The Spirit of the Lord, §10.5: Forensicism

Fifth, the vision of the New Jerusalem is forensic. The eschatological vision of the New Jerusalem is not only one of peace and wisdom, but also one of justice. The word of the Lord not only teaches; it also judges and arbitrates. As I have already indicated, the basis for true justice is the judgment of God, and the prophecy in Micah makes this point particularly evident. Nations on their own are incapable of beating their swords into plowshares; they require the sovereign will of God to realize this otherwise impossible reality. God alone determines the world to be a place of peace and justice for all people, and this divine determination does not override human freedom but rather establishes it. As a result of God’s gracious will for all nations, “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” The word of grace comes down from the mountain of Zion to all people in order to actualize the reality which each nation desires but cannot realize on its own. The nations of the world are thus wholly dependent upon the justifying judgment of God for their being-in-communion with Creator and creation.

The forensic framework of Micah’s vision testifies to the centrality of the law. Word and law are correlative concepts: the word of the Lord is a covenantal word of law, and the law given by God is a law which encounters humanity in the event of the word. From one perspective, the law is the internal basis for the word, while the word is the external basis for the law. Correspondingly, the covenant is the internal basis for creation, while creation is the external basis for the covenant. The law confirms the gracious will of God toward humanity, establishes the covenantal relation between God and humanity, and will one day be written on the hearts of all people (Jer. 31:33); the word of the Lord, in turn, declares, teaches, and actualizes the law of the covenant, but in the eschatological kingdom such words of instruction will no longer be necessary “for they shall all know me” (Jer. 31:34).

From another perspective, however, the word is the internal basis for the law, while the law is the external basis for the word. The word of the Lord calls creation into existence (Gen. 1:3, Jn. 1:3, Heb. 1:2); comes to Abraham as confirmation of the covenant prior to the giving of circumcision (Gen. 15:1); goes out from the mouth of the Lord and “shall not return to me empty” because it accomplishes the divine purpose (Isa. 55:11); was “secret and hidden” though declared by God “before the ages for our glory” (1 Cor. 2:7); was made known by God in the giving of the divine name as the basis for God’s faithfulness to the covenant (Exod. 3:14-15); was definitively revealed in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, as eternal life in fellowship with God for all people (Jn. 1:1, 1 Jn. 1:2-3); and finally will never pass away though heaven and earth may pass away (Matt. 24:35, Mk. 13:31, Lk. 21:33). The law, therefore, is the concrete form that the word of God took in relation to the covenant people of God. The law is not the basis for this covenantal relation but rather originates in the primal divine word that calls the cosmos and the covenant into existence.

In the end, the word of the Lord is the internal basis of the law because Jesus Christ and he alone is the Word of the Lord, and as the eternal Logos of God he is the Lord of the law, the fulfillment of the law (Matt. 5:17), and the telos of the law (Rom. 8:1-4). Jesus teaches the law as one who has authority over the law (Matt. 7:29); moreover, “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to him as the Lord of all life (Matt. 28:18), as the one who commissions disciples to be his messengers to the ends of the earth. The incarnate Word of God is the one who “sustains all things by his powerful word,” including the law and the covenant, along with all creation (Heb. 1:1-3). As a result, the law depends upon the word, not the word upon the law: “In the beginning was the Word.” Most importantly, Jesus Christ as the incarnate Verbum Domini is the internal basis for the law because the law points to him rather than the other way around. The law is a proleptic manifestation of the eschatological reconciliation which Jesus Christ actualized in his life, death, and resurrection as the incarnate Word. The law is “only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities” that Christ brought into existence (Heb. 10:1), because only Jesus Christ “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins,” and by this sacrifice “he has perfected for all time those who were sanctified” (Heb. 10:12, 14). Christ’s sacrifice is not an external addition to the law, but is rather the internal basis for the law. Jesus Christ’s person and work is both the eternal foundation and eschatological realization of the “covenant of peace” (Isa. 54:10) which the law anticipated but could not actualize: “for what the law was powerless to do” God the Father accomplished by sending the Son on the divine mission of reconciliation “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us” (Rom. 8:3-4). Because he alone “made purification for sins” as the “mediator of a better covenant” (Heb. 1:3, 8:6), Jesus Christ fulfilled what the covenantal law could only await in hopeful anticipation—viz. the reconciliation of the world (2 Cor. 5:19), the justification of the ungodly (Rom. 5:6-8), the defeat of sin and death (1 Cor. 15:24-26), and the establishment of the kingdom of God in which “God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).

The judgment of God is a life-bestowing judgment. According to the prophets, the judgment that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord is one that rectifies the systemic disorder and oppression perpetuated by the power-structures of sin and death (Isa. 62; Jer. 23:1-7). Because of God’s rectifying judgment, the poor are welcomed to the banquet table, the foreigners are brought home, the defenseless are given safe shelter, and the widows and orphans are adopted into a new family. The judgment of God destroys the old world of static actualities and establishes a new world of endless possibilities. Against the hegemonic reign of sin and death, God calls into being the reign of love through the liberating agency of Word and Spirit. As the objective and subjective dimensions of divine judgment, respectively, Word and Spirit inaugurate the irruption of the New Jerusalem into the existing nexus of antiquated relations, thereby identifying the old world as definitively and eternally old and establishing the new world as definitively and eternally new. Instead of social and economic inequities, divine judgment establishes universal equality before the throne of grace; instead of violent factions, divine judgment brings peace to the world; instead of a humanity artificially divided by borders, cultures, and creeds, divine judgment unites all around the mountain of the Lord; and instead of the cyclical hopelessness of human history, divine judgment initiates the only truly new event: the event of the messiah, the event of Jesus Christ—the incarnate Word of God, the life-giving judgment of God made flesh.

This is the promise of divine judgment: where God speaks through Word and Spirit, life flourishes anew and peace reigns among the peoples of the earth. According to Isaiah, when the Spirit of the Lord is “poured out on us,” the barren desert becomes a fecund forest and the city that once oppressed the needy becomes a pasture for the grazing of God’s flock (Isa. 32:14-15). The Spirit of the Lord is thus the Spirit of divine rectification, the Spirit who comes bearing the life-giving judgment of the Lord. The Spirit is the Spirit of the Word. The Spirit of the Lord is the Spirit of God’s Yes—or rather the Spirit of God’s No to sin and death in service of God’s Yes to righteousness and life. Where the Spirit of the Lord blows, the stump becomes the branch (Isa. 6:13, 11:1), the wilderness becomes a fruitful field (Isa. 32:15), and the heap becomes the city of Zion (Isa. 44:26). The Spirit concretizes the creative judgment of God; the Spirit manifests the new world here and now by actualizing, in the eternal moment of divine revelation, an existential encounter with the eschatological Word. In other words, the Spirit of the Lord concretizes the New Jerusalem, subjectivizes the objective res of the verbum Domini, and existentially realizes in the moment of revelation the divine rectification accomplished in the messianic mission of the triune God.

We must remember that the actualizing work of the Spirit is not a second work in distinction from the work of the Word. The divine agents of Word and Spirit together constitute one work—viz. the missio Dei. The entire witness of the New Testament makes it clear that there are not two missions but only one: the mission of reconciling the world to God, the mission of new creation (2 Cor. 5:17-19). The Spirit is sent by the Father as the Spirit of Christ, as “the Spirit of the Son of God” (Gal. 4:6). The Spirit is not sent on a second mission by the Father, nor is the Spirit necessary in order to complete what the Son began. On the contrary, there is one mission of reconciliation and adoption, and the Spirit is the Spirit of the living Jesus Christ who already accomplished that mission in his faithful obedience to the point of death on a cross. Consequently, the Spirit does not complete or augment the salvific faith of Christ; rather the Spirit subjectively confirms what was objectively fulfilled by Christ’s faith. The Spirit, we might say, is the existential realization of Christ’s historical actualization of adoption. The Spirit confirms the work of Christ by moving within the hearts of those who received adoption, awakening them to the reality of the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ. By crying, “Abba! Father!” the Spirit existentially awakens the adoptee to her identity as the child and heir of God (4:7). As Paul clarifies in Rom. 8:15b-16, “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” The Abba-cry of the Spirit subjectively confirms or bears witness that we have indeed been objectively adopted as children of God through Jesus Christ.

The fructifying Spirit of Christ is the awakening and empowering agent of the community’s existence-in-faith. The missional Spirit of God existentializes and concretizes the objective reality of Jesus Christ’s mission of redemption and adoption. The Spirit calls the community’s faith into existence by actualizing the existential encounter with the Word that reconciles, adopts, and perfects humanity. According to Barth, faith “consists in the subjectivization of an objective res,” in which this objective other—viz. Jesus Christ—remains “independent of and superior to” the human subject of this faith (CD IV/1, 742). Concordantly, “faith does not realize anything new,” since faith does not realize a new object, nor does not it even realize a new relation to that object; faith is simply “following its object,” an object which, as divine subject, has already established the irrevocable ontological relation to the human subject in the covenant of grace. The Spirit, therefore, existentializes the ontological reality of the new creation through the Spirit’s fructifying presence in the community. Our new existence-in-faith is one in which “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20), yet at the same time we “live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). Thus, the objective reality of Jesus Christ is our new life, but it is a life made possible through the empowerment of the Spirit as the one who existentializes and concretizes the history of Jesus Christ.

As the rectifying event of Word and Spirit, the eschatological reign of God destroys the bonds of oppression and establishes a covenantal community of righteousness. In such a community, true freedom is found in obedience to the verbum Domini, true peace is found in the just arbitration of the Lord, and true justice is found in the righteous judgments of God. Justice is not determined by an abstract theoretical ethic but is rather concretely embodied in the Suffering Servant who “will bring forth justice to the nations” because the Spirit of the Lord is “upon him” (Isa. 42:1). The messianic servant “will faithfully bring forth justice” and “will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth” (Isa. 42:3-4). In him, the justice-establishing judgment of the Lord is incarnate; in him, the universal reign of God is actualized. He is “a covenant to the people, a light to the nations” (Isa. 42:6), and in him the covenantal community becomes a witness to the light and a concrete embodiment of God’s covenant of grace. In him, God has delivered the justifying judgment upon the people of the world which alone realizes the eschatological hope of true righteousness and peace: “Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places” (Isa. 32:16-18). The hope of justice, righteousness, and peace rests wholly upon the Promised One, the messiah, the servant who comes to suffer on behalf of others and establish God’s eternal reign. He comes “to open the eyes that are blind” and “to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon”; he comes to liberate and redeem, to reconcile and restore. In the righteous reign of God that the messiah brings forth into the world, all things are made new (cf. Rev. 21:5). Instead of despair, God’s reign brings comfort; instead of hunger, “a feast of rich food” (Isa. 25:6); instead of tears, the joy of the Lord (Isa. 25:8); instead of barrenness, children beyond number (Isa. 54:1-5); instead of namelessness, a new name (Isa. 62:2); instead of forsakenness and desolation, delight and fertility (Isa. 62:4); instead of the shroud of death, a song of new life (Isa. 25:7); instead of silence, the judgment of the Lord (Isa. 65:6); instead of darkness, “salvation like a burning torch” (Isa. 62:1).

The confession of the covenantal community is that this divine judgment has indeed taken place in Jesus of Nazareth, the promised Suffering Servant who is the incarnation of God’s eternal will to reconcile and redeem creation. In him, the rectifying declaration of God was delivered once and for all; in him, the Spirit of the Lord was manifest as the Spirit of God’s eternal, electing Yes to all people. The inauguration of God’s righteous reign is now a complete but not yet consummate reality; it is established but not yet revealed to all. Christ is the one who comes bearing the judgment of life, for the Father “granted the Son also to have life in himself” as well as the “authority to execute judgment” (Jn. 5:26-27). As a result, “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (Jn. 5:25). Christ thus comes as the divine Judge whose judgments raise the dead to new life by the power of the Spirit. According to the prophets, he is the one on whom the Spirit rests in fullness of power, whose voice calms the waves and heals the sick, and whose coming establishes God’s reign. He is the one who turns the wilderness into the forest and brings the branch out of the stump. In fact, according to the prophet Isaiah, he is the branch: he is the subversive seed that grows new vines of righteousness in the midst of the oppressive briars of sin and death; he is the promised seed who comes as the tree of life within the desolate land east of Eden to rectify a world spiraling into the abyss. He is the Promised One, the Coming One, the Judge of the world who is judged in our place, and the Word of the Lord who speaks God’s justifying Yes in accordance with the Spirit of life.
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. (Isa. 11:1-6)
Jesus Christ came to “judge the peoples” (Isa. 3:13) in order to establish equity (“for the meek of the earth”), peace (“wolf shall live with the lamb”), and covenant faithfulness between God and the people of the earth. Christ is the incarnation of God’s faithfulness to the covenant, and consequently God calls the community of the covenant to respond with similar faithfulness by living in correspondence to the equity, peace, and justice realized in the mission of the messiah. The justifying missio Dei liberates humanity for the responsibility of living in correspondence to the divine mission of reconciliation. The result of the missio Dei is that the covenant is now written upon our hearts (Jer. 31:31-34); we are now equipped by the power of the Spirit to live in faithful obedience to the covenant of grace. In the absence of such faithfulness, however, the prophets unequivocally declare that the Lord encounters us with a definitive No: “The LORD enters into judgment with the elders and princes of the people” who have taken advantage of the poor and amassed their wealth by exploiting the needy (Isa. 3:14). God denounces those “join house to house” and “field to field,” taking land for themselves “until there is room for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land” (Isa. 5:8). These people live isolated in their “large and beautiful houses,” but these homes will soon “be desolate” (Isa. 5:9), for death is the natural consequence of living in opposition to one’s neighbors: “for the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

God’s No, however, is not the end: “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” According to the prophet, “The LORD of hosts is exalted by justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy by righteousness” (Isa. 5:16). In the face of a human race marked by injustice and unrighteousness, God takes up the cause of justice and righteousness in humanity’s stead. In the midst of a world defined by death, God submits to death in Jesus Christ in order that we might receive the gift of eternal life—a life that concerns our very being here and now. Despite the fact that we continue to merit the divine No in the way we say No to each other, God chooses instead to say Yes by submitting to our human No of suffering, oppression, and death in order to conquer the No from within. God negates the negation of sin and paradoxically establishes the positive reality of resurrection. God thus exalts Godself by accomplishing the work of divine justice; God shows Godself to be holy by reigning victorious in righteousness over all human unrighteousness. As Luther understood, God is righteous in that God makes others righteous. God’s holiness and righteousness are creative: they seek out ungodliness and unrighteousness in order to make the ungodly holy and the unrighteous righteous. God is just in establishing true justice. God accomplished this work objectively in the event of the cross and subjectively in the awakening power of the Spirit. This is the essence of the missio Dei: to create by Word and Spirit a community of righteousness that will live in accordance with the eternal life given in Christ Jesus; to create a community that says Yes and Amen to God’s Yes and Amen to us in Jesus Christ; to create a community that loves the neighbor in correspondence to Christ’s love of humanity: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. . . . Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” (1 Jn. 3:16, 4:11).

We thus find the repeated prophetic declaration that God does not desire cultic obedience but rather love for others. The “fast” which the Lord chooses is in fact “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke” (Isa. 58:6). The prophet continues to describe the proper form of worship as feeding the hungry, offering hospitality to the homeless poor, clothing the naked, and (perhaps most difficult of all) caring for one’s own relatives (Isa. 58:7). When the community’s worship takes the form of social justice, then God promises the glorious presence of the Lord (vv. 8-9), the guidance of the Spirit (v. 11), a rootedness in tradition (v. 14), and an endless delight in the ways of God (v. 14). The community of love and justice is the community where God dwells. God’s Spirit is not bound to us because we preach from the Bible or because we happen to be structurally related to past Christian communities. We must continually be conformed to Christ (conformitas Christi) by the Spirit; we must allow the God of peace and justice to shape us into a community of peace and justice. Only then will we live in correspondence to our actual identity in Jesus Christ. If we preach the right words but fail to embody love of the neighbor, we remain a community in contradiction; instead of being a community of God’s Yes, we become a community of God’s No. As a result, the word of the Lord to us today and always is this: “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another” (Zech. 7:9-10).

Other passages could also serve as the word of the Lord to the church regarding the law of God and the justice which God demands of the church. According to God’s word to Israel: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD (Lev. 19:18). According to James: You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Jas. 2:8). According to John: Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us (1 Jn. 4:7-12). According to Paul: Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:8-10). According to Paul again: For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:13-14). Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). And according to our Lord: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-45). He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40; cf. Mk. 12:28-34; Lk. 10:25-28). In all of these passages the law is defined by love of God and love of neighbor, which are not two different loves but rather one and the same love, for the love of God must also be love of neighbor and love of neighbor is dependent upon the love of God. The connection between love and the law is brought out perfectly by Paul’s important phrase, “the law of Christ.” Paul does not reject the law altogether but instead recasts it in christological terms. Christ determines the law, for he came as its foundation and fulfillment.


Unknown said…
That was interesting. I found I’d read one paragraph and completely agree, and read the next and completely disagree – I’m sure that’s a sign of my general ignorance.

I liked the paragraphs that describe justice as that which transforms us into those who love – I didn’t like the paragraphs that focused more on how God’s justice conquers the old, destroys sin and death, etc.

I think it’s because I’m more Eastern in my perspectives. I know there is a (perhaps false) dichotomy between the overall justification theology and the theosis/deification theology of the East; I find I resonate more with the Eastern perspective.

Here are some questions/comments:
1. How would you work in the parable of the workers in the field – all who worked a different number of hours and got paid the same? Clearly God is not interested in our definition of ‘fairness.’
2. Why the sharp contrast between the old and the new? Isn’t God working as much now as any point in history? What if we need to learn now what is always true….embrace our weakness as an opportunity for union with God rather than something always to be overcome?
3. I think it’s to cast God as weak to say He conquers sin and death. I prefer to say God transforms sin and death into points of contact with him. This is not to advocate either per se, but to say that with the relationship with Christ, we can look directly into our sins and see Him instead of despair; He has healed death …. So that it is now part of His domain, not something to be feared that would separate us from Him.

Forgive me ahead of time if you addressed these points and I just missed them. I very much liked the last part where you discuss love of God must be manifested as love of neighbor, or it’s not real. It reminds of Catherine of Sienna’s point about virtue: she said in her dialogues with God that the point was made there is no ‘potential’ virtue – it’s either real or non-existent. There is not such thing as potential patience….on has to have one’s patience tried for patience to be real….it doesn’t lie dormant and also be a reality. So also with love of God and love of neighbor; no love of neighbor….then is the love of God real?


I don't think our difference is over East vs. West conceptions of salvation. In fact, I'm positive that is not the source of our disagreement. I think the main point of difference is found in the fact that you don't take sin as seriously as I do. You basically equate sinfulness with mortality; it's a natural part of our finite existence. I fundamentally disagree with that. The entire Christian tradition rests on the notion that there is something wrong, something "fallen," that needs to be set aright by God. And the gospel is that God did set things right in the event of Jesus Christ.

Your view that sin is just a natural aspect of our humanity that God comes to embrace rather than destroy is neither Western nor Eastern. It may sound more Eastern to you -- with the emphasis upon participation and deification -- but it's not, because the Eastern view depends upon a soteriology in which Christ conquers Satan, death, and sin.

The Eastern view of salvation is, broadly speaking, more focused on Christ as a conqueror over mortality and evil. Origen has the famous view of Christ's human flesh being the "bait" that attracted Satan, while his divine nature was the hook that destroyed Satan. The entire doctrine of divinization depends upon the notion that Christ destroyed death in his own death and resurrection. Divinization is not possible unless these opposing powers are absolutely eradicated in Christ. So while I think you may resonate more with the Eastern view, it's probably a rather superficial connection. I don't mean that to sound as harsh as it does; I'm just trying to point out that the view you've expressed to me thus far is not grounded in the Christian tradition.

I have to get going for the moment, so I'll respond to your questions soon.
To answer your questions, Ann, here are my thoughts:

1. I entirely agree that God is not at all bound to our notion of fairness and justice. I simply take it for granted that the justice exacted in Jesus Christ is a divine form of justice -- i.e., true justice. What makes God's justice different from human justice? Namely, that when God judges, God justifies the human person. In other words, God's judgments actually put the person in the right. Human judges can only pardon or convict; they cannot make a person new or whole.

2. The old/new distinction goes back to the issue of sin that I mentioned above. Without this distinction, there is no gospel, no salvation, no life. That is, unless you don't think we need a savior ...

3. "He has healed death": this is not biblical. Read 1 Cor. 15. God has not healed death -- that's simply incomprehensible. Death is an enemy throughout the Bible, and I think any person who has had a loved one die knows that this is indeed the case. If we look into our sin and death and see God, it is only because God came in Jesus Christ to suffer and die in order that sin and death might be destroyed once and for all. Read Romans 5 as well.
Unknown said…
Maybe you’re right. I don’t see ‘dealing with sin’ as the sole reason for the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. I think God was up to more than that. There is more to becoming Christlike than not sinning….I think there is a color and taste to divinity that the mere absence of sin does not outline. I try to ‘take sin seriously’ – I’m sure not seriously enough - I think that’s part of the reason I’m a universalist, because of having the sense of never being able to repent enough – salvation has to be the work of God. I see salvation as God’s work on behalf of man, not man’s decision to accept Christ to avoid hell or gain heaven.

Yes I do mean Christ heals death – I guess partly from the reading of von Balthazar and Rahner. I’m thinking here of how after Christ’s descent to the dead, the nature of death changed…..because Christ heals what he touches. Instead of death being the epicenter of despair, now it becomes something not to be feared, because on the other side is Christ, not isolation. Christ appropriated the realm of death, transformed it, so now when people die, they don’t need to fear oblivion.

I have lost both my parents, so I do know what the death of a loved one means.

Do you think salvation was something God needed to come up with after the fall….? I get the sense you think God isn’t fully in control right now…..isn’t fully involved in our lives.
I think you are probably reacting against a highly pietistic conception of sin in which being a Christian means "not sinning" and Jesus is simply about "saving us from our sins." I hope what I've written shows that I am not working within that framework. But not being pietistic does not mean taking sin any less seriously. In fact, I think it means taking sin a lot more seriously. Pietism always makes sin about the human individual -- about what you do. What it misses is the cosmic and ontological nature of sin. This is why I always speak about sin and death together. They are the twin "powers" (to speak very Easternly) which Christ came to defeat.

(Parenthetically, I owe a lot to people like J. Louis Martyn who have explored the apocalyptic dimensions of salvation in the NT.)

Now if Christ simply comes to embrace us and show us how much God loves us -- then I want nothing to do with it, because that Christ provides no answer to the problems of evil and death. What is the good news in a God who simply blesses the fragmentation and distortion of our present humanity? What is salvation?

To be a universalist can mean one of two things: either God loves everyone universally so that we are all saved as we are, or God judges all universally and thus rectifies us all in Christ's mission of reconciliation. The former is simply a fuzzy liberal evasion of the gospel. Unless God truly judges humanity (all of humanity!), and in judging us, saves us, there is no gospel. That is why I too am a universalist, but I am a universalist in that I view Christ's redemptive work as a universal work. But I still believe very strongly that there is a need for redemption. I don't see a similar belief on your part.

As to your final questions, I am a supralapsarian, which means that I think salvation in Christ was something God determined to accomplish prior to the fall. The fall serves God's work of redemption, but we would need to be rescued anyway, because of our finite mortality (aka death).

You've often said things about God not being in control in my account. I have no clue what you mean by that. Where do you get that idea? Is there another view you are confusing with mine? I want to make sure I understand what you are trying to say.
Unknown said…
Regarding the sense of God not being in control…..I think I get that sense whenever anyone talks about the enemies of God as you do here:” What it misses is the cosmic and ontological nature of sin. This is why I always speak about sin and death together. They are the twin "powers" (to speak very Easternly) which Christ came to defeat.” That gives me the impression that there are powers God is not control of. One who wants to defeat something I assume is one who is not in control of what one wants to defeat. The way you speak of evil and death gives me the same impression…..

Let me ask you this: If this life and relationship with Christ in this life is all that is available; if there is no afterlife, would you still want God?

I don’t have a problem with God ‘judging’ us if what is meant by that is that he diagnoses and heals us from our weaknesses and tendencies where we don’t live in union with God and thus act in love. I’m not even sure that God needs our ‘permission’ to heal us since those of us who are really sick, like the murdering sociopaths, may not think they are sick and in need of healing. I tend to believe we’re all sin-sick in ways we aren’t aware of, and God mercifully heals us.

However…..there is another perspective I very much respect, which I’ll quote here: from a Carthusian Prior in the book ‘The Wound of Love – A Carthusian Miscellany’. (Not that other book The Wound of Love – this one I quote was first published in 1994.) You may find what he writes totally outrageous…I did for awhile and have changed my mind:

(starting on p. 85)….”Fear of one’s weaknesses is a basic reaction of any human being. From the day we first realize, in one respect or another, that we cannot rely on our own strength, a tendency to worry takes root which can grow into great anxiety. All that we have said up to now leads to the loss of personal security by bringing to light what we have termed our vulnerability, our hidden disorders and the limits of our created condition. Each time, then, we have said to ourselves there is one solution – to recognize the reality of what we are and place it in the hands of the Lord.
Recall the episode of the stilling of the waters. The Apostles are panic-stricken by the way their boat is being tossed about in the storm and to wake Jesus. Astonished, he turns to them and asks: ‘Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?’ (Matthew 8:26). Then, with one gesture, he calms the waves.
So why be afraid of my own weaknesses? It is a fact that they exist; but for a long time I have refused to look them in the face. Gradually, I have assumed them, and am now obliged to recognize them as part of me. These are not extraneous to me, which I could rid myself of once and for all. Moreover, if I wished to forget them, the Father would soon bring them back to my attention. He would permit some fault of other in the face of which I would be unable to deny that I am a sinner. He would allow my health to play tricks on me, so that I would admit defeat and deliver myself defenseless to the love of the Father. He would make me realize, beyond the shadow of a doubt, how limited my abilities are.
What is new is that in the future these weaknesses, instead of representing a danger, give me the opportunity to make contact with God. For this reason I must gradually allow myself to become at ease with them, no longer considering them as a disturbing side of my personality, but as something willed and accepted by the Father; not as some hopeless inevitability but as a basis presupposition for the gift to me of divine life. When I suddenly find myself faced with a previously unknown weakness, my first reflex in the future will not be to panic but to ask myself where the Father may be hidden in it.
We cannot avoid asking ourselves a question: is this transformation of a weakness which seems to be nothing but defeat into a victory of love a sort of second thought on God’s part, an alchemy whereby he changes evil into good or, on the contrary, are we not in the presence of a fundamental dimension of the divine order?
One could say a great deal about this. Let us be satisfied with simply stating that, even in the natural order, all true love is a victory of weakness. Love does not consist in dominating, possessing or imposing one’s will on someone. Rather love is to welcome without defenses the other as he or she comes to meet me. In return, one is sure of being welcomed unreservedly by the other without being judged or condemned, and without invidious comparisons. There are no contests of strength between two people who love each other. There is a kind of mutual understanding from within which a reciprocal trust emerges.
Such an experience, even if inevitably imperfect, is already a very compelling one. Yet it is but a reflection of a divine reality. Once we really begin to believe in the infinite tenderness of the Father, we are, as it were, obliged to descend ever more fully and joyfully into a realm in which we neither possess nor understand nor control anything.”[1]
Well, that’s a radical position. I can’t say I’m in that mindset, but I wish I were more so. And yet I think it is still consistent with a position of our all needing redemption…..but I guess the process and path look different. In the Cathusian path it seems that our of a total trust in the love of God our relationship with God then provides the means of our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ so we become humble, gentle, and welcoming.

[1] A Carthusian, The Wound of Love A Carthusain Miscellany (Herefordshire: Gracewing Publishing), 85-87.
Halden said…
Ann, may I presume to be latecome patner in this conversation?

I definitely don't think we want to just posit a simple statement of "Well, God's in control of everything, so what's there to defeat?" That sounds basically like saying that there is no such thing as radical evil.

Or to say it another way, the Holocaust was not "weakness" it was an abomination of damnable evil that must be judged by God. Now, of course God's judgment is the cross, in which God is simultaneously our judge and our redeemer (a Balthasarian thought), but it is judged and taken seriously nonetheless.

As to your question about the "afterlife" (I'd say resurrection), I'd answer without hesitation that "If in this life only we have hoped in Christ we above all people are to be most pitied." (1 Cor. 15) Without the resurrection I'm going to eat, drink, and starting sleeping around because tomorrow I'm dead. Everything hangs on the reality of the promise that "The last enemy that will be destroyed is death."
Unknown said…
Halden and DW, thanks for your posts. It points out that the whole issue of judgment is necessarily connected with the overall problem of evil, which of course I don’t have an answer to. I did find Regis Martin’s book The Suffering of Love - Christ's Descent into the Hell of Human Hopelessness a valuable piece of work regarding evil such as the Holocaust. In posts as short as these, I can see how you would interpret my position as that of saying there is no radical evil. Of course there is…..that’s where I wonder if God is violating anyone’s ‘free will’ if he intervenes and brings a murderous psychopath to repentance.

Nevertheless, God is in control or not. I think no one would posit that God is not in control, but it would clearly be a false dichotomy to conclude that since God is in control then everything is also fine. Christ made it clear there is much to do in the Sermon on the Mount. I do still think it all goes back to weakness and the need for healing. Just winning a war has demonstrated many times that evil persists after that, so the response to evil that will bring about universal and permanent peace is difficult to imagine. This all is related to the main topic at hand, the judgment of God…and what that looks like.

As I said before, if judgment means discernment of illness and healing, then that makes perfect sense to me. There are some things DW has written that suggest he means that, when he writes things like, “I simply take it for granted that the justice exacted in Jesus Christ is a divine form of justice -- i.e., true justice. What makes God's justice different from human justice? Namely, that when God judges, God justifies the human person. In other words, God's judgments actually put the person in the right. Human judges can only pardon or convict; they cannot make a person new or whole.” (from his second reply to my initial response).

So how does this work in the context of someone like Josef Mengele? Let’s say he died (I don’t know the facts here – this is hypothetical) thinking all he had done in the war was fine. So he dies unrepentant. There’s a case of radical evil, surely. I think more needs to be said than God’s judgment puts the person in the right; maybe it just needs more unpacking for dimwits like me. Clearly it can’t mean God regards all the person did as righteous or even that since Christ bore his just punishment on the Cross for him (which I don’t necessarily believe, depending upon how that is elaborated), God now ‘regards’ him as righteous. Doesn’t Mengele have to change? If he doesn’t then it seems God judging him as righteous is unintelligible. I would think Mengele would have to experience conversion, repent, and want a relationship with God. So maybe we’re all saying the same thing and I’m just reacting to the word ‘judge’ because I associate it with ‘condemn.’

Halden, regarding no afterlife….I don’t think Paul’s discourse about the resurrection need lead to your conclusion even if one came to believe there is no resurrection. If the relationship with Christ in the here and now is not enough, then I doubt it would be enough in the afterlife. I would hope that Christians describe themselves as in love with Christ, rather than ascribing to a set of tenets for later rewards. Carmelite Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity said of heaven, ‘It seems to me that I have found my heaven on earth since heaven is God and God is within my soul.’

I have several CDs that are Sufi Arabic music - one of them has a poem/prayer in it that goes like this:

You drew me from a drop of water
You have been my beginning
You shall be my end.
I care nothing for heaven or hell
All I want is to be with you.
Thanks, Halden and Ann, for your comments. Ann, there are a couple things that are getting in the way of mutual understanding. I'll try my best to unpack some of them:

1. Judgment is not equivalent to condemnation. That would only be the case if divine judgment were identical with human judgment, but we've already concluded that that is not the case.

2. Salvation is not equivalent to "getting into heaven." This is an old pietistic and modern fundamentalist position with which we both disagree.

3. Sin is not weakness; if it were, then it would not be sin and we could just call it weakness. Sin is also not an illness. An illness is something that plagues a person for a moment, but can be cured without changing the person. In order to remove sin, God must remove the sinner; that is what God accomplished in Christ: the removal of the old person who is enslaved to sin (Rom. 5-7) and the creation of a new human person who lives in relation to God.

4. Sin is something disruptive, perverted (in the sense of "against nature"), and anti-relational. It is to be "curved in upon oneself," to have distorted relations with God, the world, others, and oneself.

5. Humanity needs to be reconciled to God. That doesn't mean God needs to be reconciled to us; just the opposite. We are the ones who are estranged from God. It seems to me that you are advocating for union with God without reconciliation, which misses the middle step: being made capable of union with God.

6. Along with that: salvation, as I understand it, is the event in which we are reconciled to God. Union with God is secondary; it is a consequence of our reconciliation. Reconciliation and union with God are parallel, in that sense, to justification and sanctification.

7. Reconciliation is not external to our being but internal. In other words, reconciliation is a "new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). Justification, as reconciliation, is not simply God seeing us as righteous. That would be a divine self-deception, because we are obviously not righteous, in ourselves. Perhaps justification means that God sees us in Jesus Christ. This is a classically Protestant position, but that's not quite right either.

Justification is really a consequence of the fact that our identity is found in Jesus Christ. He is the mediator, and thus his being and his history is our being and our history. What he accomplishes, he accomplishes in our place and on our behalf. Perhaps our fundamental difference comes down to a disagreement over the atonement as an event of divine substitution. Don't get caught up in the baggage associated with substitutionary atonement. All I am saying is that justification, reconciliation, salvation are all a consequence of the fact that in Jesus Christ, we are made new, made fully alive, made whole, made righteous.
Unknown said…
Thanks, DW, for your comments. I think it’s getting clearer where we have different perspectives on matters, but I think we should just leave it at that, as I don’t see an easy path to resolution.
I’m glad we both agree about what judgment and salvation at least is not; not condemnation and not just a ticket to heaven. I would still like to hear Halden’s explanation for his position if there is no afterlife, however.

We do have different perspectives about sin. Maybe yours is more Augustinian? I do have more the Eastern view that the original image is not gone, just obscured; there isn’t an identity change during sanctification, which your paragraph suggests. Your paragraph 3 actually reminds me of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Stepford Wives. I think God works with us as we are, slowly, patiently, and is more interested in the person and the relationship with him. Clearly God can be in union with us while we are not perfect; the whole process of salvation is for that union to deepen in us. And the possibility for this is found in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ. I think we do agree that however things occur, Christ is the sine qua non for it all.

I would say that sin is the effect of weakness. For example, because of one’s distorted self image (thinking one’s worth depends on wealth, respect of others, or accomplishments) one engages in sins of what boil down to idolatry. Deviations from life in God may start out minor, like buying things we don’t need to becoming so greedy that other’s needs are willfully ignored. But at the base of it all is some sort of sickness; Christ is the healer that cures all our maladies (but there’s still that Carthusian perspective to mull over……)

Yes, I agree humanity needs to be reconciled with God….and that is what I think is a process. I’m sure this may be the core of our difference perspective; salvation is an ongoing process towards union, and reconciliation is as well; there is an initial conversion experience where a person is graced with the desire to seek God, and then along the way there are many more repentances…this may also be an eastern view. I think I have mentioned before about the desert father Abba Sisoes: Considered to be a very holy and venerable man himself, many drew near to Abba Sisoes while he was on his death bed. His last words were, "I have not yet begun to repent."

As one grows in union with God the awareness of one’s own sinful state becomes clearer – and this doesn’t mean the person ‘hasn’t accepted Christ as his Savior.’ It means the awareness of need for God’s ongoing grace deepens.

Paragraph 6 above is a good example of our different use of terms (and I don’t know if it much matters, since we all probably have it more wrong than right). My use of those terms would be that salvation is the process that brings about union….

I agree with your points in Paragraph 6 and 7….in that all that Christ did was on our behalf. What this little debate does point out though it that we don’t necessary know what someone else means when they make a theological statement. People say ‘Jesus died for our sins.’ I would agree or disagree with that depending upon how it was unpacked.

What about the case of Mengele….how do you work that out? Or what about the Bishop in Fanny and Alexander (probably my favorite movie)… does he end up reconciled?

On another note, have you read much of Syriac Fathers, like Isaac of Syria? I’d be curious to see your reaction to his writings. He’s a universalist as well…..

Two more points of disagreement/clarification:

1. I do not believe that salvation is a process. What you call salvation I call sanctification. The only process is our becoming more and more like Christ. Salvation (i.e., reconciliation) is an event, and without this christological event, the process is impossible. You are right to see that the process side of salvation is more Eastern, but the Orthodox recognize very well that this process is secondary to the liberation accomplished in Christ. We are not in ourselves capable of union with God. We must be freed from the grasp of sin and death -- or Satan as the ancients called the powers of evil.

2. The question about Mengele or any other person who commits evil is no different than the question about myself or my neighbor: all of us have sinned and thus fallen short (Rom. 3:23); we all deserve death (Rom. 6:23); but we are all redeemed and reconciled in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5). In other words, Mengele does not "end up reconciled"; he is already reconciled in Jesus Christ. If he dies unrepentant, as many of us do, he nevertheless encounters a gracious and merciful God because his sin was borne by Christ and eradicated on the cross. The case of Mengele is therefore no different than that of any other person. The error of thinking some are more distant from God than others is the failure of looking at the human person apart from Christ, rather than remembering that our identity is not our own but belongs to God and was assumed by God in taking on human flesh in Jesus.

While we may just agree to disagree, I do highly recommend the recent post by Dan that touches on this topic (he mentions both of us by name). Read it here.
Halden said…
"Halden, regarding no afterlife….I don’t think Paul’s discourse about the resurrection need lead to your conclusion even if one came to believe there is no resurrection."

Well, Ann, I think you couldn't be more wrong there. Paul's discourse doesn't "lead" me to that conclusion, that's a conclusion he draws himself. We either accept it as authoritative, or we don't. I don't think there's a hermeneutical way to weasel out of the implications of this text. For Paul, everything depends on the resurrection, not because we must have an afterlife, but because if God truly is abundant life, and if God is faithful to his covenant, he must defeat death.

"If the relationship with Christ in the here and now is not enough, then I doubt it would be enough in the afterlife."

I find this statement to be very silly and set up a loose rhetorical argument that has no real weight. We would not have any relationship with Christ now were it not for his resurrection. If Christ were not raised, then he would simply be a past figure that we could remember, rather than a live presence who enters into relationship with us.

And absolutely relationship with Christ in the here and now is not "enough". We live in a world still full of death, suffering, and opression. We live in hope that God's abundant life will one day swallow up all the death that we still experience and witness. We await our salvation. If this is all there is then we're fucked! (pardon my french)
Unknown said…
DW, thanks for the reference at the end of your post – I read and I agree; it is relevant to this topic. Of course all of sin, salvation, redemption, sanctification, etc., are all tied together so we can’t really talk of one without somewhere bringing the others in. I plan to post something over there as well.

At least we know the crux of our disagreements and the terms connected to them – that’s fair progress, I’d say. And neither have called the other a heretic. And we still have our disagreements……

I’d say the Eastern Church would agree we can’t achieve union with God on our own…probably can’t even move in that direction without grace. But I think they have more an eye on what we may become in union with God that is over and above what the west thinks of as sanctification – so I think they have an emphasis on deification and union with God that is in essence – not just linguistically – different from the western church.

I don’t disagree at all with what you say about Mengele – I have heard it said that a sign that the Spirit is at work in a person is that they REALLY believe they are the worst sinner on the planet. I only brought up Mengele as an extreme example of extreme evil because of Halden’s post. He hasn’t answered my query yet – maybe you can pester into doing so…why he’d be out being a hedonist if he became persuaded no afterlife exists.

I have read the Eastern Orthodox Church denies the doctrine of original sin. Did you ever run across the same info about them?

And, also regarding Mengele, doesn’t universalism have to deal with what happens to someone like him (all of us, to some degree or another) after death? To the popular Christian, those who have ‘been saved’ (in the fundamentalist sense) are perfected at some unspecified point before heaven, and the unsaved are just doomed so life is simple. But universalists have to deal with all of creation – at least make sense of all of creation being reconciled…..and so I’d like to see posited (maybe we can’t) how this is worked out …and that is why this is so related to issues of choice and freedom.

Thanks again for the thread.

"And neither have called the other a heretic."

This is certainly a good thing! To be honest, I'd say you are more of a mystic than a Christian. That's a nice way of saying that I'm not sure that you really stand within the Christian tradition (however you understand that). Your interest in figures like Rumi and other mystics seems to support my view, but I'm happy to welcome you as a friend and sister in the Lord.

"And, also regarding Mengele, doesn’t universalism have to deal with what happens to someone like him (all of us, to some degree or another) after death?"

To be clear, there's no degrees. And yes, any soteriology/eschatology has to be clear about what happens after death, and what happens is that we live together with God as God's people reconciled in Jesus Christ. I'm not entirely sure what this will look like, but I know that the metaphors of feasting and dancing and singing are faint echoes of something wonderful and joyous -- something perfect.

" I think they have an emphasis on deification and union with God that is in essence – not just linguistically – different from the western church."

Your definitely right on this point. Let me be straight with you: I disagree with the doctrine of deification. In general, I think the ancient divines are more right than wrong, but doctrinally I am not on board -- especially in the mystical and modern variations I often hear today. I simply do not accept the notion that we are in union with God here and now in the present tense. I believe our union with God is in the past tense (in Christ, as the one and only mediator) and in the future tense (in our resurrected and glorified state).

By the way, I also agree with Halden on the issue of resurrection and the "afterlife."
Halden said…
Ann, Maybe you didn't see my response depending on when it was moderator-approved, but it's up there, with my answer to your questions.
hle said…
This genre of blog holds such possibility for serious thought and spiritual growth.

But the patronizing tone that never fails to emerge when two writers disagree--particularly in the case of youthful writers--can drive some of us "old fogeys" away.

The blatant condescension of the two gentlemen in this conversation precludes their deriving value or understanding from the insights and points made by the writer named "Ann."

What a shame. Unbridled ego is, unfortunately, more the rule than the exception on websites that deal with material of this genre--and also typical of young writers.

Consider the following:

"I think the main point of difference is found in the fact that you don't take sin as seriously as I do." DW:8/1
Indeed! What a judgment!

"As to your final questions, I am a supralapsarian, which means that I think salvation in Christ was something God determined to accomplish prior to the fall."
Ibid, 8/1
What is communicated when one writer feels he or she must define a term for another?

"I'll try my best to unpack some of them:" Ibid, 8/4
What is the underlying communication? DW will try his best, but it is a hopeless task? What does popular jargon such as "unpack" accomplish--by its very nature, does it include or exclude others in the conversation?

"Everything hangs on the reality of the promise that 'The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.'" Halden, 8/1
Words like "fact" and "reality" convey that the writer has a particular knowledge or certainty that the other does not. Would words like "my conviction" or "my firm belief?" be less positional, perhaps?

"While we may just agree to disagree, I do highly recommend the recent post by..." DW 8/5
"I do highly recommend..." Might that be a prescription rather than a genuine sharing? The former is what comes to mind.

"Well, Ann, I think you couldn't be more wrong there." Halden, 8/6

"I'd say you are more of a mystic than a Christian. That's a nice way of saying that I'm not sure that you really stand within the Christian tradition (however you understand that)" DW, 8/6

So you were being euphemistic, when you were actually inclined to be unpleasant?

Was Christ a Christian? Or was he a mystic? Who stands more within the Christian tradition, one who questions, reasons, and reflects on the magnitude of the concept of God, or he who claims to have it in the bag?

A final question: If you regard mystics as those outside the Christian tradition, why did you choose as the name for your blog a line from a poem written by a poet who sought solace and who was inspired by one of the greatest mystics of all--Julian of Norwich?

If you have the time or inclination, copy off your series of exchanges written on "The spirit of the Lord" and put them away somewhere. Take them out in ten years, and read them again. Then again in another 10 years. Do you notice any difference in how you perceive and understand the discussion?

H. Lurerie
a. steward said…
David -

Thanks for this post. It's so huge, and I don't really have any criticisms, so I don't really have much to say to it. It's fantastic, though.