselm should be rejected. Hazony wishes to emphasize the need for tentativeness and provisionality in theology because our knowledge of God remains fragmentary and partial. He even pushes an ambitious and dubious interpretation of the great “I am” declaration of God to be, in virtue of being in the imperfect tense, an indication of God’s incompleteness and changeability, rather than, as seems the more straightforward meaning, God’s uncreatedness and ontological independence. In Hazony’s view, “The belief that any human mind can grasp enough of God to begin recognizing perfections in him would have struck the biblical authors as a pagan conceit.”[2]

But as Old Testament scholar Gary Yates puts it, “It seems a little odd that this would be the idea stressed if Yahweh is attempting to assure Moses when Moses is already fearful of the circumstances and the people’s response to him. The imperfect conjugation does not actually have tense, so it can also be used to simply state something that is a present or even characteristic reality. Beyond that, there is debate as to what the term means, and if for example, this were a hiphil imperfect, it would stress that the Lord is the one who ‘causes to be.’”

Yates admits that Old Testament scholars tend to move away from some of the more abstract and philosophical understandings of the name and to see it in more concrete, covenantal terms as emphasizing Yahweh as the one who is present with his people in the midst of this circumstance and thus aware of their situation and able to act to help them, hear their cries, and deliver them. That would still most certainly comport with the ideas of God being uncreated and eternal but without necessarily focusing primarily on those more abstract and ontological ideas.

According to the Hebrew Bible, Hazony insists, God represents the embodiment of life’s experiences and vicissitudes, from hardship to joy; and although God is ultimately faithful and just, these aren’t perfections or qualities that obtain necessarily. “On the contrary, it is the hope that God is faithful and just that is the subject of ancient Israel’s faith: We hope that despite the frequently harsh reality of our daily experience, there is nonetheless a faithfulness and justice that rules in our world in the end.”[3]

He concludes his piece like this: “The ancient Israelites, in other words, discovered a more realistic God than that descended from the tradition of Greek thought. But philosophers have tended to steer clear of such a view, no doubt out of fear that an imperfect God would not attract mankind’s allegiance. Instead, they have preferred to speak to us of a God consisting of a series of sweeping idealizations—idealizations whose relation to the world in which we actually live is scarcely imaginable. Today, with theism rapidly losing ground across Europe and among Americans as well, we could stand to reconsider this point. Surely a more plausible conception of God couldn’t hurt.”[4]

Is it indeed theism that is “losing ground,” in the specified parts of the world, or rather a certain cluster of religious institutions? The recent phenomenon of “the New Atheists” as the current spokesmen for disbelief is of interest, but is meeting them halfway a sensible, or even possible tack for the religious to take? It’s certainly undesirable, since in any close reading of their rhetorically engaging works, it becomes clear to any serious student of theism that their conception of God is vastly less sophisticated and philosophically resilient than the concept of a perfect being that was so well captured by Saint Anselm, a man steeped in biblical thought.

What indeed does it even mean to speak of the Hebraic depiction of God as more realistic than the idea of God as altogether perfect? It is certainly more anthropomorphic, or to put it more precisely, anthropopathic—portraying God as if having human passions. But that is the natural outflow of the literary forms in the original biblical documents. The fact that they don’t explicitly present us with the precisely articulated conception of God that philosophers have seen suggested by the cumulative impact of its most exalted passages does not at all compromise the philosophical work of clarifying such a conception, nor does it render the effort artificial, or invalid.

The claim that a perfect God is a Greek convention incorporated into theology is an allegation that potentially overlooks the important role of what theologians refer to as general revelation. The Greeks had no corner on the market of reason. Why is it merely a Greek notion that God possesses all the perfections? Plenty of Greeks—Euthyphro for example—believed in all sorts of rather morally deficient gods; we could return the favor and suggest that Hazony’s conception of God is more influenced by Greek ideas in this regard than by scripture. 

The Greeks had no corner on the market of reason. Why is it merely a Greek notion that God possesses all the perfections? Plenty of Greeks—Euthyphro for example—believed in all sorts of rather morally deficient gods; we could return the favor and suggest that Hazony’s conception of God is more influenced by Greek ideas in this regard than by scripture.

The fact remains, though, that the writers of the New Testament were deeply steeped in Old Testament teachings and theology and saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, and in the New Testament itself we find ample indications of a morally perfect and perfectly loving God. This happy convergence of the a priori deliverances of reason and the a posteriori deliverances of scripture should come as no surprise since one would expect harmonious resonance between the outcomes of special and general revelation. Nothing less than Anselm’s view of God can answer our deepest hopes.

Since it’s Jerry Walls’s birthday, it’s fitting we end with a quote from his latest book Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, an excerpt that deeply resonates with Anselmianism both in the sense of the deliverances of classical theism and the specific and startling claims of Christianity: “. . . [H]ere we can see what may be the most profound difference of all between those who believe that ultimate reality is love and those who do not; between those who believe love is stronger than death and those who do not; between those who believe in heaven and those who do not. It is the difference between believing that even the best things of life are destined to come to a tragic end and believing that even the worst things can come to a comic end.” [5]

 

Notes:

[1] http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/an-imperfect-god/?_r=0 (accessed April 11, 2015). Also see Yoram Hazony, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scriptures (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

[2] Hazony, “An Imperfect God.”

[3] Hazony, “An Imperfect God.”

[4] Hazony, “An Imperfect God.”

[5] Jerry L. Walls, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: A Protestant View of the Cosmic Drama (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015), p. 161.