Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans: God’s Triune Love in Christ Even Reaches into Hell

God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.[1]Thomas F. Torrance

With Barth I hold that through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and his glorious resurrection from the grave the human situation has been irrevocably altered. The powers of sin, death, and hell have been decisively vanquished, though they continue to resist the advance of the kingdom of God through the power of the lie. All people of, irrespective of their moral and spiritual state, are claimed for the kingdom, but only some respond in faith and obedience. Christ has reconciled and justified the whole human race but in principle (de jure), not in fact (de facto) except for those who believe. All are heirs to the kingdom, but not all become members of the church of Christ. The treasure in the field is there for all, but only those benefit who give up everything to attain it (Mt 13:44). The gates of the prison in which we find ourselves are now open, but only those who rise up and walk through these gates to freedom are truly free. . . . Predestination is not something finalized in the past but something realized in the present and consummated in the future. We can resist and deny our predestination, but we cannot permanently thwart the stream of God’s irresistable grace. We will ultimately be brought into submission, though not necessarily into salvation. Yet predestination means life even though we may choose death. Predestination does not necessarily eventuate in fellowship with Christ, but it does mean that every person is brought into inescapable relatedness to Christ.[2]Donald Bloesch

It is the tension, the dialectical paradox communicated in the sentiments presented both by T.F. Torrance and Donald Bloesch that I find inescapable relative to the reality and implication of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ (Logos ensarkos). As Karl Barth might say the ‘humanity of God’ is such that because of his great love he was willing to be the humbled God that we might be the exalted humanity in Jesus Christ. It is this reality that Torrance and Bloesch find so compelling, and what they cannot shake in regard to the eternal reach of the Incarnation; a reach and always already event in Jesus Christ that reaches into hell itself. It reaches so far that it snatches each of us out of the fire, at least for all ‘who will’ by the Holy Spirit and out of the vicarious yes for us in Jesus’ mediatorial repose before the Father. And yet, as Torrance and Bloesch both note, not all people will ultimately repent and turn to what is theirs in Christ; the election of God. Even so, God’s reach remains. Humanity cannot escape God’s presence, they cannot escape the orientation of God’s love for them in Jesus Christ; even if that is ultimately the bench of their judgment. What remains though, is that even for those who choose to live in their sub-human state, eternally separated from God in themselves, God has chosen to never be fully separated from them in Christ; even if that means he’s their Judge. Indeed, he is the Judge Judged for them, for us, but for those who won’t; they continue and will continue to stand on the shadow side of the cross and grave of God in Jesus Christ. Yet God’s love in Christ remains all pervasive, for even if we make our bed in hell he is there according to the Psalmist.

What I am trying to emphasize is God’s love; it remains, somehow, mysteriously so, in the cavernous waste lands of hell itself. Does this mean there is a way out of that waste land for those who find themselves there in the eschaton? Not according to Scripture. But what the theo-drama of God’s triune life requires is that all of this be chastened by the fact that God is eternally and personally triune love in his inner-life. It is this life from whence he freely chose to so identify with his creation, with humanity, that he tied his Godness to it; he freely chose to not be God without us but with us, Immanuel. This holds true for all humanity, even if the many choose to repudiate what God is for them, he will never repudiate who he has become for them in Christ. It is this reality that tempers even hell. It is deeply mysterious; the mysterium tremendum et fascinans (‘fearful and fascinating mystery’). It is hard to fathom exactly how this can be so, but it is.

[1] T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

[2] Donald Bloesch, Jesus Christ: Savior & Lord, 169.


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One Response to Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans: God’s Triune Love in Christ Even Reaches into Hell

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