Monday, December 1, 2014

What has God done with his life?

I want to comment briefly on what my friend Bill Vallicella (for whom I am thankful) writes about in a post entitled What Have You Done With Your Life, God?:

Thanksgiving evening, the post-prandial conversation was very good.  Christian Marty K. raised the question of what one would say were one to meet God after death and God asked, "What did you do with your life?"

Atheist Peter L. shot back, "What did you do with your life, God?"

Peter Lupu is another friend of mine for whom I am thankful, and this question is typical of him: clever, sharp, and fitting of a true Israelite -- of someone who struggles with God. It is obvious that the question aims to bring God to respond for the way the world has turned out: full of evil and ostensibly pointless suffering.

I don't bother answering this question from any other perspective except that of the Christian gospel, because the Christian gospel gives us a concrete answer to the problem of evil in a way that speculation about God's purposes for permitting evil do not. The answer is a very clear and simple to understand one.

Christmas time is upon us, and during this time of year we celebrate that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1.14), that this Word in Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures so that as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ and God will be all in all (1 Cor 15.3, 22, 28).

What we see in this short sentence is this:

First, the Word became flesh. God does not stand aloof from us in all of our sufferings and evils, and as Athanasius says (De Incarnatione 6), it is beneath him and unworthy of his goodness to be unconcerned and uncaring when his creation is coming undone. For this reason he takes on human nature in the Incarnation, undergoing the suffering to which we are all condemned, the sufferings typical of a terrestrial life for a human: physical pains of various sorts, including a violent and torturous death; emotional pains from rejection and the experience of suffering; psychological pains such as fear and anger and disappointment. God takes on what is human and experiences it all in Jesus Christ. This step down to our level shows us that God loves us and cares about us, and makes our experiences and travails and toils his own. He even feels the same temptations to evil that all of us feel, though he never committed evil but only ever good (Heb 2.14-8, 4.14-5).

Second, Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures. Christianity also teaches that human beings are in a wretched state because of the presence of sin in themselves. Their nature is corrupted and broken; they are like broken machines which don't function properly. The proper end for sinful human beings is death and destruction: this is the natural order of things, and it is a part of God's justice. God in his justice and holiness cannot tolerate that evil continue to exist ad infinitum; there has to be an end put to evil, and therefore human beings, who have evil in their hearts, are destined eventually to die. But as I cited from Athanasius above, it is beneath God's goodness to see the creation become undone and humankind annihilated. Consequently the Son takes on human nature and willingly undergoes death in the place of others. Humanity was condemned to die, so the Son by taking on humanity assents to this death. Moreover he intends his death to be a kind of satisfaction for the sins of the rest of the world, taking upon himself the condemnation and punishment due to the others, so that they may not undergo it. This is something that scriptures of the Israelites foretold long ago (see, e.g., Isa 53).

Third, as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. Athanasius writes that because Christ's human nature was united to his divine nature, consequently death could not keep him. The Incarnation guarantees the Resurrection; the power of life in the divine nature is greater than the power of death over the human nature. But the connection between Christ's human nature and our own is such that his resurrection guarantees ours. Human nature has been fundamentally and radically transformed so that it is no longer hopelessly moribund; we will still die, but not forever. We will be resurrected from the dead, too, and this is because of Christ's resurrection. It is important not to forget, also, that physical death and spiritual death are closely related to one another in Christian theology: we die because we are also dead on the inside, so to speak; because our spirits have the sin disease. Christ takes on a human nature like ours with the sin disease, but through his life dedicated to God and the service of his neighbor, he heals the disease and reorients his humanity toward its divinely intended life. This righteousness of Christ will likewise transform all others and make them righteous (Rom 5.18-9).

Fourth, God will be all in all. The end goal was that God fill all things, that God enjoy a kind of intimacy and close connection with his creation. This is the deification of the creation, the participation of all created things in the life of God. There will always remain a numerical difference between God and creature, but the creature will get to experience the blessedness of the life of God as a gift from God. And most importantly, this is the end for everyone! No one will be excluded forever from this glorious result. Every suffering, every pain, every tear shed will be redeemed and done away with, and there will be only joy and peace and happiness and bliss for all of eternity. Moreover, we have the opportunity to participate somewhat in that life here and now, through the means of grace God has provided for us: through baptism, through the Eucharist, through the scriptures, through the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit in the human heart, through the fellowship with the family of believers.