Monday, June 09, 2014

God is Jesus

A. W. Tozer is often credited for saying, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” I think I've reflected on this quote before. I think there's a lot of wisdom in it. And while I think it could be disputed from a couple of angles, I think it's true. What comes into our minds--the images and expectations--accompanying the thought of God determines much. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of this starting point, especially for one who explicitly affirms the claim which God has upon our lives. Still, I might boldly claim that this is universally important. For even the person who doesn't believe in God often has certain reasons for their disbelief, an image accompanies even the thought of that which we do not accept, and thus explicitly or implicitly this person makes decisions and conducts themselves according to these reasons and images of God or not-god. If God is who God is revealed to be through Scripture, then it's important even for the hypothetical person for whom no image accompanies that little three-letter word. If Scripture is true then they're missing out on something even by not being given the opportunity to reject it. Especially for the person who actually desires to be in relationship with God, what is expected and imagined of God is of indispensable significance. For if we are our relationships, and I think this is true, then our relationship to this God and the authority we give to that relationship will fundamentally shape our attitudes and actions in the world. It will determine who we are. Much of our problems and dysfunctions in the world are the product of what we might call "the worship of false idols"--images and expectations of God which do not correspond to who God really is and what God is really like. For example, if we think that God hates gays (i.e. false image), then we'll act accordingly and will hate gays as well (i.e. dysfunction). Again, it would be difficult to underestimate the importance of these things.

The fact is--and we must keep this in mind in all our theological and theo-ethical reflections--God does not always live up to our expectations. We may have a preconceived notion of authority and power. We may presume God to be powerful and authoritative in such a way as to impose God's power and authority upon us without regard for us. But according to God's love, God may not live up to this expectation. Indeed, Eberhard Jüngel has argued that "...godly power and godly love are related to one another neither through subordination nor dialectically. Rather, God's mightiness is understood as the power of his love. Only love is almighty. Then God's lordship is to be understood as the rule of his mercy and God's law is accordingly the law of his grace.” If our notion of divinity includes some static perfection which cannot condescend to become human even in itself, if we assume that divinity excludes the turn toward passion, then we are confronted with the bold claim of scripture that Jesus--a crucified human being--is the image of the unseen God (Col. 1:15), that in Jesus God's divinity includes God's humanity. Karl Barth argues,
"God's deity prison in which He can exist only in and for Himself. It is rather His freedom to be in and for Himself but also with and for us, to assert but also to sacrifice Himself, to be wholly exalted but also completely humble, not only almighty but also almighty mercy, not only Lord but also servant, not only judge but also Himself the judged, not only man's eternal king but also his brother in time. And all that without in the slightest forfeiting His deity! All that, rather, in the highest proof and proclamation of His deity!"
Indeed, if we expect divinity to be untouchable and unmoved, then God will not live up to our expectations. God, if God is who God is revealed to be in Scripture, is revealed not in static conceptions and arbitrary power but ultimately in the encounter with Jesus Christ. There is no God but Jesus! This is the New Testament's radical doctrinal claim.

Perhaps some of our greatest ethical and theological issues arise when we divorce our expectations and our subsequent interpretations of Scripture and divine authority from this radical doctrinal claim. It's when we forget about the humanity of God that we default to literalistic interpretations of judgement that lead to uncompromising obligations to the conception of eternal damnation. Hell is birthed not just from reading the bible, as some innocently seem to suggest, but from forgetting that Jesus is God and that in him "there is no reservation in respect of [God's] solidarity with us" (Barth)... and thus even the humanity of suffering God's judgement in Hell is not reserved from Godself. Likewise, It's when we forget God's solidarity with broken and marginalized people, with crucified people, that we resort to thinking that, for example, LGBTQ people are somehow on the outside of God's "yes" to humanity. When God's power is divorced from God's love, we can condemn gay people according to, again, a literalistic interpretation of the Bible just because "it says so." But love--which is a one-word summation of God's humanity--determines a different way of looking at things. Love becomes the lens through which we interpret arbitrary power and unquestionable authority. Our set-in-stone images and expectations of God, especially if they are compatible with the notion of Hell and damnation and arbitrary judgmental rejection and marginalization, must at the very least be complicated by the New Testament. God may not live up to our expectations, but God will always be Jesus.

No comments: