Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Death of God - What It Is and What It Isn't

I remember being in session one day, with Dr. Sanders. We were talking about the Incarnation, and what it means for us to say that "God died" in the death of Jesus. And he said something so incredibly simple that I'm amazed that I haven't heard it since.

I can't remember his exact wording, but essentially, it boiled down to this: When we say that God, as Jesus, died, we mean no less - but also no more - than that the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, experienced the human phenomenon that is known as "death."

That's what we mean. And this stands against attempts to either minimize or over-emphasize what happened on the cross.

Jesus died. The God-Man, the being that is at once fully God and fully man, experienced death. The Son of God's spirit was separated from his body. The body of the second Person of the Trinity ceased to live.

That is death, and he experienced it in its fullness. He didn't "kind of" die. And it is especially and particularly not the case that the "human half" experienced death while the "God half" did not. To go down that road is to split Christ into two, to commit some sort of Nestorianism or Arianism. It is, eventually, to wind up with a Savior who is neither God enough to accomplish anything, nor man enough to matter.

But it works the other way as well. Because there are some who, desiring to emphasize the greatness of God's sacrifice and self-giving, will talk of the death of God as some sort of divine death, a deicide, even a separation from his divinity. Such speakers will talk of the Trinity being broken, even a temporary eradication or cessation of the second Person.

That did not happen either. The second Person did not somehow cease to exist or become not-God, because none of that is included in what "death" is. None of that is included in what the Bible means when it talks about death. Remember: The Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Christ accomplish what they accomplish because it's God sharing in our experiences...not God sharing in some super-special God experiences.

This is important to remember, if for no other reason than avoiding confusion during Easter! But it's also important for another reason: That in desiring to give praise to God, we might actually commit blasphemy. Take it away, Karl Barth!

"The more seriously we take this, the stronger becomes the temptation to approximate to the view of a contradiction and conflict in God Himself. Have we not to accept this view if we are to do justice to what God did for man and what He took upon Himself when He was in Christ, if we are to bring out the mystery of His mercy in all its depth and greatness?"

Barth rhetorically suggests that if we are to really grasp what God did for us, we must take Christ's death, his cry of dereliction, as far as possible: Take it to the point of contradiction and conflict in God Himself! But, he continues, there is a danger in this.

"But at this point what is meant to be supreme praise of God can in fact become supreme blasphemy. God gives Himself, but He does not give Himself away. He does not give up being God in becoming a creature, in becoming man. He does not cease to be God."

And why is this important?

"If it were otherwise, if in [this condescension] He set Himself in contradiction with Himself, how could He reconcile the world with Himself? Of what value would His deity be to us if--instead of crossing in that deity the very real gulf between Himself and us--He left that deity behind Him in His coming to us, if ti came to be outside of Him as He because ours? What would be the value to us of His way into the far country if in the course of it He lost Himself?"

Here it is, in a nutshell: In dying, Jesus defeated death. He didn't lose Himself in it. He experienced the human phenomenon known as death, and in doing so he broke its power. (to loosely paraphrase Athanasius,he lured Death to him and then snapped his freaking neck). If you try to expand that, to make Jesus experience some sort of super-special God death, you aren't actually praising him: You'e naming him not-God.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The joys and glories of life

"If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny, than any other good on which our desire fixes must be in some degree fallacious, must bear at best only a symbolical relation to what will truly satisfy.

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you -- the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence...the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.

Our commonest expedient is to call it Beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter.Wordsworth's expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering."

CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory.

It's rare for more than a day or two to go by without me remembering my college days with fondness - and that is especially true when my sister Kaley calls me up to tell me about her latest Torrey session, the latest book she's reading. It is a joy to hear of her enjoyment, and a greater joy to be able to talk about the things that Torrey students talk about with her. And after we hang up, my mind wanders back to the bygone days of yore.

And I remember so much. I remember grabbing dinner after every single session: Sometimes to continue the philosophy and theologizing of session, but often to merely extol the virtues of seasoned fries and Caf-made milkshakes. I remember Torrientation, and how I completely failed to realize that the people in my group would grow into some of the most amazing friends I can imagine. I remember arguing against Chesterton's Manalive because I was a fool who mistook stagnation for contentment, and I remember my Don Rags and that one time, late before I left my dorm, running through the rain with my billion-pound backpack bouncing on my shoulders, borrowed tie streaming in the wind.

I remember Plato Family Dinners, and proving to them that Anna was real, and not imaginary. I remember passing notes in session, with the solitary three guys sitting together in a sea of hostile women, and Satan with his nose pressed against the glass, looking on at the family at Christmas. I remember going home to take Anna out on a date, and getting a call from my Plato Family informing me that while they had missed me at Freshman Initiatives, they had set a bottle of Dr. Pepper there to house my spirit, which they subsequently drank. And it must have been after the first Thor movie that me, Kyle, and Daniel dubbed ourselves the Warriors Three, with the addition of the Lady Steph.

It would be literally impossible to list them all, with any attempt inevitably followed up a moment later with "And then, of course, there's...".  And after that, there's the non-Torrey memories, which could fill another post...the wing runs, the movie nights, the Brawl and Halo and Guitar Hero and Nerf Wars and the people who made it all so awesome...

And there are days when I almost wish I could go back. There are days when I am in danger of committing the mistake that Lewis sees in Wordsworth: Of seeing this joy in my life and making it The Joy... But the friendship, the engagement, the family of Biola and Sigma Chi and Plato, was in fact a symbol, a memory of something I have yet to experience, of the great Joy still to come. And it is sweeter still because I know that those same people will be there as well.

But despite the almost, I never do wish it. Because when it comes to symbols of the ultimate reality, I'm living the best symbol there is. Being married to Anna is a greater joy, a greater happiness and companionship, than I had at Biola. And although it is not The Good, it is still a Good, and a great Good at that.