Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Efficiency of God

When Jesus first came surprisingly and seductively into my consciousness I was attracted to him as an embodiment of the Torah and a fulfillment both of God's promises to Israel and God's purpose in Israel- the repair of the world. I came to understand Jesus as God's brilliant and shocking recreation of Israel as one person who would knit the world together in a Church that transcended all human differences and boundaries.

As I studied the gospels I came to understand Jesus as a demonstration of God's radical, self-sacrifical love for us. This vision did and does captivate me. With more study I came to understand Jesus' bringing of the Kingdom of God and his post-resurrection reign as living King. Next was understanding Jesus' mission as the deification of human nature- God becoming man so that we could become God.

I then came to understand Jesus as the defeater of death and evil- the one who fell under the wheel but in falling began to turn the wheel in the opposite direction. I then began to understand Jesus as the inaugurator of the New Covenant- a covenant where faith is rewarded with the giving of transformation through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit- a covenant sealed in God's own self-sacrifice on the Cross.

I then came to understand Jesus crucifiction and resurrection as a way to draw us into himself- to be crucified in the flesh and reborn in the spirit, to die to the old man and rise to eternal life.
I came to see the early Church's vision of Jesus as the conqueror of Hell- the bringer of God's presence into every place, establishing the universal dominion of grace.

Next was the vision of Jesus as drawing humans into the inner life of the Trinity- teaching us how to and empowering us to be able to be drawn into his sonship to God, his obedience, self-emptying and love towards the Father. This Jesus came to liberate us from sin and brokenness and restore our relationship to God, others and the world, reborn as the new Adam.

Relatively late I came to really grapple with the doctrine of substitionary atonement and came to be convinced that the New Testament does teach that Jesus did become sin and die on the cross, suffering torture, humiliation, abandonment and death in our place in order to free us and cleanse us of sin and condemnation. I came to understand Luther's teaching that forgiveness- reconciliation- was the basis for repentance, and not vice versa.

As I made my way through various authors- you may see the tracks above of David Stern, Gerhard Lohfink, NT Wright, Jurgen Moltmann, George Macdonald, Kallistos Ware, Michael J Gorman, Hilarion Alfayev, John Wesley, R Michael Allen, and Martin Luther- I was profoundly grateful for so many wise and studied guides. I was also made aware of the current of argumentation (usually not in the authors above themselves) over which of the presentations of Jesus' mission above was the "best" or even "the correct" one.

What I have come to believe is that they are all true, and this multivalence is true to the way that God works in the world.

Consider a tree. What does a tree do? What is its purpose? is its purpose to be beautiful? To give shade? To provide oxygen? To provide food for insects? To hold the soil together? To moderate temperature and moisture in small but essential ecosystems? To provide medicine in its bark and leaves (as do many trees)?

Or does God accomplish all this and more with one organism? Contemplating almost any natural phenomena will impress upon us this same realisation: God never wastes an opportunity. God does not make one creation to provide shade and one to make oxygen; another to hold soil together and one other special one to provide food for insects. Humans might design this way, but not God.

The attempt to define Jesus' mission in terms of only one objective reflects human design, not divine design. As much as we might like to sum up Jesus' mission in a neat maxim or point our finger to one simple outline for what his life, death and resurrection meant, the Jesus of the Gospel resists all of our efforts.

The reason Jesus resists our effort to simplify and streamline Him is that God does not work in the world that way- not in nature, and not in Jesus. God was in Jesus reconciling all things to Himself- and with a neat brushstroke of the divine creativity God left a rainbow of teaching, embodiment, empowerment, forgiveness, uplift, judgement, healing, sanctification, and glorification behind- and that's just the short list.

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