Saturday, May 31, 2014

Stăniloae on three orientations of Christ's work of salvation

Christ's work of salvation is directed toward His human nature, which He fills with His divinity and liberates from the innocent passions, the sufferings, and the death resulting from the original sin. It is then directed toward us all in order that, through our participation in the divinity manifested in the power that He transmits to us through His human nature, He may liberate us, too, from sin in this life and from the innocent passions, corruptibility, and death in the life to come. Also through these, His work is directed toward God in order to glorify Him through our reconciliation with Him (Eph 2:16; 1:19-20), through our liberation from the deficiencies mentioned and through our clothing in the divine lumination (The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. 3: The Person of Jesus Christ as God and Savior, p. 88).

As Stăniloae notes, there is a triple orientation of Christ's salvific work. In the first place, Christ's work is aimed at his own human nature, which he lifts up out of the mire of sin and death and divinizes through his own divine nature's presence within it. Secondly, he liberates us and divinizes us through his own human nature. Finally, he glorifies God in all of this.

In recent times I have experienced a critical restructuring of my own theological understanding, and I have come to appreciate the centrality of the metaphor of union with Christ. It is through union with Christ that we are saved, and Christ offers himself to all that they be united with him through the given means. Stăniloae specifies that we are liberated, not through some abstract empowering of our own human nature, but through His human nature, through Christ's own humanity which is given to us. The Christian story of salvation involves exactly this -- that we be united with Christ, and in him, with the entire Holy Trinity.

Now union with Christ must take place in this way, and not through some sort of universal absorption of humanity into Christ, because human volition must play a role in salvation as well. Stăniloae notes that Human beings are not saved as some objects, but through the free acceptance of communion with Christ, and in Christ with the entire Holy Trinity (p. 86). This is why God does not zap divinity into humanity from on high. No, he takes on a human nature affected as much as ours is, and heals it and deifies it and gives it the life he intends for all to have; and then he offers it and its salvific powers and effects to all who are willing to unite with him, through faith and baptism and eucharist and scripture and prayer.

If we seek salvation and liberation, therefore, we ought to run to Christ and seek to unite ourselves with him. Only in this way will we ever be freed and delivered from what afflicts us.

Importantly, too, Stăniloae notes that Jesus' work of glorifying God is accomplished through his liberation of humanity from its slavery to sin and death. This is what glorifies the Father: not the destruction of his enemies, not the damnation of sinners, but the sincere tears of repentance and gratitude for salvation which go down the cheek of the former sinner.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Is God glorified by the damnation of anyone?

No! Hell no!

As I've had opportunity to argue on previous occasions, the picture painted of God in the Bible is one which is fundamentally benevolent, pro mundo if I may express myself that way; God is "for the world." Of course I don't deny that there are some instances in scripture which seem positively contrary to this, but scripture does not naively assume that God's punishment or wrath is on the same level as his goodness and love. No, one is prior to and more ultimate than the other.

Today being the 30th of May, I thought it would be good to read Ps 30, where we find: Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Ps 30.4-5). Here there is an affirmed asymmetry between God's anger and his love; they are not on a par, they are not equally valid or normal expressions of his character. In some way love is truer to God than wrath.

Indeed from Ps 30 we may gather the idea that, if anything, damnation makes the glorification of God impossible. The psalmist writes: To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication: "What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!" (vv. 8-10). This line of argumentation presupposes that God is not interested in the worship of just any number of individuals, but of the worship of every individual in particular. If God were just interested in numbers, then this kind of supplication wouldn't fly: for every person who goes into the dust, he could easily be glorified by two who remain in life. But God is interested in the worship of every individual in particular, an interest which the eternal damnation of anyone would compromise and undermine.

Other texts in the Old Testament affirm that God is in some way unwilling to punish or to kill, that doing so is not what he wants or an expression of his desires for his creation. Lamentations 3.31-33 says: For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone. Likewise Ezek 18.23 says: Have I any pleasure in the death o the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? It doesn't please God to see sinners damned and punished for their sins. What he wants to see, actually, is the opposite, that they turn from their sins and seek his fellowship.

These important scriptural insights speak against the Augustinian notion that God may be glorified through the damnation of sinners. On the contrary, God seeks the fellowship of sinners and their divinization. The fact that at moments sinners must be punished, the evil must be removed, doesn't change this fact. However, as Levenson appreciates in Creation and the Persistence of Evil, this tension between the intended benevolence of God and the momentary malevolence, the desire of God to be good and merciful and the necessity to punish sinners and do away with them, the struggle for God to be who he wants to be with the creation he intended to realize -- this tension must be resolved in the eschaton. Permit me to submit that this rules out in principle the eternal damnation of any sinner.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Trinitarian discourse in Mark

(Recently Eclectic Orthodoxy (link to the blog here) linked to this post on Facebook. In it the author writes, . . . the Scripture consistently speaks of God as an individual self, and never as a group of individual selves. This post can be taken as a kind of counterexample to that claim. There is a lot more that may be said, too, about its exaggerated biblicism, but those are topics for a possible later post.)

The beginning of the gospel of Mark famously attributes to Isaiah what are actually two distinct prophetic citations, one from Malachi and the other from Deutero-Isaiah:

See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
(Mal 3.1)
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
"Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight!"
 (Is 40.3)

There are numerous fascinating aspects to this text, some of which I will try to bring out in the following paragraphs. The conclusion that I give is that these texts have been artfully combined (and suitably modified) so that the result is a kind of Trinitarian reinterpretation of the prophetic discourse in the Old Testament. Mark here is describing a discourse which took place between the Father and the Son, one of which we catch a glimpse in the Old Testament text.

In the first place, as I have had occasion to argue in the past, Mark is here hinting very strongly the doctrine of the incarnation. This "Lord" of which Isaiah spoke is most definitely the LORD; Isaiah is speaking about YHWH himself in 40.3, and this is something easily recognizable when reading the OT text itself. But when John prepares his way through the call for repentance for forgiveness, it is Jesus of Nazareth who shows up (Mark 1.9). This cries out to be interpreted as follows: the way of the LORD is being prepared, and Jesus is the one who shows up; therefore Jesus is the LORD, he is YHWH himself incarnate. He is both divine as LORD and human as coming from Nazareth of Galilee, with a human lineage and heritage.

But there is also a distinction of voices at play here. The Septuagint of Mal 3.1 reads as follows:

ἰδοὺ ἐξαποστέλλω τὸν ἄγγελόν μου, καὶ ἐπιβλέψεται ὁδὸν πρὸ προσώπου μου
Behold, I send my messenger, and he will survey the way before me.

The Masoretic text is the same with the exception that the messenger prepares the way, rather than surveying it. In any case, however, this much is clear: the messenger is the LORD's, and the way is being prepared or surveyed before the LORD. There is a single voice, a single "I" which is speaking here.

In Mark's citation, however, there is a crucial difference. Now there is a "you" whom is being addressed by the LORD. It is still the LORD's messenger who is being sent, and it is still the LORD's way which is being prepared, but now the prophetic text is the speech of an "I" to a different "Thou," who nevertheless is identified with the LORD.

Here we find an incredibly significant modification of the biblical witness to accommodate a new person, a new voice within the godhead. A discourse which had previously contained only one "I" is now rewritten that another may be introduced therein. The way for the Son is being prepared, and the Father is telling him all this ahead of time, in the biblical texts. Mark here is lifting the person of Jesus of Nazareth up the level of divinity, so that he is now one person among many within the single God YHWH. Jesus is not some heavenly being who is yet less than God, since he is the one shows up when it is the way of the LORD that has been prepared. Jesus is the LORD, and yet he is not the Father. Within the godhead there is Son and Father (and Holy Spirit).

Importantly, too, the two prophecies are being ascribed to a single prophet, that the unity of the discourse be recognized. It is one conversation between Father and Son. The significance of the ascription to Isaiah may also be worth noting. I think the point is to identify Jesus with the Suffering Servant of God which plays such a critical role in Isaiah 40-55.

My conclusion, then, is that Mark intends 1.2-3 to be understood as Trinitarian discourse: a discussion of the plan of the Holy Trinity for the salvation of humanity is being dramatized in the artful reworking and reinterpretation of certain critical Old Testament prophetic texts. The Trinity was there, but it was hidden; in Jesus Christ everything is brought to light, and our understanding is changed. The experience of God in Jesus Christ is the epistemological center from which the Old Testament revelation is understood, and even an intentional modification of revelation is given inspired status, because of its origin in what has been revealed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The ambiguity of religious life in the finale of Lamentations

Religious life is one fraught with ambiguities and uncertainties, whether they regard God's existence, or his attitude towards us, or his will and plan for us, etc. To some extent this is natural and normal; if life weren't in this way ambiguous for some particular person, whether religious or not, we might have doubts about her rationality and self-certainty.

The finale of the book of Lamentations captures this ambiguity so nicely:

But you, O LORD, reign forever;
your throne endures to all generations.
Why have you forgotten us completely?
Why have you forsaken us these many days?
Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we maybe restored;
renew our days as of old -- 
unless you have utterly rejected us,
and are angry with us beyond measure (Lam 5.19-22).

Here we find some of the central themes of Old Testament religion on full display. First, there is an affirmation of the unique and utter sovereignty of God, who rules over the entire world. YHWH alone is God, and therefore his reign is insuperable. 

But to some extent there is an ambiguity about his goodness as a ruler, or barring that, an uncertainty about his rule, even if it was previously affirmed. Why has God forgotten the people of Israel? Why their horrific sufferings? Why have, for example, The hands of compassionate women . . . boiled their own children (4.10)? Why should things have come to this? As he asks earlier, Look, O LORD, and consider! To whom have you done this? Should women eat their offspring, the children they have borne? Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord? (2.20). Either God does not reign, his power being compromised in this case, or else he is not good, since he allows such horrific calamities to take place -- more than that, he brings them about himself (e.g., 3.38). There is here a kind of analogy to the Epicurean argument from evil: either God is not good for bringing these things about, or else he is not powerful for failing to prevent them.

The finale even considers a graver, darker possibility: perhaps YHWH has entirely rejected Israel and has nothing more to do with them. Perhaps Israel finds himself in hell now, the utter rejection and abandonment by God. Indeed, the description of the calamities of Jerusalem and Judah is appropriately (even if understatedly) described as hellish! Perhaps life is a hell, and God has abandoned us! Jeremiah would not be the last person to have felt and expressed this line of thought.

Yet in all of this, there is a hope -- no, more than that, a conviction, even if timid -- that God cannot remain like this unto eternity. After a long description of his utter destruction and ruin by the Lord, Jeremiah has the gall to affirm that The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end (3.22), and that the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone (vv. 31-2).

Why should he believe this? Why believe that The LORD is good to those who wait for him (v. 25)? 

It seems to me the answer is creation theology. Even though the Mosaic covenant demanded death for disobedience and apostasy, and even though that same prophesied death and destruction has come upon Israel now, yet Jeremiah is confident that things will not remain this way forever. The only way of arriving at this conclusion, to my mind, is to appeal to something beyond the details of the Mosaic covenant; he must appeal to what came before, and which is not nullified by what came after -- and that is the image of the good and loving benevolent creator of Genesis. Jeremiah must have been convinced that the God who created him could not leave him to be destroyed and undone forever.

Even in these final verses of the book there is an implicit trust in the deeper goodness of God, a calm and permanent benevolence beneath the appearance of volatile anger. That is why he pleads, Restore us to yourself, O LORD (5.21). Apart from a trust that YHWH is the sort of God who hears cries of this sort (cf. 3.55-7), even from the very persons he has damned, the request is unintelligible.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Adam and Jesus

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Rom 5.17-9)

Adam and Jesus have opposite effects, and our lives our variously changed in function of whom we approach, to whom we go in times of trouble.

All that is bad and ungodly comes from Adam, which in this context means humanity-in-the-flesh, humanity apart from the fellowship and renewal of the Holy Trinity. When we are confronted with difficulties and troubles of various sorts, the impulse to respond in an ungodly manner, embodying the demonic wisdom of which James spoke (Jas 3.14-6) comes from Adam. Bitter envy, selfish ambition, and all manner of evil come from Adam, and insofar as we are removed from God's presence, we are in Adam.

But all that is good and godly comes from Christ, when we approach him and seek to be united to him. If we feel the impulse to do good, it is because we have the mind of him who went around doing good to all (cf. 1 Cor 2.26; Acts 10.38). It is not natural for human persons to seek to do good and to sacrifice themselves to the utmost for the other, but we can be strengthened by Christ to do exactly that. From Christ and union with him in the Holy Spirit, we receive the character of God himself -- purity, love of peace, considerateness, service, mercy, goodness (cf. Jas 3.18).

Likewise Adam is characterized by death and decay. Paul affirms that through that man came Sin, and through Sin death. Of course, we know that death is the deepest fear of humanity, a ubiquitous phenomenon which calls into question the meaningfulness of everything we do. What point is there to the human life, with its numerous possibilities and potentialities which far surpass everything else found in nature, if it is cut short -- and I mean short -- by death, sometimes far earlier than expected?

But Christ undoes death and gives human life its value and its meaning once more. Paul notes that, just as the first Adam was given life by the breath of God (Gen 2.7), so also Christ himself has become a living spirit, breathing life into all of us who come to him (1 Cor 15.45). But Christ says that I am the bread of life . . . that comes down from heaven, which anyone can eat and not die (John 6.48, 50).

If we find, then, that Adam has ravaged our lives, and that our spirits are blackened and chained by sin; if the threat of death hangs constantly over our heads, haunting us and calling into question the very meaningfulness of our lives -- in these circumstances, we ought to seek Christ, to be united with him. This is why the Son of God took upon himself a human nature: to sanctify it, to redeem it, to reconcile it to God, and to offer himself to all who wish to benefit of these things, too. The divine Logos incarnates and takes upon himself our condition, so that he may conquer it; we share in his conquest when we unite ourselves to him. As Luther says in his Commentary on Galatians 1.1By His resurrection Christ won the victory over law, sin, flesh, world, devil, death, hell, and every evil. And this His victory He donated unto us.

But it is worth emphasizing that we must be united with Christ to benefit in this way. God does not act unilaterally from on high to heal the human condition, because this course of action does not adequately respect the role of human volition in salvation. As Stăniloae writes, Human beings are saved not as some objects, but through the free acceptance of communion with Christ, and in Christ with the entire Holy Trinity (The Experience of God, vol. 3, p. 86). So if we are troubled by sin or by death or anything at all, let us go freely and confidently into God's presence; let us seek Christ!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Jehoshaphat's prayer and God's sovereignty

2 Chr 20 describes an event in the realm of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. The chapter opens with armies preparing for war: [T]he Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle (20.1). Seeing the great armies lining up to fight against Judah, Jehoshaphat lifts up a prayer to YHWH:

O LORD, God of our ancestors, are you not God in heaven? Do you not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? In your hand are power and might, so that no one is able to withstand you (v. 6).

As I've had opportunity to notice before, here we see that conflict between the sovereignty of God and the evil in the universe which is a ubiquitous theme of the Old Testament record. On the one hand, Jehoshaphat affirms that YHWH is the Lord of All, that he is over the entire world and he rules it in power. But on the other hand, there is an unholy alliance forming against Judah, peoples whom the Israelites did not kill when entering into Canaan. As Jehoshaphat remarks, See now, the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy -- they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession that you have given us to inherit (vv. 10-11).

There is a tension, therefore. Jehoshaphat is afraid (v. 3), and his confidence in God's rule is shaken. But as always, as Levenson notes, the response to these tensions and difficulties is to invoke God's power in prayer, reminding him of accomplishments of the past: Did you not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of your friend Abraham? (v. 7). There are also regular affirmations of God's (de jure if not de facto) ownership and mastery over the world: the Ammonites et al. are attempting to drive the Israelites out of your possession, namely the land (v. 11).

The invocation has the purpose of reminding YHWH of his feats of yore, of course, but it also serves the purpose of increasing the confidence of the one making the invocation. This is a spiritual practice in which I engage at times: I remind myself of what salvation God has accomplished for me in Christ Jesus, that I am promised life eternal and freedom from sin; this has the effect of empowering me and strengthening me to begin a new day or to start over again after sin. Likewise in a prayer such as this, the recalling of God's powerful feats performed in the past has the function of strengthening the faith of the one praying. The prayer is made more confidently and more fervently when one is reminded that YHWH is not a deus otiosus, some idle god asleep at the wheel, but the rightful and powerful ruler of the whole cosmos.

This ought to be a regular practice for us as Christians, as well. In times of grave evil, when calamity and catastrophe looms over the horizon, we ought to call out to God. In the midst of our prayers, we should remember times of deliverance and salvation, the greatest of all of course being the salvation accomplished in Jesus Christ, and we ought to plea to God to save us once more. We ought to pray that God's name be glorified and that the fear of God [come] on all the kingdoms of the countries (v. 29) when they see that God responds to our prayers!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Schwarz on the paradox of divine love and justice

For my Systematic Theology III course, I had to read Hans Schwarz, Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000). I found the book generally well-written and -researched, but his treatment of universalism is not sympathetic or very charitable at all. His arguments contra are not convincing.

In a discussion of the final judgment, he notes that there is an apparent paradox between God's love and justice as displayed in the judgment. For the New Testament also contains many assertions that God wants all people to be saved (p. 395), in spite of the apparent affirmation of a two-fold outcome of this judgment (pp. 394-5). He cites from Rom 11.32, God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all, and 1 Tim 2.4, [God] desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

The first problem, however, and this is a noticeable one in his earlier discussion of universalism as well (pp. 337ff.), is that there are also texts which speak not only of God's desire to save all persons, but of the eventual realization of this fact. Rom 5.17-9 stand as the paradigm case: For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. He does not even consider these texts, though these are regularly brought forth in discussions by universalists themselves (e.g., Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God; Gregory MacDonald/Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist). He likewise does not consider the problem that if God's express goal is to unite the whole creation in salvation, then a failure to accomplish that goal amounts to a compromise of his sovereignty.

Beyond that, moreover, his attempt to resolve the paradox itself is both self-defeating and ultimately unbiblical. Schwarz ultimately appeals to the transcendence of God to undermine the paradox:

The solution must rather be sought in what we mean when we talk about the justice and love of God. Do we really mean that we describe God with these terms, or do they not rather disclose certain aspects for God for us? We must remember that God's self-disclosure to us can only be expressed in human language, and this means with necessarily anthropomorphic and inadequate conceptual tools. Thus we can rightly conclude that God is beyond justice and love, just as he is beyond being a person when we call him a personal God. . . . Even in our most sincere concern for [the eternally lost], we have to acknowledge the ultimate hiddenness of God, a God who is beyond justice and love. At this point we can only hope without knowing for sure that his never ending grace will ultimately prevail (pp. 396-7).

This, as I say, is incoherent as a defense of hell. For if God transcends our ascription of "love" to him, and so therefore we justify hell and solve the paradox, why does he not also transcend our ascription of "justice" to him, in which case it is not obvious why hell must be eternal? The proposed solution to the paradox undermines itself in that it fails to justify an eternal hell by its own terms. More than that, if God transcends justice, then why is there talk about a judgment, and an inevitable one? Why may we be sure that justice will prevail, that judgment is inescapable, but that love may not ultimately win? Why the asymmetry?

Schwarz desires to uphold what he sees to be a biblical tension and paradox, but his proposal is ultimately unbiblical, to my mind. His notion that God transcends our ascription of justice and love to him seems plausible enough, but he leaves us with no conceptual "center" by which to understand God. The bible itself, however, is not so pluralist; it attempts to define God, and it names his essence as love (1 John 4.8). The bible says that God is holy, but never names him holiness; it affirms that he is just, but it doesn't title him Justice; but in light of the central and definitive revelation of God in Jesus Christ (cf. John 1.18; Heb 1.1-3), the bible does name him not only as loving, but as Love. This is the "center" of God, this is the biblical language that best appropriates the ineffable nature of God. Schwarz therefore goes against the bible in attempting to defend it, when he says that God is beyond love and justice alike, tout court. We may grant that God is beyond our language, but love is the word we have been given to define him most succinctly. Therefore the "paradox" must be resolved in the direction of love.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Freedom and the true self

One of my favorite experiences during my time at Arizona State University will always be that afternoon when I attended a colloquium where Joshua Knobe presented on the true self as moralist. (See these papers: "Value Judgments and the True Self" and "Person as Scientist, Person as Moralist".) This view is contrasted to two different conceptions of true self, one of them intellectual and the other emotional.

Imagine a person is in a state of conflict as to what she ought to do in some circumstance. She feels a strong desire to cheat on her husband with this other man, she really feels as if she loves him, but she believes strongly that adultery is wrong and that she ought not do it. Which course of action, if realized, would be an expression of her true self? The intellectual conception entails that her true self would obey the moral command not to commit adultery, whereas the emotional conception entails that her true self would commit adultery with the man she loves.

Knobe found that actually neither concept of self is adequate, and that in various different circumstances, persons may intuitively judge that sometimes the emotional self is true and other times the intellectual self is true. Knobe found that most of the time, people tend to judge the true self in accordance with their moral values -- that is, if a person believed adultery was wrong, then she tended to judge that the true self would be that whose manifestation would be to abstain from adultery. Alternatively, suppose the woman is propositioned by a man who is not her own husband, and she feels deeply that something is off about the whole matter, but she believes that there are no binding moral truths and thus that it would not be strictly speaking wrong to engage in adultery here. In these cases, people tend to identify the true self with that emotional sense of wrong, rather than with intellect. Knobe infers from this that actually moral commitments are informing our judgments.

(Now it is true that persons have different moral notions, and so they will not agree on all the details of a true self. A person who thought uninhibited sexual expression was good, for instance, would judge that the self which manifests in adultery in the above considered cases would be the true self, in contradistinction to the prudes and puritans out there who lack this progressive vision. But that doesn't matter, ultimately, since the point is that true selfhood -- metaphysics -- is essentially connected with moral vision, with ethics, regardless of the finer details of the latter.)

If this is our conception of the true self -- that is, our true self is the self that acts in accordance with our moral commitments and principles -- then how ought we to understand freedom?

A lot of persons understand freedom in a kind of existentialist way, presupposing a notion that "existence precedes essence," that is, that a person is free more or less to define herself as she wishes with her actions. True freedom on this view means being able to sculpt yourself into whatever statue you like, having multiple variants at your disposal. This presupposes a conception of self as undefined and free; it presupposes that you define yourself, that your true self is not predefined or directed for you.

Knobe's studies suggest a different picture. If our true self is essentially moralist, then we would infer that true freedom is being able to embody that self. True freedom, then, is being able to be moral, to be good, to be upright and exemplify principles of virtue. On the other hand, vices and bad habits and immoral desires and temptations act as barriers, as burdens which cover up our true selves and which keep us from being true.

As I told Knobe after the colloquium, this view is deeply consonant with ancient Greek conceptions of the true self. Aristotle's notion of humanity as the rational animal with a particular telos, and the role of the moral life in accomplishing that telos; Plato's yearning for the liberation of the soul from the imprisoning snares of the material world unto the world of the Forms for endless contemplation, and the role of virtue in accomplishing this deliverance -- in all these cases morality is essentially connected to true identity, to being who you really are.

And as a professor commented at the colloquium, it is very sympathetic to a Christian metaphysic, as well. Humanity is made to reflect the image and likeness of God. Sin is hardly something natural or normal for humanity; it's a sickness and a disease and a defect which must be undone through union with Christ.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Does universalism compromise moral motivation?

Sometimes the argument is put forward that teaching a doctrine of universal salvation is ethically and spiritually dangerous, because some believers might take it as reason to be morally lax and not pay any attention to their sanctification. In general it may take away from the seriousness of morality and religion in general. For instance, in a discussion on universal salvation in his Eschatology, Hans Schwarz says of a sympathetic Tillich that he realizes very well that the fear that "the teaching of apokatastasis would destroy the seriousness of religious and ethical decisions" is not unfounded (p. 343).

To begin, however, it is interesting to note that my own experience has been the opposite. Knowing that Christ will eventually save all persons and defeat all evil does not motivate laziness so much as a desire to let all people know of God's goodness and his salvation. That's why I keep posting about it. As Rob Bell relates in this discussion here (start at 12:30-16:35), many people are actually more motivated to evangelize, to seek fellowship with God, etc., by the realization of universalism. The reason is why is that it's actually good news: it's not a threat, it's not a plea, there are no difficult questions to answer about reconciling God's goodness with an eternal hell, etc.; it's the good news that speaks to the burning question at the heart of human protest at evil, saying that evil will not be the final answer and will ultimately be done away with by God's power.

Moreover, a similarly puerile argument can be made against numerous other positions. Someone might object to preaching God's grace (especially under the guise of, say, imputed righteousness) because it can be taken advantage of by the weaker brothers as an excuse for sin. I don't imagine that the possibility of abusing a message of grace is reason against preaching it. More importantly, the reason is that there are independent theological reasons for not abusing the message of grace which actually stem from it (cf. Rom 6.1ff.).

It is the fact that sin leads to death, to meaninglessness, to separation from God, and ultimately to hell -- yes, to hell -- that motivates an escape from it by any means possible. The fact that hell will be ultimately temporary does not do away with its deterrent power; otherwise you might as well argue that Christ was irrational for praying to God to take the cup away in the garden, because he's going to resurrect anyway, after all. So hell is horrible; it is described as death, darkness, wailing and gnashing of teeth, and will even seem to go on and on forever to those who are there. But God has provided us with those means in Christ's sacrifice, in baptism, in the Eucharist, in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, in the community of believers, in the scriptures, etc. If you believe the gospel, the good news that Christ died for your sins (1 Cor 15.3) -- which is simultaneously an affirmation that sin means death (cf. Rom 6.23) -- then you do not want to sin.

Universalism doesn't undermine this. If anything universalism satisfies the soul of the person who is fighting against sin. In the first place, it is an announcement of inevitable victory. That kind of confidence and optimism, a confidence that God will bring to completion what he has started in me inevitably, is eminently spiritually empowering, in times of weakness and strength alike. Moreover, the presence of the Holy Spirit in us moves us to be the kind of persons who desire and yearn and pray for the salvation of others (cf. Gal 5.22-3; Jas 3.17). Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6.5), prays for the forgiveness of his murderers (7.60). Universalism, therefore, is a guarantee against the disappointment of this spirit of mercy and compassion aimed at enemies (cf. Mt 5.43-8) and all alike (cf. 1 Tim 2.4). In fact, apart from a universal salvation, it would seem the hope and desire of the saints, a hope and desire for the salvation of all persons put in them by the presence of the Holy Spirit himself, would go defeated and unsatisfied, compromising the quality of their existence in the New Jerusalem.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Brian Zahnd on justice and atonement

A friend asked me to comment on this passage from a recent blog post of Brian Zahnd's, How Does "Dying For Our Sins" Work?:

The Bible is clear, God did not kill Jesus. Jesus was offered as a sacrifice in that the Father was willing to send his Son into our sinful system in order to expose it as utterly sinful and provide us with another way. The death of Jesus was a sacrifice in that sense. But it was not a sacrifice to appease a wrathful deity or to provide payment for a penultimate god subordinate to Justice.

I have both agreements and disagreements with Zahnd here.

I agree that the teaching of the Bible is not that God kills Jesus. In general I think this common but mistaken element of penal substitution theory can be done away with, however. It is one thing to say that the Father punishes the Son for our sins; it is another to say that the Son undergoes the punishment for our sins at the Father's sending.

Consider the analogy of a football player who arrives late to practice, and his coach commands him to run a mile as a sort of punishment. Suppose the captain of the football team offers to run the mile in his place, so that the late-comer can practice, and he can enforce team unity, etc. In this case, if the coach agrees, it would certainly be true to say that the captain undergoes the punishment to which the tardy player had been condemned, but it would be a mistake to suppose that the coach is punishing the captain. The "ill will" of the coach is not aimed at the captain at all, and so he cannot plausibly be interpreted as punishing him.

So also with the Father and the Son. There is never a moment of ill will, or hatred, or resentment, or wrath, or anything of the sort between the Father and the Son; such a thing would radically rupture trinitarian relations. Rather the Son undergoes the punishment, and the Father allows it. This is how Athanasius conceptualizes penal substitution in his On the Incarnation of the Word. Proponents of penal substitution grant that Athanasius' teaching counts as a version of this doctrine (e.g., Jeffrey, Sach, and Ovey of Pierced for Our Transgressions), but he doesn't ever affirm that the Father punishes the Son -- only that the Son undergoes the punishment to which humanity had been condemned. Once this distinction is allowed and made in the context of penal substitution, much of Brian Zahnd's argumentation seems just to be irrelevant.

I tend to disagree with his characterization of Christ as sacrifice. I think that kind of educative theory of atonement is really atonement lite. By "educative theory," I mean a theory of atonement which posits a mechanism of atonement which works merely by the realization of certain truths about the reality of divine-human relations. I am interpreting Zahnd as suggesting that atonement works like this: Jesus' life and death reveal to us certain truths about ourselves, our condition, our relations to God and to others, and upon the realization of these truths, we can effect reconciliation, forgiveness, etc. Spoken in the abstract, that much is certainly true but also inadequate and incomplete.

There is also an ontological element of atonement, as the Fathers appreciated and as Torrance describes in his Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church. Atonement also includes Christ's sanctification, deification, and reconciliation of his own human nature with God. He assumes a fallen human nature such as mine, cursed and estranged from God, and he raises it up to the level of the communion of the Holy Trinity. He atones through reconciling his own humanity with God's own will for it, and I get to participate in this fantastic process through union with him -- through faith, through baptism, through the Eucharist, through prayer, through reading about him in the scriptures, etc. This ontological element is necessary precisely because human nature is deeply corrupted and broken, something which educative theories of atonement such as the one I am attributing to Zahnd have a hard time dealing with.

Moreover there are juridical or judicial elements in the atonement, and we know this because of the biblical narrative and common sense. The biblical narrative includes a covenant with Israel and with the creation itself (cf. Karl Barth, CD IV/1), a covenant which involves death as a punishment for sin (cf. Gen 2.15-7, Rom 6.23). Because God cannot go back on his word, as Athanasius appreciates (On the Incarnation 6), he cannot deal with humanity and save it without resolving these problems as well. Therefore when Christ dies for our sins (1 Cor 15.3), whatever else it may mean, it should at least mean this as well.

This should make sense, too, when we look at the extent and gravity of evil in the world: precisely because sin is a real force in humanity-in-the-flesh, that is, humanity apart from communion with the Holy Trinity, there must be death as a consequence. What great evil would result if a Hitler or Stalin were allowed to live indefinitely? There must be death because evil must be put to an end. This is what we feel deep in our hearts, too, when we think over the direst cases of perversion and injustice -- e.g., the case of the soldiers who would kill children in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, or Raskolnikov who commits a brutal, senseless murder in Crime and Punishment. If sin is something deeply present in human nature, then it follows that human nature cannot be saved apart from death -- death of the cancer of sin which infects it.

But even though I posit the judicial as an essential component of atonement theology, it doesn't follow that I think that Christ's sacrifice was to appease a wrathful deity or to provide payment for a penultimate god subordinate to Justice, as Zahnd says. The Bible is more than clear that the performance of atonement shows us how much God loves us, rather than winning God's love for us or anything of the sort (e.g., Rom 6.23, 1 John 4.8-10). I happen to think that the atonement is a kind of clever deconstruction of justice, it is simultaneously an affirmation and undermining of justice.

Humanity was condemned to die, and Israel had failed its covenantal calling to be a light and blessing to the nations; they too had found themselves condemned to death (Deut 28). Seeing that it is humanity that is condemned, however, and Israel which had failed in its calling to be a blessing, God consequently incarnates as a human and an Israelite. But importantly, he is God, and so fulfills the calling of both humanity to be an image of God (cf. Col 1.15) and Israel to be a light and blessing to the nations (Luke 2.29-32; Gal 3.16). More so, he is the Son who offers himself to the Father in place of the others (cf. Mark 10.45; Eph 5.2), and the Father of course is happy to accept the offering. I see in all this a clever satisfaction of the necessary conditions of justice precisely so that justice will not be served. It seems to me we find these elements of justice in the atonement because justice stood as an obstacle to God's fellowship with humanity, which was and remains his goal from the beginning.

In brief, then, I think Zahnd's comments are to some extent accurate but also misguided. He is right that  the Father does not kill the Son, and that atonement is not primarily an act of worship at the altar of Justice. But his merely educative theory of atonement does not do justice to the biblical language, and in general it is a bit anemic when taken solely by itself. The essential component of justice in the atonement can be interpreted in a way which does not amount to an apotheosis of retribution or anything of the sort.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Christ in the outer darkness

Matthew describes an incredible event which took place during Christ's death: From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon (Mt 27.45). To me it is interesting to note the parallel between the darkness at Jesus' crucifixion outside of the city (cf. Mt 27.32; Heb 13.12) and the description of the damned at the judgment as being thrown into an outer darkness (e.g., Mt 25.30). The parallel suggests that Jesus is here suffering or undergoing that eschatological punishment to which unrepentant sinners will be condemned at the judgment.

If Jesus' state is any indication of what the judgment will be like, we can know that it is a terrible place to be avoided at all costs. It is violent, dark, and demonic, through and through. Imagine what an evil, wintry heart can look upon a man in his dying hours and mock him! As the light of life is being snuffed out, as the weakly flickering flame of his soul's candle struggles at its breaking point, you throw his entire life in his face and declare him a fraud, a deceiver, a weakling. That kind of bitter disregard, contempt, hate -- that is what the outer darkness will be like. It makes perfect sense, then, that Christ would say it's better to cut off your limbs than enter into Gehenna whole (Mt 5.29-30).

I wish to make a further argument at this juncture. Christ evidently suffers the eschatological judgment of God, and yet he still resurrects unto glory. To my mind this undermines the necessity that hell be (chronologically) eternal. After all, if Christ undergoes the eschatological judgment for sin, as there is plenty of evidence here to suggest, and yet he can come out "on the other side," so to speak, who is to say that this could not be true for everyone? In fact we may come to the conclusion that Christ's death has transformed hell and the judgment itself: through his death, he has changed the quality of hell, so that by his resurrection he guarantees the escape of all.

Some persons may think that this compromises the reasoning to avoid hell: if hell isn't literally forever, why bother avoiding sin? After all I'm going to get out eventually, no matter how "bad" it may be in the meantime, right?

The problem is that no one actually thinks like this except when attempting to argue against universalism. Say you had to take a plane to get from Phoenix to Seattle, and you had two options: the first flight will arrive without much trouble, and will actually be quite pleasant; the second flight will be greatly delayed, will crash somewhere in the Grand Canyon, and you will be forced to climb out -- the elements and the animal kingdom simultaneously working against you, your life in peril the entire time -- and trek through miles and miles of desert to get to the Las Vegas airport; the flight from Vegas, too, will crash somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and in general the entire trip (which will have lasted much longer than necessary or desirable) will be incredibly arduous from the start. No one in their right mind thinks it's really no different to choose the second rather than the first. No one, except in being intentionally perverse, could think that ultimately one is not be preferred to the other.

The only difference is that the two-flights scenario is nothing like what hell will be. Christ himself, knowing even about his own resurrection, nevertheless prays to his Father that things be done differently if possible (Mt 26.39). Even Christ himself wanted to avoid the cross, wanted to avoid the hell of God's judgment, despite the fact that he knew this is what he had come for, and that he would be resurrected on the third day. This is proof positive that the temporal finitude of God's judgment does not compromise the deterrent power of God's judgment. Hell is -- well, hell, and so you ought to avoid by all costs. It will literally be the death of you if you end there.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

If you are the Son of God, save yourself!

As Matthew describes the scene of Christ's death, there were not a few mockers present, deriding Jesus and calling out to him to take control of his fate:

Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! I you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, 'I am God's Son.' The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way (Mt 27.38-44).

The passers-by and those surrounding Christ in his dying moments mocked him and his claims to be the Son of God: if he were really the Son of God, why doesn't he save himself? Come down off the cross!

In fact, however, Christ is the Son precisely because he is on the cross: he obeys the Father's commission to offer himself up for the sins of Israel and humanity, and thus is a true Son (cf. Rom 4.25, 8.3). This is the insight of Niko Kazantzakis's The Last Temptation of Christ: if Christ had come down from the cross -- just like Judas condemns the old man Jesus on his death bed as Jerusalem is in flames outside -- there would be no sacrifice for sins, no salvation, no redemption, and he would be no Son, since he had not obeyed the Father. At the end of the film, an old and dying Jesus crawls from his house into a desert, as Jerusalem is ablaze behind him, crying out, "I want to be the Son of God!" So also we find in Matthew that Jesus is the Son precisely because he obeys the Father's wish and will, in spite of the grave pains and struggles of his trial in Gethsemane (26.35-46).

An important lesson to draw from all this is: God doesn't think or evaluate things like man-in-the-flesh does. Here is another repeated point of the scriptures. The thinking, values, judgments, commitments, opinions, etc. of man-in-the-flesh are not like God's. The persons mocking Jesus considered death on a cross to be a fate worth evading at all costs, especially if the escape were available to someone like the Son of God. Because Jesus of Nazareth did not seek to escape it, he must evidently not have that power and thus must not be the Son of God. But the wisdom and goodness of God is shown in having power yet not using it (cf. 1 Cor 1.18ff.; Phil 2.6-11), in suffering for the sake of the very persons who nailed your hands to the cross. God's wisdom sees further than the pains of the moment into a glory far greater (cf. Rom 8.18; Heb 12.2).

Monday, May 19, 2014

Calvin on the sanctification of human nature in Christ

I was reading Calvin's commentary on the letter to the Hebrews, in light of my recent exploration of this epistle, and I came across an interest comment on Heb 2.11:

ὅ τε γὰρ ἁγιάζων καὶ οἱ ἁγιαζόμενοι ἐξ ἑνὸς πάντες.

For the one who is sanctifying and the ones being sanctified are all of one.

Different translations understand the "of one" here differently. NIV interprets it "of one family"; NRSV interprets it "all have one Father." Calvin understands the phrase to refer rather to a common human nature:

Hence he says, that they are all of one, that is, that the author of holiness and we who are made partakers of it, are all of one nature, as I understand the expression. It is commonly understood of one Adam; and some refer it to God, and not without reason; but I rather think that one nature is meant, and one I consider to be in the neuter gender, as though he had said, that they are made out of the same mass.

Calvin goes on to say that this is a spiritually fruitful teaching:

It avails not, indeed, a little to increase our confidence, that we are united to the Son of God by a bond so close, that we can find in our nature that holiness of which we are in want; for he not only as God sanctifies us, but there is also the power of sanctifying in his human nature; not that it has it from itself, but that God had poured upon it a perfect fullness of holiness, so that from it we may all draw. And to this point this sentence refers, "For their sakes I sanctify myself." (John xvii. 19.) If, then, we are sinful and unclean, we have not to go far to seek a remedy; for it is offered to us in our own flesh.

The idea seems to be that the Son's incarnation and assumption of human nature has an effect on all of human nature, since it is shared among Christ and other human persons (cf. v. 14). Or at the very least it is available to those who've united themselves to Christ through baptism and the Eucharist. Thus there is a kind of empowerment of the person united to Christ in this very intimate way, so that she is strengthened from her own nature to rise above the quotidian impurity and unholiness which was her default state.

Here Calvin endorses what is typically a very Eastern notion, that Christ's incarnation has effected a fundamental change in human nature as such. This transformation strengthens and enables humanity to begin to embody the holiness which God desires. In more explicitly Eastern terms, the Son through his incarnation has sanctified and divinized humanity, so that humanity may undergo theosis or deification through unity with him. This is some ways off from that pessimistic Calvinism that posits no significant moral change or empowerment in the human person, and which harps on and on about our own miserable, utter depravity in comparison to Christ -- as if we weren't united with and empowered by him!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Son who sustains all things

Hebrews 1.3 also says of the Son that he sustains all things by his powerful word. I think there are at least two senses in which this is true: first, in an ontological sense, Jesus or the λόγος of God sustains the universe in existence from moment to moment; second, in an existential sense, Jesus' word keeps our lives ordered, structured, meaningful.

David B. Hart's The Experience of God does a good job of explaining the kind of metaphysical reasoning which motivates the belief that God sustains things in being from moment to moment. The idea is that the world is ontologically impoverished: things exist which cannot of themselves explain the fact that they exist. Consider the case of myself: I exist, but nothing about me explains why I exist. I exist because the organic matter which composes my body is arranged in such a way as to produce a living human body, but nothing about me explains why that is so. It is clear that this organic matter could exist just fine in a different form -- you could chop up my body into small pieces, in which case the matter would still exist but I would not. But not only I but more or less everything is like this. More or less everything is living on borrowed existence, so to speak, since no material thing can explain why it exists of itself. To simplify greatly, the conclusion Hart and the classical theistic tradition draws is this: therefore there is God, who is a fullness and infinity of being, who as a matter of definition has existence of himself, and he gives existence to everything else. Burning candles are ultimately lit by a flame burning of itself; so also contingent reality owes its existence to God who has being of himself.

Stăniloae too regularly speaks of the rationality and knowability of the universe as requiring the existence of a kind of transcendental Mind or Reason of which it is its thought. We consider that the rationality of the cosmos attests to the fact that the cosmos is the product of a rational being, since rationality, as an aspect of reality which is destined to be known, has no explanation apart from a conscious Reason which knows it from the time it creates it or even before that time, and knows it continually so long as that same Reason preserves its being (The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, p. 2). Because the world has such a structure as allows it to be known -- which is a critical presupposition of the possibility of knowledge in the first place -- we infer that it is itself in a way that manifested thought or knowledge of a greater Mind.

These of course are very abbreviated statements of longer arguments. In any case, the point is this: the world is of such a nature as to require a sustaining cause, a cause which has existence and the power of creation entirely of itself. The author of Hebrews identifies Jesus (who is the Son of God and the λόγος of God) with that cause.

But Jesus also sustains our lives in an existential manner through his word. To know that surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age (Mt 28.20), or that your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom (Luke 12.32) gives us strength to keep on going in the face of the senselessness of much of life. To know that the promise is for you and your children (Acts 2.39) and that the Father is more than happy to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask (Luke 11.13) gives you confidence to approach God, even in the darkest times of your sin. And as I've posted recently, the knowledge that we have peace with God through Jesus Christ (Rom 5.1) can help us to approach adversity and suffering as opportunities to develop ourselves in the likeness of Jesus Christ. These are ways in which the meaningfulness of our lives can be sustained by Jesus' word.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Jesus is the reflection of God's glory

Hebrews 1.3 says: [Jesus] is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being. This is a critical piece of Christian theology that is endorsed elsewhere in the New Testament as well, especially in John's gospel: Jesus is the ultimate reflection of the nature and character of God; he tells us who God is.

Of course, the author of Hebrews also said that Long ago God spoke to our ancestors (1.1), so it would be a heinous mistake to suppose that the revelation of God in Jesus can somehow justify our negating Hebrew revelation. (My friend Derek Rishmawy discussed this issue recently on a new podcast he's got going on called "Casting Across the Pond." Listen to the insight (and awesome accents) here.)

At the same time, the revelation of God does shape our understanding of Hebrew revelation to some extent. The author of Hebrews specifically comes to an understanding that the texts of the Old Testament, especially the Psalms, especially refer to Jesus. Thus he quotes numerous psalms in the first chapter of Hebrews as interprets them as direct speech of God to the Son (vv. 5ff.). These texts somehow have a life and a meaning that transcends the specific sociohistorical context in which they had arisen, and they find their fulfillment and referent in the events surrounding Jesus.

Now I want to emphasize a particular aspect of God's glory as revealed by Jesus. The author of Hebrews, immediately upon describing the revelatory character of Jesus, affirms that he had made purification for sins (v. 3). This is especially important, to my mind: the glory of God and the representation of the very being of God is expressed in Jesus who made purification for our sins.

The same point is made other places as well. 1 John 4.8-10 makes the affirmation that God is love, that the very essence and nature of the divinity is love, and bases this judgment in the Father's sending the Son for the life and salvation of dead sinners.

It seems to me that this act -- the Creator dying at the hands of the creature for the creature's sake (cf. Rom 5.6-8) -- ought to determine our entire understanding of every other piece of theology. Judgment, sanctification, justification, hell and heaven, and the rest must all be interpreted through the lens of Christ's (God's) death for us and for our sins on the cross.

Justice is not somehow a base or determining attribute of God. If anything the divine justice is undone and cleverly deconstructed through the incarnation of God among the unjust, in order that the single just person ever to live might die for sinners. Neither is holiness the defining characteristic of God. God in Jesus Christ made regular association with the defiling presence of the unholy -- sinners, tax collectors, the diseased, and so on. There can only be one explanation of God's life for us in Jesus, and there can only be one driving factor in all of God's actions towards the world -- the one thing that remains forever (cf. 1 Cor 13.13), the love of God.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The children of Jesus

Did you know that Jesus has kids?

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying . . . "Here am I and the children whom God has given me" (Heb 2.10-13).

I love this image of the church of Jesus Christ as his children, given to him by God. I don't remember ever hearing a sermon on this text, so I'll have to rectify that problem by preaching on it next time I get the chance. It has an image of the church's relation to God which is spiritually empowering.

Imagine what that means: you are like a child whom the Father has given the Son, and the Son is glad to have you. You -- with all of your defects and failings, your disobedience and your vices -- are a child of God and he is a happy father! Your adoption is the Father's gift to the Son, and the Son is overjoyed and thankful to the Father for you!

This is empowering because it beautifully expresses God's grace, a grace which gives you the confidence to approach God in peace. Jesus teaches us to pray to God as Father, not as Lord or Unoriginate Creator of All or anything of the sort. He does this because he wants to facilitate our spiritual lives through the precise and intentional use of language: when we conceive of God as our Father, we don't run away from him in times of trouble or temptation but rather ask for his help; when we conceive of God as our Father, we don't put the kind of distance between us and him that the titles "Lord," etc. do.

Importantly, too, if we are children of Jesus, then we are siblings of one another. The language of brotherhood and sisterhood is common enough among Christians -- "Brother Bob will lead us in prayer"; "Sister Mary will be playing the piano this morning"; etc. -- but I think more often than not our attitude remains at the level of title. I relate differently to my brother than to anyone else. Even if we are wildly different in terms of personality and interest, I love him and care for him more than I could for anyone else who were exactly like him except unrelated to me by blood. In the same way, we, as brothers and sisters under the same Jesus Christ, must love one another more than we love anyone else. We have to care for one another more than we care for anyone else.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Long ago God spoke

The opening verse of the letter to the Hebrews begins like this: Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets (Heb 1.1). In this respect I wish to emphasize the role of the past in Christian thinking.

I think it was C.S. Lewis who spoke of "chronological snobbery," a kind of arrogant presumption of the falsehood of all things connected with the past and with tradition. The chronological snob thinks that the relative age or even antiquity of a certain position or opinion speaks against the likelihood of its truth. This ma be simply because it is past, or it may be motivated by some kind of metanarrative mythology of the progress of humanity, or whatever. In any case, chronological snobbery is an eminently un-Christian attitude.

The author of the letter affirms that God spoke to their ancestors in the past. This is enough to speak against any exaggerated chronological snobbery, whether secularist or Christian of the quasi-Marcionite sort, which would deny the theology of the Old Testament. God did speak to Abraham, he did speak to Moses, he did speak to Samuel and David and the rest -- that is what the author here is telling us. Therefore we ought to be careful to listen to that voice of God as well.

This is not to deny that there may have been some misconceptions or misunderstandings. Even we who have received the revelation of Jesus Christ misunderstand and misinterpret. But at the same time we cannot simply deny flatly any kind of theological knowledge or substantial revelation to the people of God of antiquity.

Stăniloae speaks of the importance and function of the tradition in preserving the revelation given long ago to our ancestors. Just as the call of Abraham had to be preserved throughout the generations in order to make it into our Bibles, so also the message and truth of Jesus Christ had to be preserved through the testimony of the apostles and the subsequent tradition of the church which sought to preserve it:

The Church is the milieu in which the content of Scripture or of revelation is imparted through tradition. Scripture or revelation need tradition as a means of activating their content, and they need the Church as the practicing subject of tradition and the milieu where the content of Scripture or revelation is imparted (The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, p. 54).

The function of tradition is to preserve the message received and the proper interpretation thereof. Too often Christians assume that long ago God did not speak, and that a complete rupture with the long tradition of Christian theology can be safely made. The truth is something else altogether: apart from the testimony of the Old Testament and the surviving Hebrew traditions, we have no access to the truths of God's call of Abraham, the election of the Israelite people, and the background story which motivated and informed the announcement of the gospel of Christ's coming; apart from the testimony and tradition of the Christian church throughout the ages, we have no access the genuine meaning of the revelation of God given in Jesus Christ and passed down by the apostles. We cannot be Christians in or from a vacuum; we cannot be chronological snobs.

Stăniloae goes so far as to identify the church with the tradition: The Church appears simultaneously with tradition because tradition is revelation incorporated into a community of believing people (p. 55). A break from tradition is tantamount to a rejection of the church, just as a rejection of the story of Abraham and the prophets would be a break from Hebrew religion as such.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Stăniloae on justice and atonement

Thus spake Stăniloae:

Jesus is aware that only by opening up access to God will He save humans. But this access to God is not opened through a death understood in the sense of the later theory of satisfaction. This lowers the relationship between God and human person to the level of a justice that is measured quantitatively (The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. 3: The Person of Jesus Christ as God and Savior, p. 17).

I appreciate what Stăniloae says here, and it is fully consonant with a theme I've been repeating now and again on my blog. God's relationship to the creation is one that cannot be reduced to the level of mere justice. On the contrary, the Bible and important teachers of the Christian tradition teach that the human person and the whole creation are of value to God as such. The story of Jonah relates this point, as does the creation account in Genesis; Athanasius said as much, and Gregory of Nyssa implies the same.

I like that Stăniloae says that a satisfaction theory of atonement -- by which I understand he means a theory of atonement which exclusively involves only satisfaction -- lowers the relationship between God and the human person. It is a lowering because a relation of mere justice is the lowest kind of relationship that can obtain between persons; it is what is required for relations with anyone whatsoever, absent emotional attachment, fundamental commitment to the other, etc. If your relationship with your children or your spouse takes place merely on the plane of justice, it is in a bad place. All the sorts of relationships we want to have with other persons go beyond mere justice onto a plane of love and committed goodwill.

God's relationship to the creation is not just one of justice; it is one of love, and we know this because of that impressive love expressed in the economy of salvation (cf. 1 John 4.8-10). Importantly, it is a love for the entire creation (cf. 1 John 2.2). To reduce the relation between God and any human person at any time to that of Judge-Defendant is impossible and theologically inadequate. To suppose that God's relation to a person may be characterized by love for a time but later only by justice is to ascribe an impossible change to the immutable God.

The fact that God's relation to the entire creation is one defined by love must temper our insistence on divine justice. There is never in fact any divine justice without divine love, since God is immutably loving and the fundamentally committed the creation as such. That kind of strict and severe Augustinianism which proposes that God might have created some persons merely for the sake of displaying his justice in punishing them for their sins must be rejected wholeheartedly in the name of God. And our understanding of the atonement and even of hell must reflect the revelation that God is committed to the whole creation in love. There may be penal and juridical elements in atonement, I don't deny that, but they cannot be whole story or even the defining elements.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Gleaning insights from the Genesis creation account

It is not my conviction that the creation account in the first chapters of Genesis is intended to provide literally correct and scientifically adequate descriptions of the world's coming into existence. Other creation myths in the ancient near eastern context don't have this intention, and in light of present scientific knowledge it is not plausible to suppose Genesis does as well. I think rather the goal of the creation story was to offer a theological account of the nature of reality, and of the world's (and humanity's) relation to God, in contradistinction from the creation mythologies of other civilizations surrounding the ancient Israelites.

For instance, one manner in which the Genesis creation myth distinguishes itself from, say, the account of the creation of the world in the Babylonian Atrahasis myth is the nature of divine-human relations. In the Atrahasis, humanity is created because of a labor dispute among the gods. The Igigi, a sort of worker class of deities, grow tired of the menial labor to which they have been assigned, and they begin to disturb the rest of the divine bourgeoisie with their complaining. In response, a scapegoat is slain and from its various body parts and blood the human race is made. But humanity is made for the purpose of working the labor of which the Igigi had grown tired. On this view of things, humanity's condition is fundamentally a miserable one: relative to the gods they are slaves, this is their proper place, and there is no point complaining about it; humanity exists as a means for the gods' own ends, and they are not valued in their own right.

Genesis paints things differently in the extreme. Here God does not create out of any need, but only out of the pure power of his word to bring things into being. He utters in Latin (because surely God speaks Latin): Fiat lux! and est lux. And it is clear that he creates the animals and humanity for their own sake, not for his, since he gives them the entire world to fill with their children. He commands them to prosper and to flourish and to multiply themselves, so that they too may take part in the wonder of creation. When he sees that Adam is alone, he creates an appropriate helper for him, concerned for the good of the man (Gen 2.18). He provides for humanity and the animal kind a naturally replenishing source of sustenance.

In every way, then, Genesis and Atrahasis differ on their conception of the relations between God and his creatures. In the former, God creates his creatures for their own sake, and his fundamental disposition towards them is a kind of committed benevolence with no self-interest. In the latter, the creation is made so that the life of the gods is made easier, and there is no fundamental commitment on the part of all divinity to the creature. Genesis speaks against this view, as well as again Christian variants of the Atrahasis theology, such as an Augustinianism according to which God creates some persons purely for the sake of displaying his justice in punishing them eternally for their sin. No -- God is fundamentally committed to the good of the creature, and this without any self-interest.

Another difference is the manner of creation. As I've said, in Atrahasis the creation of man comes about through the ritual murder of a divinity; there must be a scapegoat for there to be humanity. But in Genesis God creates of his own power, subduing a kind of cosmic watery chaos, and imposes order upon everything. This is ultimately the point of the seven-day sequence: not that creation happened in seven literal days, but that everything has its proper order and place in God's world. Waters are separated by sky and land, animals located in their various places, and humanity created last, male and female, because there are natural proper places for everything. Mixing in various ways goes against God's intentions -- at least mixing where God did not command it (cf. Gen 2.24).

Genesis likewise offers a kind of animal ethic. The fact that the diets of animals and humans were vegetarian suggests that violence against other animals is not a part of God's intentions for the creation. Sacrificial practices postlapsum notwithstanding, the Genesis story puts forth God's ideal of peace among his creatures. The creation does not occur through violence because violence is not God's intention, it is not permanent, and it is not good -- in whatever form it takes.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Amos's fire and brimstone

This is a particularly impressive passage describing God's judgment upon a sinful Israel:

Though they dig into Sheol,
from there shall my hand take them.

Though they climb up to heaven,
from there I will bring them down.
Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
from there I will search out and take them;
and though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea,
there I will command the sea-serpent, and it shall bite them.
And though they go into captivity in front of their enemies,
there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them;
and I will fix m eyes on the for harm and not for good (Amos 9.2-4).

Not too long ago I had a post about applied divine omniscience; this text might be an exercise in applied divine omnipresence. No matter where Israel runs to hide from the judgment of YHWH -- whether in Sheol or in heaven, on the mountains or at the bottom of the ocean -- there the Lord will be to execute his judgment upon them. There is no escaping him: the repeated use of "there" and "from there" communicates his extension over every square inch of the universe.

The description of judgment here is disturbing, to be sure. It would be a mistake, however, to infer from this passage that YHWH is an angry god, waiting for the slightest slip-up in order to burn sinners in hell for an eternity. Nothing could be further from the truth! As a matter of fact, this passage comes up at a point in Israel's history after God had been merciful to them in numerous ways, and yet they persisted in their grave sinfulness and injustices despite God's mercy, despite God's warning against them, etc. Israel had reached a point in its history in which its immoralities were numerous and heinous:

For three transgressions of Israel and for our, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals -- they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way; father and son go into the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned; they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge; and in the house of their God they drink wine bought with fines they imposed (2.6-8).

Many secular objectors to Old Testament depictions of God may be hypocritical; they don't have anywhere near the patience with wrongdoers and the immoral that God has with Israel. Evidence of this is public moral outrage at the slightest "racist" remarks by athletes, enough to ruin a person's reputation forever despite there being next to no actual harm done to anyone. Another example is the association of traditional views on marriage with racism and sexism, despite the fact that many proponents of traditional marriage will insist, over and over, that they do not hate homosexuals and that they want good for them. But God puts up with corruption, the persecution of the poor, and more, all in the hopes that people will eventually turn and repent. But when they do not, he is just -- he can't allow the evil to go on indefinitely. Secular objectors can't complain about this when they lay down the hammer without an initial waiting period at all.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Against hopeful universalism: reply to a comment

On a previous incarnation of this blog, I posted an argument against a mere hopeful universalism that appeals to the dialectic of divine sovereignty in the OT/NT as appreciated by Levenson's Creation and the Persistence of Evil. The argument, briefly, is that if we may only hope that God's desire that all persons be saved be realized, hope without being dogmatic, this would require us to adopt a merely hopeful attitude towards God's sovereignty as omnipotent ruler of the universe; so long as a human sinner refuses to repent and have fellowship with God, the Lord's will is not realized and his rule is compromised.

mome commented the following:

Under certain notions of what Gehenna is, such as those that describe it as a suffering amid the “fire of God’s love” because of an individual’s hatred or rejection or sorrow in the midst of that love, or other notions that resemble this, it is possible to describe such a state as both salvation and damnation at the same time (God has saved this person and brought them exactly to that “place” or “state” to which all the saved have been brought, but this person continues to damn him/herself, so to speak, because of the reality of his/her own freedom or inner state or what have you). An argument may be made that in this sort of scenario, God has accomplished his will and his sovereignty has not been compromised, but that because this would not exactly fit the usual expectations of universalism (nobody suffers anymore) this could not be described as universalism. Thus, one may remain hopeful that all may eventually come to the point of no longer damning themselves in the midst of their own salvation without being certain that they will. God’s sovereignty would not be at stake in such a view. A pertinent question here would be what exactly it means for “all people to be saved.” Does this mean that all are saved from death? from hades? Does it mean all are saved from separation from the Divine? Does it mean all are saved from all suffering? Does it mean all are saved from all evil, and that all evil is eliminated from “existence” (setting aside arguments about whether evil “actually exists”)?

I take it that such a conception does not adequately describe God's salvific desires vis-a-vis humanity. Stăniloae says in The Holy Trinity: In the Beginning There Was Love that God created humanity for the purpose of extending the paternal-filial relation between the Father and the Son to many more sons; this can't be accomplished so long as human persons resent, hate, fail to return, are tortured by God's paternal love for them. The Son does not respond in this way to the Father. So also God wants an obedient and glad response to his love, not a tortured one. Moreover in The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. 2: Creation and Deification, he says that God's intention for the creation is its deification. But an eternity of misery and torture is hardly a deification -- that is not what God's life is like, and so we are not participating in God's life if that is our lot forever.

Moreover, this is not a picture of hell that I accept. The scriptures describe hell if anything as an exclusion from God's love, not an unwelcome inclusion into it. The parables in Mt 25 and elsewhere in the gospels speak of the "outer darkness" into which sinners and the disobedient are cast. Likewise Revelation speaks of those who are "outside," such as the dogs, sorcerers, etc. I don't doubt for a minute that God loves those who are in hell, and obviously I think even hell is intended for their good, since I am a universalist. But this is not a picture of hell that I find scriptural: the spatial metaphor, so far as it is used in scripture, does not describe the damned and the saved in the same place, but in different places with correspondingly different experiences. God's goal is their eventual inclusion, but first there is an exclusion.

It is obvious to me what the phrase "that all people be saved" means -- the same thing it means everywhere in scripture: that people be lifted up into the life of the fellowship of the Holy Trinity and all that this implies, whether justification or sanctification or resurrection to immortality or whatever. Salvation means fixing everything that is wrong with humanity, including the wayward and disobedient will. There is no salvation worth talking about in scripture except one that means moving from a worse state to a better one. It would hardly be a salvation worth accomplishing to keep a sinner in torment for eternity because he rejects the love of God in his immortality, rather than merely allowing him to be destroyed if he doesn't want life with God anyway. If anything, raising a person to immortality knowing that it will be torturous for her unto eternity is demonic. At the very least it does not express love. You may respond that even God does not know whether every person will be saved or not, but that is a long discussion and takes us down a different road.

These, then, are my points in response: God's salvific desire implies more than a mere salvation from the biological fact of death, but rather includes joyful and voluntary fellowship with the Trinity; for this reason, so long as this desire is not realized, his sovereignty is compromised; consequently, a merely hopeful universalism issues in a mere hope in God's sovereignty, which undoes the biblical function of the eschaton, and which compromises the strength and confidence of Jesus' affirmation of the arrival of God's kingdom in him (Mark 1.15 and elsewhere).

Incarnation and the death of God in Romans 5

There is a curious passage in Romans 5.7-8 that perhaps suggests incarnation:

Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person someone might actually are to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

The major premise of the argument here is clear: to die for a person is a fantastic display of love. But if the minor premise is that Christ died for us, how does the conclusion follow that this is a fantastic display of God's love for us? The implication, to my mind, is that God is somehow so intimately connected with Christ that the latter's death counts as the former's.

Now the notion of God's death or God's dying has been a historically controversial one, as far as I know. Luther spoke of the death of God in the death of Christ, and we all know Moltmann's treatment of that issue in The Crucified God. The church fathers, on the other hand, if I am not mistaken, did not go so far as to affirm that God had died. They preferred to make the qualification that he had died in his human nature only.

If my proposed interpretation of the Pauline passage is correct, then there may be biblical support for using the language of God's dying. It would no doubt be true that he dies in his human nature, since only this is subject to mortality, but that doesn't invalidate the less specified statement "God died."

On the other hand, it would seem to me that the classical language describing Mary as theotokos, mother/bearer of God, presupposes a willingness to make unqualified statements about God which ground their truth in his human nature. Mary is not the mother of God in the sense of having produced a previously nonexistent deity; it is through Christ's human nature that the mother-of-God language can be used. Still, it is used without the qualifications "in his human nature," etc.

Along the same lines, then, perhaps we can use the language of the death of God for our sins without the qualifications and specifications of "in his humanity only," etc.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The peace that transforms your vision

Paul begins his discussion in Romans 5 with the following fine affirmation: Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand (5.1-2). This new peace with God, in light of the previous enmity and darkness of sin apart from the grace of God (cf. Rom 3.9ff.), offers an entirely new vantage point from which to live life.

For instance, Paul goes on to say that Christians rejoice and boast even in their sufferings (v. 3). How on earth could this be? In the first place, it seems empirically false -- after all, how many Christians do we know that do not rejoice but rather complain in their sufferings, even eventually abandon the faith altogether? Yet Paul seems to affirm rather confidently that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (vv. 3-4).

I think it would be mistaken to understand Paul's language here as describing some kind of automatic process. The point is not that if you're a Christian, suffering and hardship will automatically produce hope, character, and endurance in you. We know that this is generally not true; the natural reaction to hardship, at least for many people, is despair and a kind of spiritual deflation. Presupposed is that the Christian voluntarily and freely engages in hopeful endurance, that the Christian makes use of suffering as an occasion for developing character.

My proposal is that Paul understands the Christian to do all this because of her new standing before God, thanks to Jesus Christ. Precisely because we have been justified by faith and now have peace with God, we can and ought to approach suffering and hardship differently than before. We find in hardship an occasion for soul-making, an opportunity to develop our characters differently than we had previously done.

And we don't have any trouble hoping in God, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (v. 5). We love God, we know that he has done something fantastic and great for us in Jesus Christ, and so we can trust him. Paul later poses the question: What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? (8.31) Indeed, if God is for us, then what can mere sufferings and earthly travails do to us? On the contrary, by the power of God we can turn them into occasions for making ourselves more like Jesus Christ.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Stăniloae on how to know you're elect

In a discussion on the knowledge God has of individual persons, Stăniloae likewise addresses the question of persons who worry about their salvation, whether they are known by God or not. He is not a universalist, evidently, so he speaks of some persons who will enjoy fellowship with God forever, and others who will be punished forever in God's forgetting them.

Neither is he a Calvinist, obviously, but I enjoyed his discussion here:

Anyone who wishes to be saved gives proof by that very fat that he is not predestine to eternal punishment. It is only those who do not put to themselves, in any way that is real, the problem of whether they wish to be saved, who will go to eternal punishment -- only those who have never once been tormented by the question: am I destined for eternal punishment? Because, were they ever once to feel that torment, they would prove by that very fact that they wanted to be saved and so they would be saved (The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. 1, p. 209).

Now Stăniloae constantly emphasizes the freedom of man's will and the importance of man's own effort in the process of salvation, so he would no doubt allow that it lies within the freedom to ask the question of his own salvation. He does not believe that God has chosen ahead of time the particular details of any person's life, and he certainly is not the ultimate decider of whether a person will believe in him or not. These things lie in the hands of man to choose, one way or the other. Still, the failure ever to pose the question more or less guarantees and itself predestines one to damnation. If you never worry about whether you will be saved, by that fact you show that you will be damned.

Why? Because the default state of a human  person is not a good or even indifferent one; it is a sinful and condemned one, one whose natural end is only death. The most dangerous thing is to think that we are all right at the end of the day, that things will be fine just because. Stăniloae emphasizes that it is only in Christ's own person that humanity has been perfected, and for us to be perfected we must be united with God in Christ. It is only in Christ's own person that humanity knows God and God humanity, and if we are to be known, we must unite with Christ:

In Christ the possibility is given us to advance towards the stage where God knows man as he knows himself, and where man knows God as he knows himself. But to achieve this we must advance in union with Christ (p. 210).

Interestingly, too, Stăniloae seems to make the suggestion that posing the question of your own salvation is enough to win salvation for you. Presumably the line of reasoning is that you will seek the means of your salvation if it is really a concern for you, and since these are readily available, and since God stands ready to help as well, your salvation is guaranteed. This is a nice theme of Eastern Orthodox spirituality, despite its controversy to the Western ear: a constant worry about your salvation is what wins it; complacency is the greatest spiritual danger. Jesus said to keep watch and not fall asleep (Mark 13.35). This was a part of the spirituality of the monks of Christian past:

A hermit saw someone laughing, and said to him, 'We have to render an account of our whole life before heaven and earth, and you can laugh?' (The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks, p. 17).

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Applied divine omniscience

Sometimes we may have the conviction that engaging in theology is too abstract and theoretical, too removed from everyday life to be of any spiritual use. It is true that some discussions can get exceedingly arcane and technical. At the same time, however, theology can be eminently fruitful for the spiritual life, as well.

Consider the episode between David and Jonathan, when Saul was trying to kill David. They made an agreement that David would hide out instead of going to a meal with the king, in order to see Saul's reaction to David's absence. If Saul reacts badly, that he means he wants David to die; but if he doesn't, then he harbors no ill will.

Now in making a pact about the matter, it is clear that Jonathan and David both consider God to be present and conscious of their discussion, even though they are hidden away somewhere from the sight of others. For instance, Jonathan says: But if my father intends to do you harm, the LORD do so to Jonathan, and more also, if I do not disclose it to you, and send you away, so that you may go in safety (1 Sam 20.13). Jonathan's language here presupposes a strong doctrine of divine knowledge: God knows even the particularities of their discussion, and he can keep track of the details in order to pay back Jonathan should things not go as agreed.

Likewise at the end of the discussion: As for the matter about which you and I have spoken, the LORD is witness between you and me forever (v. 23). Here again there is an appeal to the presence and knowledge of the LORD even in far-off regions, and more than that, a kind of willingness to enforce justice and pacts if they are made.

This kind of omnipresence and omniscience may be disturbing for some: no thought is safe, no word is privately uttered. It means that one's entire life is lived coram deo, before the presence of God who stands as judge of everyone. At the same time, however, we might think this is good thing. No private moments means no one can commit a crime and get away with it; every murder committed in the dark, in the uninhabited and abandon regions goes unnoticed by God. Everyone will be called to give a response for what they've done, and to get what they deserve, whether good or evil (2 Cor 5.10).

For me I think it would be very useful to try to live my life in light of God's omniscience in a more conscious and intentional way. It's easy to think that God is immediately present and aware in moments of suffering when you cry out to him; in fact this seems to be a natural instinct of humans as such. But when things are going okay, and you perhaps feel an attraction towards something you ought not do, then God's presence is not as obvious. We should try to live every day before the presence of God, knowing that God is witness to all things.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The resurrection of the animals

I don't know if anyone has addressed this question in any detail before, whether in contemporary times or else in the history of the church: will the animals be resurrected as well?

Certainly the reasoning of the ancient church fathers about the resurrection of humanity may tend in this direction. Some of them write about the resurrection as being a product of the union of the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ, such that human nature itself is transformed through this very union. Thus all persons will be resurrected ultimately because of the incarnation, since they all share a human nature. Human nature, however, has much in common with the animals; indeed, if you follow Aristotle, humanity just is rational animality as opposed to the non-rational animality of birds, fish, etc. But since animality is shared among the natures, you might think animality as such has been transformed for immortality.

More than that, in some critical ways, the narrative of the scripture suggests that animals are victims of humanity's mistakes. It is only post lapsum that humans eat animal meat, and if you buy the greater point that death itself is a product of Adam's sin, it would seem that Adam brought death upon the animals when otherwise they wouldn't have died. If anything it would seem that the restorative nature of God's justice asks that animals be resurrected as well, that the wrong done to them be righted, even if this is beyond their comprehension.

Now some difficulties may certainly arise regarding the nature of these animals. Will carnivores be resurrected carnivores? What will they eat, if animals will be immortal? Moreover, given the insanely huge number of animals that have ever existed on earth -- many more than humans -- where would they all fit? What about parasites and otherwise intrinsically harmful creatures?

No doubt resurrection invites questions, for animals as much as for human beings. Still, the inability to answer technical and logistical questions is not ultimately damning, since the same sorts of problems exist for the resurrection of human persons as well. Yet no one is ready to give up belief in the resurrection of humans just because it isn't obvious where they will all go, or what will happen to those with developmental disabilities, etc.

In a way it seems to me affirming the resurrection of animals, unique and unexpected and even avant-garde though it may be, is a way of taking seriously that "new" insight of N.T. Wright and others who follow his lead. I am talking about all the language of the redemption of creation. It wouldn't seem to me plausible to talk about a redemption of humanity without the redemption of currently corrupted human persons, as opposed to a mere recreation of an entirely new humanity, discontinuous to the previous. Mutatis mutandis the same point can be made in the case of animals: the creation will hardly be redeemed if all the compromised elements are merely destroyed forever, and an entirely new creation brought into existence with no ontological continuity with the previous one.