God’s Eternal Time For Us: How Constancy is Better than Immutability

Thomas Torrance, Barth’s greatest English-speaking doctoral student, and lifelong friend, from that point onward, gained many insights from Barth. But he had his own way of articulating dogma; he was his own theologian, so to speak. Torrance had great respect for Barth’s magnum opus the Church Dogmatics; he had such great respect that along with Geoffrey Bromiley, he translated it from Barth’s native Swiss-German tongue into the English. Torrance’s favorite volume of the CD was II.1, on a Doctrine of God. It is in this volume that Barth offers an alternative, or reification of the classical doctrine of divine immutability; Barth calls his treatment of this doctrine, Constancy. As the theologian reads one of Torrance’s most mature books (The Christian Doctrine of God), in regard to the stage of TFT’s thought and development as a theologian, the reader will see how he riffs on Barth’s doctrine of divine constancy but in his own unique way. He writes:

This means that we must think of the constancy of God which is his unchanging eternal Life as characterised by time, not of course our kind of time which is the time of finite created being with beginning and end, and past, present and future, but God’s kind of time which is the time of his eternal Life without beginning and end. While he creates time along with all that is changeable, he does so without any temporal movement in himself. The time of our life is defined by its fleeting creaturely nature, but the time of God’s Life is defined by his everlasting uncreated Nature in which he transcends our temporality while nevertheless holding it within the embrace of his divine time. Just as we distinguish sharply between the uncreated reality of God and the created reality of the world, between the uncreated rationality of God and our created rationality, or between the uncreated Light of God and our created light, so we must distinguish between God’s uncreated time and our created time. On the other hand, just as we think of our creaturely being as contingently grounded upon the eternal being of God, so we must think of our creaturely time as contingently grounded upon the eternal time of God. Thus we may think of the time of our world, which God has created out of nothing along with the world he has made, as unceasingly sustained by him in a created correspondence to the uncreated time of his own eternal Life. And so far from being some kind of timeless eternity or eternal now that devalues or negates time, the real time of God’s eternal Life gives reality and value to the created time of our life through coordinating its contingent temporality with its own movement and constancy. What does this have to say to us about the unchangeableness or constancy of God which is identical with his self-moving eternal Life? The fact that God has time for us in the partnership he maintains with us in which our fleeting time for all its dissimilarity reflects his eternal time, reinforces the conviction that the nature of God’s time is not static but essentially dynamic and as such is the constant power upon which our contingent temporality rests.1

I think at this point it would be helpful to see how Barth, who TFT is writing after, develops a doctrine of the constancy of God. The reader will see where Barth and Torrance converge, and also where they depart in their own unique and prescient ways. The reader might come to see the types of questions both Barth and Torrance are attempting to address, respectively, from their own informing theological pressures. But I want my readers to understand just how close Barth and Torrance are on fundamental doctrinal points. I can think of no better example of that than as we come to their respective doctrines of divine constancy. Barth writes:

But it is not true that the immutable as such is God. The real truth is—and it is very different—that God is “immutable,” and this is the living God in His freedom and love, God Himself. He is what He is in eternal actuality. He never is it only potentially (not even in part). He never is it at any point intermittently. But always at every place He is what He is continually and self-consistently. His love cannot cease to be His love nor His freedom His freedom. He alone could assail, alter, abolish or destroy Himself. But it is just at this point that He is the “immutable” God. For at no place or time can He or will He turn against Himself or contradict Himself, not even in virtue of His freedom or for the sake of His love. What He does in virtue of His freedom for the sake of His love will never be the surrender but always at every point the self-affirmation of His freedom and His love, a fresh demonstration of His life. This self-affirmation is never anywhere an act of holy egotism, but always everywhere an act of the righteousness in which He establishes His glory over all things. And as an act of His righteousness His self-affirmation must be understood as necessary, not subject to any doubt or temptation. The answer, therefore, to the question: “What is immutable?” is: “This living God in His self-affirmation is the immutable.” The immutable is the fact that this God is as the One He is, gracious and holy, merciful and righteous, patient and wise. The immutable is the fact that He is the Creator, Reconciler, Redeemer and Lord. This immutability includes rather than excludes life. In a word it is life. It does not, therefore, need to acquire life from the impulse of the created world, or above all from the emotions of our pious feeling. It not only has nothing whatever to do with the pagan idea of the immobile, which is only a euphemistic description of death, but it is its direct opposite. It does not require, then, and sentimentalisings in sham concealment or embellishment of its terrible reality. For it is not this fearful reality. It is the reality of life and not of death. God’s constancy—which is a better word than the suspiciously negative word “immutability”—is the constancy of His knowing, willing and acting and therefore of His person. It is the continuity, undivertability and indefatigableness in which God both is Himself and also performs His work, maintaining it as such and continually making it His work. It is the self-assurance in which God moves in Himself and in all His works and in which he is rich in Himself and in all His works without either losing Himself or (for fear of this loss) having to petrify in Himself and renounce His movement and His riches. The constancy of God is not then the limit and boundary, the death of His life. For this very reason the right understanding of God’s constancy must not be limited to His presence with creation, as if God in Himself were after all naked “immutability” and therefore in the last analysis death. On the contrary, it is in and by virtue of His constancy that God is alive in Himself and in all His works. The fact that He possesses selfhood and continuity itself makes Him the living One that He is, and is the basis and meaning of His power and might, the inner divine secret of the movement and wealth itself in which He is glorious on His throne and in all the heights and depths of His creation.2

Both Barth and Torrance, respectively, are intent on demonstrating to the Church, that God is not immobile, but that He has an eternal movement, or an eternal time in Himself. Barth, as we have just read goes so far to say that classical sacra doctrina on divine immutability implies a ‘death’ in God; I agree. What we know of God, as both theologians are committed to, is only the Deus revelatus; the God who is revealed. If this is how the Christian first encounters God, as a God who has moved toward us in Jesus Christ, then to think God in static unmoved mover terms indeed would be to think God in terms of a type of death. We only know God as activity, as eternal and gracious movement; we only know God as His prosopon shines on us like the rays of the Sun shine upon the earth. This is the constancy, or stability of God’s life for the Christian knower; it is indeed an ‘unchangeableness,’ but one that is defined by the perichoretic interpenetrative koinonial Life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in processive intimacy. God’s life is an eternal activity of sabbath rest and shalom. Not immobile, but mobile to the point that He graciously stoops to us, gifts us with an echo-life, one in correspondence with His type of Life, in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.

It is within this creaturely structuring, within His gracious movement and humanity for us (Deus incarnandus), that we can come to share in the inner reality of that movement as that is funded by the eternal fount of His forever Life of love for the other. This is what characterizes the changelessness, and thus constancy of God’s Life; it is the triunity of time funded by the ineffability of His eternal threeness (de Deo trino) in oneness (de Deo uno). As such, as we are graciously included in that Life by participatio Christi we experience His eternal time as that has been given its total correspondence in the time of His life for us in the temporality of Life, in the skin and bone of Jesus Christ. As the Christian moves from this temporal life into the consummate eternal Life of God there is a seamlessness to it precisely because we aren’t experiencing something different, relative to the two aspects of time, but simply a transition from one sphere, one seen by the faith of Christ, to another sphere, one seen by the sight of Christ for us; both finding their visio Dei in the Light of God’s free life to be for and with us. There is great hope and expectation here; of the sort that the angels long to understand. And so, they observe us in order to gain some semblance of this strange grace of God for whom they serve at His pleasure; even when they don’t fully grasp just how great this God is.

 

1 Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 241.  

2 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1 §31: Study Edition Vol 9 (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 58-9. 

 

I am Free Church: Against ‘High Grace’

It should be clear by now, but I’m low church. When I say I’m low church I don’t mean I reject conciliar Christianity, per se. What I mean is that I am Free church, and not necessarily in an Anabaptist way. I am theological free church in the sense that I see the esse or very being/condition of the church grounded, concretely, in the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; free from any state, or even clerical oversight. I see free church as corollary of God’s free grace; as such the reality, or res of the church is purely a predicate of God’s choice to be God for and with us in ever present ever new ways; that is according to the ‘constancy’ of His life as eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As such, I see the reality of the church as a miracle that cannot be possessed by any liturgy, any pontiff, any sacrament, any archbishop, any pastor or deacon. I see the reality of the church as an ongoing miracle occasioned not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the LORD. Barth gets at this as he writes on election and the freedom of God’s grace: 

We may establish first a point which all serious conceptions of the doctrine have in common. The all find the nerve of the doctrine, the peculiar concern which forces them to present and assert it, in the fact that it characterises the grace of God as absolutely free and thereby divine. In electing, God decides according to His good-pleasure, which as such is holy and righteous. And because He who elects is constant and omnipotent and eternal, the good pleasure by which He decides, and the decision itself, are independent of all other decisions, of all creature decisions. His decision precedes every creaturely decision. Over against all creaturely self-determination it is predetermination—prae-destinatio. Grace is the divine movement and condescension on the basis of which men belong to God and God to men. Whether offered or received, whether self-revealing and reconciling or apprehended and active in faith, it is God’s dealing, God’s will and God’s work, God’s lordship, God Himself in all His sovereignty. Grace cannot be called forth or constrained by any claim or merit, by any existing or future condition, on the part of the creature. Nor can it be held up or rendered nugatory and ineffective by any contradiction or opposition on the part of the creature. Both in its being and in its operation its necessity is within itself. In face of it there is no place for the self-glorifying or the self-praise of the creature. It comes upon the creature as absolute miracle, and with absolute power and certainty. It can be received by the creature only where there is a recognition of utter weakness and unworthiness, an utter confidence in its might and dignity, and an utter renunciation of wilful self-despair. What the creature cannot claim or appropriate for itself, it cannot of itself renounce when it does partake of it, nor can it even will to deprive itself of it. The decision by which it receives and affirms grace takes place in fulfillment of the prior divine decision. It cannot, then, be asserted over against God as a purely creaturely achievement, nor can it be revoked. As the fulfillment of that prior divine decision, it redounds per se to the praise of the freedom of grace: of its independence both of the majesty and of the misery of our human volition and achievement; of the sovereignty in which it precedes and thus fully over-rules or human volition and achievement. All serious conceptions of the doctrine (more or less exactly and successfully, and with more or less consistency in detail) do at least aim at this recognition; at the freedom of the grace of God. We can put it more simply: They aim at an understanding of grace as grace. For what kind of grace is it that is conditioned and constrained, and not free grace and freely electing grace? What kind of a God is it who in any sense of the term has to be gracious, whose grace is not His own most personal and free good-pleasure.1 

This is why when I see various expressions of the church, particularly ones of ‘high’ orientation, who see themselves as some form of the prolongation of the incarnation, or rather, some form of ‘grace perfecting nature,’ I have no desire whatsoever for that type of churchness. That is not to say that such churches are not populated by redeemed people, it is just to say that I think they suffer under a concept of church, and thus God’s grace, that collapses grace into nature in a way that makes grace a predicate of nature; a possession of nature, that somehow becomes accessible by people smart enough to learn how manipulate it—maybe through mass, or the ‘elements’, or the Eucharist, or various other means. I am against these sorts of ‘high’ understandings of grace, and thus church, because I believe it elevates nature without the necessary dissolution and recreation of it through the cross of Christ (which would explain why in the Catholic mass there is a constant re-presentation of Christ’s broken body).  

I am happy to do church in a way that can be reduced to a child’s Sunday school chorus: ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’ I am happy to do church shorn of everything but Jesus Christ; shorn of various formalities, liturgies, fashion, so on and so forth. I am anti-clerical to the core, and repudiate the accretions of church productions and liturgies wherein grace is collapsed into nature, such that grace is no longer free, but instead institutional. Of course, this sword can be applied to mainstream evangelical churches just the same. So, when I say I’m low church I’m referring to a theological rather than sociological or practical understanding of that, per se.   

 

1 Karl Barth, CD II.2, 17-18.

Addressing the Withering Assurance of Salvation Among the Saints: From a Position of Christ Concentration

I once wrote something on assurance of salvation for publication, you can read that here. Assurance of salvation has always been an important soteriological locus for me; primarily because my dad struggled with this issue in very deleterious ways. I experienced struggles with this myself for a season of dark nighted soul, but came to experience denouement as I came to internalize what a genuinely Christ conditioned notion of salvation implied. Unfortunately, my dad never personally experienced this, and the enemy of our souls was able to effectively torture my dad with this for decades. Far from being an academic issue for me, it is highly personal. I know my dad wasn’t unique, there are many who struggle with this issue; although probably not to quite the extent that my dad did.

My “way out,” as I alluded to previously, was to come to a concrete understanding of who God is pro me in Jesus Christ. Once I saw myself in and from God’s Yes and Amen for me in His Yes and Amen in Jesus Christ, it was at this point that I started down a trajectory wherein the smiling face of Jesus shown through everywhere; even when the enemy would attempt to toss his darts my way. This trajectory first started with learning Martin Luther’s theology, and then into John Calvin’s. As I gained their respective foci on a Christ concentrated theology, it was in this reality that the dogged days of lack of assurance eviscerated into the thin air of the devil’s nothingness. Beyond that, I immersed myself in the study of Puritan and Post Reformed Orthodox theology; this was guided by my mentor and seminary professor, Ron Frost (a Puritan expert). Once I realized the role that Federal (Covenantal) theology played in concocting the mercantile categories that funded things like experimental predestinarianism, the practical syllogism, the divine pactum, so on and so forth, my assurance issues took on new light. I realized that much of what I was thinking about salvation was grounded in a Monsanto-like ground poisoned with ingredients that had no rootage in God’s Self-revelation in Christ; but instead in philosophical categories that led to thinking God in terms of a decretrum absolutum (or in terms of an impersonal deterministic decree that was grounded in a forensic rather than love relationship within a God-world relation). Once all of these things, and more, came to blossom in my understanding, it was at this point that I was able to quit straining under false-pressures that were not induced by the revealed God whatsoever. Once these pressures were depressurized I was finally able to rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ, as that had been fully actualized in His vicarious humanity pro me; and particularly as that was and is grounded in the triune bond of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Once I knew this was the reality the enemy no longer had a topos or foothold of fear in my life in this way. I had hoped to encourage my dad with these truths, and I did. At a level it did come to help him, but not fully because these seeds remained unwatered and uncultivated in his life.

Karl Barth, whilst working constructively with the categories he had received from the Post Reformed Orthodox theologians (of the 16th and 17th centuries) came to the focus that I have been broadly describing above. He was no fan of the Remonstrant or Arminian theology, and says so bluntly; and he would side with their counterparts in the Dortian Post Reformed theology. But again, because of Barth’s wholesale reformulation of a doctrine of election, seeing Jesus as both the object and subject, and thus sum of the Gospel, he was able to receive the Post Reformed Orthodox theology, but from a recasted vistapoint that genuinely offered a truly Christ concentrated ground that neither the Remonstrants nor Dordtians were able to present. He writes:

Now obviously we can only affirm and adopt this intepretation of the matter. It is palpable that what the Remonstrants brought against it was unspiritual, impotent and negligible—a feeble postlude to the Catholicism of the late Middle Ages, and a feeble prelude to rationalist-pietistic Neo-Protestantism. Since God—”the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1.3)—cannot deceive Himself, cannot be conjured, and cannot be unfaithful either to Himself or to us, it is of the essence of election that there can be no fundamental, eternal reversal. The Yes of God to His elect cannot be transformed into an absolute No. Because, then, they have the absolute divine Yes in their ears and in their hearts, they both may and should be assured in faith of their election, and therefore of eternal salvation—not in harmony with their evil human No to God, but in spite of it, and in this way in genuine and successful conflict with it. Even the objection of the Lutherans is valueless, and hardly worthy of Luther himself. If the faith of the elect lives with Jesus Christ as its basis and with Jesus Christ as its goal, it is impossible to see how it can be absolutely lost. A faith that can be lost is as little comfort in ultimo vitae puncto [at the last point of life] as it is relevant in the rest of life. Does not faith, both in life and death, consist in the fact that—non quoad nos [not from our point of view] but respectu Dei [with respect to God], trusting in His Word, His decision behind and before us, and armed on this account for the good warfare of faith—we know continually, and not merely occasionally, that our case is sure. Can we more effectively cheapen faith than by denying its constancy? We cannot be sufficiently grateful to Calvin for presenting the statement of perseverentia [perseverance] in this manner, and advancing beyond both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.1

And likewise, we cannot be sufficiently grateful to Barth for advancing beyond Calvin for offering a revised Reformed theological framing wherein Christ genuinely and actualistically is the centraldogma of the whole cake of theological endeavor.

For Barth, and for anyone interested in inhabiting a concretely Christ conditioned soteriological understanding, Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega of the whole salvation all the way down. The Logos enfleshed starts salvation, and has finished it for us in His risen life of recreated bounty. This is where I rest, and I commend this as a place of refuge for all the bruised reeds among us. Solo Christo

 

1 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §35 The Doctrine of God: Study Edition Vol. 11 (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 138-39.  

But that Sounds like Arminianism; that Sounds Like Universalism: Barth’s Relational-Universalism Funded by His Actualism

George Hunsinger offers six helpful motifs in order to grasp the way that Karl Barth maneuvers in his theological developments. One of those, and significantly, is Barth’s so-called actualism. In this post we will see what that entails for Barth, according to Hunsinger; and then see an example of that from Barth, in his Church Dogmatics, as that pertains to human agency in salvation vis-à-vis a doctrine of Christ conditioned election. In other words, the question of “freewill” in salvation will be viewed from the vantage point of Barth’s unique framing of these things through his particular deployment of an actualistic understanding of being in becoming in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.

Hunsinger writes the following in regard to Barth’s actualism:

“Actualism” is the motif which governs Barth’s complex conception of being and time. Being is always an event and often an act (always an act whenever an agent capable of decision is concerned). The relationship between divine being and human being is one of the most vexed topics in Barth interpretation, and one on which the essay at hand hopes to shed some light. For now let it simply be said, however cryptically, that the possibility for the human creature to act faithfully in relation to the divine creator is thought to rest entirely in the divine act, and therefore continually befalls the human creature as a miracle to be sought ever anew.1

Fittingly the aforementioned broaches both the divine and human sides of the soteriological complex. That is, humanity’s relationship to God, in a God-world / Creator-creature combine, is given its full measure by way of up-pointing the fact that without the Creator unilaterally becoming what humanity was always already intended to be vis-à-vis God, that the possibility for humanity to elevate to such altitudes would always remain the great impossibility. Thus, God’s intervention, His invasion into our lives, His disruption into the fallen, His irruption of our self-possessed selves is required; typically, when God does something so sui generis, so apocalyptic, so unexpected and against the grain of natural observation, we come to call this: miracle! As such, Barth’s actualism entails the idea that God has already decisively acted for us, by becoming us, that the impossible possibility might become possible, and actual, in His humanity for us. This is the unilateral nature of Barth’s motif of actualism as that pervades his total theological project.

In my current reading of the CD I came across a clear example of how Barth’s actualism informs his understanding of human agency in salvation. This evinces a clairvoyant picture of how an actualized humanity, in Christ’s humanity, funds the way that Barth thinks about the possibility for humans simpliciter to say Yes (or No) to what is in fact the reality of humanity before God. That is, humanity is determined by the humanity of God in Jesus Christ. Here Barth writes about people who hear the Word of God proclaimed to them, about them, as that it shaped by the measure of what humanity actually is. The question is whether or not individual people will submit to their new humanity in Christ, or for some inscrutable reason (for such is the love of the darkness) continue to reject the Yes of God for them in Jesus Christ. So Barth,

The promise says to those who hear or read it; Thou mayest not hear or read at this point something said about another. Thou art not in the audience, but in the centre of the stage. This is meant for thee. Thou art “this” individual. Thou art isolated from God, and therefore a godless man. Thou art threatened. And yet thou standest indeed under a wholly new determination. It was for thee that Jesus Christ Himself bore the divine rejection in its real and terrible consequences. Thou art the one who has been spared from enduring it. And it is for thee that Jesus Christ is the elect man of God and arrayed in the divine glory. Eternal life and fellowship with God await thee. Jesus Christ died and rose for thee. It is thou art elect with Him and through Him. And now that all this has been said to thee, it is the event of what thou for thy part shalt say and do (or not say, and not do) which decides whether the ancient curse will again be laid on thee with what is said, or the eternal blessing will come on thee in utter newness. In and with that which thou dost now say or do (or not say and not do), thou must and shalt give answer to that which has been said to thee, and either way (persisting in thy ungodliness or turning thy back upon it, for thy salvation or thy destruction) confirm its truth.2

Some might say this sounds like Arminianism redivivus. But this would miss the reality of Barth’s functional actualism. What Barth is saying is that salvation has been exhaustively realized without remainder in Jesus Christ. As such, salvation isn’t something waiting for your approval or mine, it isn’t something with potency waiting to be actualized. For Barth, salvation has already been fully actualized in God’s Yes for humanity in Jesus Christ’s Yes and election to become human for us. Some will say this sounds like universalism. It is, but because of God’s freedom, it isn’t a fatalistic universalism; instead, it is a universalism that is circumscribed by the life of God in Christ, which necessarily entails that what He does has universal consequences. But this is different than a deterministic or decretal universalism in the sense that by way of ‘actualism’ the question under consideration isn’t an abstract humanity, but one that has always already been in relation to its Father, the Creator. So, it is a relational-universalism conditioned by the Son’s primal and cosmic relationship to the Father by the Spirit. In this sense, the logic of Barth’s actualism as applied to salvation is universalistic. In the sense that the Son-Father/ -by Holy Spirit relationship is all that there actually is. Grasp this, and you’re on your way. Pax Vobiscum 

 

1 George Hunsinger, How To Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 16-18.

2 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §35 The Doctrine of God: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 111. 

 

 

The Western ‘Leader-concept’ in Contrast with a Genuinely Christian Christ Concentrated Doctrine of Election

The dear “Leader” concept has riled the modern mind; it has been the warp and woof of lived reality in the 18th into the 21st centuries, and is still going strong. Barth, with his characteristic predilection, contrasts the election of Jesus Christ with the election of the individualistic understanding of the Leader. He identifies how the latter functions as a ‘usurper,’ while the former as the One among and for the many. It is rather striking given the display of the Leader, particularly in our current cultural moments. We see Leaders rising and falling, ostensibly for the people, but in point of fact only ultimately for their own fame and glory. In the process, under the Leader’s “watchful eye,” the many are destroyed, and being destroyed with the carnage produced by the Leader’s vanity and self-importance.  

For Barth, Hitler, no doubt, would have been his primary referent for the Leader type, in his day and age. But clearly, this observation transverses periods, and is applicable to all periods, precisely because the Leader notion finds its rootage in and from the corrupted and polluted human heart. This is what differentiates the Leader, from the actual King; the former is ultimately fallen humanity, while the latter is resurrected humanity. Barth writes with clairvoyance: 

There is a modern concept which during the last two centuries has shown itself with increasing clarity to be a kind of secular imitation of the concept of the election of Jesus Christ—the concept of the leader. At first in a limited, but then necessarily in a limitlessly expanding sphere, in an area which must finally be nothing less than world-wide, the leader is the individual who in some fashion unites in himself the fulness of the election of grace, so that he is the elect, not on behalf of, but in place of others; he is the other, besides whom there are finally no individuals, or at least no elect individuals. The whole mystery of human power in this sphere, belong to him. He is the other, by whom is taken from the many beside him both their election and everything else with it—they mystery of their individuality and solitude, freedom and responsibility, all authority and power—and from whom they hold everything only in fee, to carry out his decisions. Emerging from the ranks of the many and elevated over them as the other who alone may be an individual, the leader is an absolute usurper in relation to other individuals. Election in the sense of the modern leader-concept has nothing whatever to do with the election of Jesus Christ except that it is its utter reversal and caricature. The individualism of the West obviously cannot evade responsibility for the formulation of this concept. All the brutality, all the murderous insolence of the usurper have been involved in it from the very outset. Mastered, as it were, by its own logic and reduced ad absurdum, it has brought down upon itself an inevitable and most terrible reaction. But this has simply disclosed the antithesis to the Christian concept of election in which it found itself even at its inception. The Christian concept of election does not involve this despoiling of the many for the sake of the one. On the contrary, when Jesus Christ is the elected One, the election and the accompanying mystery of individuality and solitude, and with it the freedom and responsibility and the authority and the power of the many, are not abrogated, but definitively confirmed in this Other. He is not the object of the divine election of grace instead of them, but on their behalf. He does not retain for Himself or withhold what He is and possesses as the Elect of God. He does not deal with it as with spoil. But He is what He is, and has what He has, in His revelation and imparting of it to the many. His kingdom is neither a barracks nor a prison, but the home of those who in, with and by Him are free. He is the Master of all as the Servant of all. Secular individualism may have reached its goal and end in the contemporary leader-concept, but in the Christian concept of election its own barely understood desire has always been defended against it, and even in face of the catastrophe which has overtaken it, it will continue to be preserved.1 

On the flipside of this, Barth goes on and develops how the Leader-concept has corollary with its other expression in Communist-collectivism, and/or Fascist-nationalism as a sub-species. No matter how this bastardization of Christian election is expressed, it is the satanic parody of the real and the ineffable, indestructible election of God in Jesus Christ.  

So many Christian leaders, particularly in evangelicalism (of whatever tradition), have attempted to copy the secular Leader-concept as the model for what it means to be a Christian leader. Sadly, they have imbibed the Angel of light’s model of election, and the concept of the “individual” in the process; and they have made disciples of the many in this image. It is a homo incurvatus in se (‘a person incurved on oneself’) image that finds its resource for life from its own satanic sense of self-possession; which of course is why there is so much carnage, not just in the world, but in the church. This is one reason why we see Christian leaders telling their people to simply get in line with the cultural mandates, particularly as those are given shape by the Leader; precisely because they have imbibed the same spirit that breathes life into the Leader[s] they follow. This is the delusion of the Antichrist, and it is seductive even to those who outwardly are supposed to be the most inoculated against such schemata. Kyrie eleison  

TF Torrance’s Copy-and-Paste of Barth’s Doctrine of Christ Concentrated Election

I have had the following quote from Thomas Torrance up at the blog (in the sidebar) since at least 2009. It reads as follows: 

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 

It is rich with ‘Chalcedonian pattern,’ and the homoousial reality of the eternal Logos, the Son of the Father become human pro nobis. Karl Barth writes something very similar—and so my guess is that he inspired TFT’s above statement—in regard to the election of God in Christ for the world: 

§ 35

THE ELECTION OF THE INDIVIDUAL 

The man who is isolated over against God is as such rejected by God. But to be this man can only be by the godless man’s own choice. The witness of the community of God to every individual man consists in this: that this choice of the godless man is void; that he belongs eternally to Jesus Christ and therefore is not rejected, but elected by God in Jesus Christ; that the rejection which he deserves on account of his perverse choice is borne and cancelled by Jesus Christ; and that he is appointed to eternal life with God on the basis of the righteous, divine decision. The promise of his election determines that as a member of the community he himself shall be a bearer of its witness to the whole world. And the revelation of his rejection can only determine him to believe in Jesus Christ as the One by whom it has been borne and cancelled.2 

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”  

These two statements from these two men, respectively, is what has drawn me to their theologies like none other. In the past I was awash, as many still are, in the false binaries on offer, in regard to the classical doctrines of election and reprobation. I always knew there was something wrong with them, but really had no alternatives to satisfy my deepest christological inclinations and disposition. That is until I came across both Barth and Torrance, and the way they took the Chalcedonian Christology, and brought it to its rightful conclusion. These theologians, the both (Barth as the forerunner, following his friend Pierre Maury), constructively and canonically tied up the loose, and negative ends that Chalcedon leftover. Barth and Torrance, respectively, go beyond the conciliar theology, but they don’t leave it behind. Instead, in my view, they achieve a pro-level focus on the esse of what Chalcedon (among the other important Christological councils around that time) theology had only left in inchoate form.  

The focus of a genuinely framed Christian theology is what we see in nuce in both of these statements. To know God, and to know ourselves before God (coram Deo) is to first know Christ by the Spirit. It is in this knowing that we come to have capacity and orientation to know the God who alone has freely chosen to reveal Himself to, for, and in us in the centraldogma of His life with us in, Jesus Christ. This is a unilateral move of God; ie His being in becoming in such a way that ‘He who knew no sin, became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’ This becoming has never been contingent on us in abstraction from God for us. This being has become for us prior to us, but not without us; since, as Barth emphasizes: God freely determined to not be God without us, but with us Immanuel.  

This is the Evangel, the kerygmatic reality that is so precisely encapsulated by both Barth and TFT in the aforementioned statements. If pastors, theologians, and Christian witnesses in general could come to grasp the nut of these statements the Christian Church, and world, would be the better for it. As we observe in the above Barth and TFT reduce deep dimensional theology in a way that doesn’t leave us in the lurch of a reductionism. Instead, they both, respectively, present the Gospel reality—and its sum in the ‘election of God’—in a way that respects all of the creedal theology of the ecumenical past, while emphasizing the canonical and Scriptural reality that sees Jesus as the center of everything (cf. John 5:39). They think from the Protestant ‘Scripture Principle,’ but do so in ways that are church catholic and deeply Christologically conditioned.  

 

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

2 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §35 The Doctrine of God: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 111.

On Being Dead, Then Alive: The Christian Feeling

The following from Karl Barth encapsulates what I was attempting to get at in my recent post on Colossians 2.20. He writes: 

In the eternal election of the one man Jesus of Nazareth, God, merciful in His judgment, appoints for man a gracious end and a new gracious beginning. He makes him die in order that he may truly live. He makes him pass in order that he may acquire a real future. The purpose of the election of this One is God’s righteous and saving will to deal with man’s need at is very root and to show this man the supreme favour by taking his place in the person of this One, taking away from man and upon Himself the bitterness of man’s end, and bringing upon man the whole joy of the new beginning. Thus the election of this One is His election to death and to life, to passing and to new coming.1 

There is a primordial, an apocalyptic reality to this that needs be felt in the Christian’s daily life. The Christian existence is one that is ‘constantly being given over to the death of Christ, that the life of Christ might be made manifest in our mortal bodies.’ I want to impress this upon my brethren and sistren in the most stringent of ways possible; for without grasping this, the Christian life only remains an anemic formalism wherein the power of God is only known in name only. The Christian, definitionally so, is ‘in Christ’; they are ‘one spirit with Christ’; they are ‘dead and hidden in Christ, who is their life.’ This cannot remain an intellectualism, but must be pressed into by an ongoing dialogue with God as we participate in the intercessory session of the Son of the Right-Hand. We are creatures of the ‘new-coming,’ who is the eschatos of God’s life for us, Jesus Christ.  

An aside: My appreciation for Barth, just as with my appreciation for TF Torrance, is that they are dialogical theologians. They are not analytic theologians, and thus resist being categorized within analytic or scholastic categories. And yet I see many attempting to do this with them. This practice ought to be shuttered post-haste! This passage from Barth, and many found in TFT’s works, illustrate the sort of theologians they were. They were theologians engaged with the speaking God. 

1 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §34-35: Study Edition (New York, New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 64. 

Niceno-Predestination: God’s Pre-destination for us in Jesus Christ

If Christians knew Nicene theology, they could avoid the oft combatant atmosphere that typifies much of Western (and especially popular) theological discourse. When it comes to the locus of predestination / election-reprobation the divisiveness amplifies to an all-out battle cry. Because Christians, in the main, don’t realize that they can (and ought to) think all things from the grammar developed at the Niceno-Constantinopolitano-Chalcedony ecumenical Church councils, namely, the homoousios, the idea that the Son enfleshed in Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully human in His singular person, they devolve into an abstract and discursive mode of theological (or atheological) reasoning. When this mode of ‘theological reasoning’ is applied to the question of predestination we end up with a bi-polar malaise that results in something like the “Calvinists V the Arminians.” In other words, when people come to think that their only alternative for thinking about the complex of predestination is to defer to the philosophers, said thinkers end up thinking abstractly about God’s election (or not) of particular individual people. This is partly because the philosophers’ intellectual ambit is limited by their flatlander experience of the cosmos; that is, the philosopher, no matter how genius, can never gain the God-view vista required for accessing a reality that is purely grounded in Deus revelatus (God revealed). And so, the Christians operating out of this intellectual impoverishment end up thinking about an absolutely heavenly reality, grounded in God’s inner-triune-life, from non-heavenly categories. As such they don’t think of humanity from God’s pre-destined and elect humanity for them in Jesus Christ.

Karl Barth summarizes what I take to be the theo-logical outcome of taking Nicene theology to its reductive conclusion with reference to a doctrine of predestination:

The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all words that can be said or heard it is the best: that God elects man; that God is for man too the One who loves in freedom. It is grounded in the knowledge of Jesus Christ because He is both the electing God and the elected man in One. It is part of the doctrine of God because originally God’s election of man is a predestination not merely of man but of Himself. Its function is to bear basic testimony to eternal, free and unchanging grace as the beginning of all the ways and works of God.1

For Barth, and for the implications of Nicene theology, when we think of predestination, the referent isn’t you and me, at a first order level; the referent is God’s life for us, as He freely elects our humanity for Himself in the Son. In this sense, a doctrine of predestination is radically re-oriented, such that the battle of “who is elect,” as if individual people were under consideration, is taken off the table; full stop. This is not to say that individual people aren’t entailed by God’s pre-destinating of Himself to be for us (pro nobis); indeed, it is to say, alternatively, that all of humanity has been invited to the ‘banqueting table of God.’ It is to say that all of humanity has a concrete place in the Kingdom of God in Christ just because God’s Kingdom is grounded in its lively center in Jesus Christ; who just so happens to be garbed with our humanity. The question remains open though, will a person repent and say yes from Christ’s Yes and amen for them, or not? In other words, a Nicene informed doctrine of predestination says that all of humanity is already elected for God, because God has already elected Himself for them in Jesus Christ.

The ‘classical’ retort to this, the one funded by a heavy-handed philosophical account, attended by its usual Aristotelian theory of causation and substance, might be that the Nicene account I am describing results in an undercut of God’s sovereignty; and thus, a notion of Divine double-jeopardy is injected into the mix. They might say this because they operate with what Barth calls the decretum absolutum (absolute decree) logic of what Thomas Torrance calls logico-causal necessitarian determinism. This is the idea that God has baked certain necessary features of causation, such as His primary and then secondary causation into the created order, which requires that certain outcomes obtain one way or the other per God’s unrevealed and arbitrary decree. On this account, this is all to make sure that God remains Sovereign, which entails His eternality, impassibility, immutability, and other characteristics.

When such thinking encounters my type of thinking on predestination it simply cannot countenance the idea that an individual human agent might have the means to “thwart” God’s predetermined predestination of all things. But of course, if this theory of causation is rejected from the get-go, as it should be, then that sort of dilemma never obtains. I clearly reject the decretum absolutum logic, and instead think from the filial-logic that funds the orthodox theology developed in the Nicene advancements.

Conclusion

A doctrine of Predestination ought to be thought from the consubstantial natures (both Divine and human) of the Theoanthropos Godman, Jesus Christ. If this is done predestination will not be thought of from an abstract center in ourselves, but instead from the concrete center of God’s free life for us in Jesus Christ. Pre-destination’s referent will be understood to be God, at a first order level, and our relationship to Him, as human beings, will only be thought from within the tremendum of the gracious movement of God for us, and us for God, as that is actualized in the One Man, Jesus Christ. This is the genuinely Christian confessional understanding of a doctrine of predestination. If you check it against Holy Scripture, as you always should—especially as good Protestant Christians—you will find that not only does the Christological and Trinitarian grammar, developed in the Nicene theology, coheres with the Scriptural witness, but that when that is applied to our current doctrine of predestination (and any other doctrine worth its Christian salt), that in corollary fashion, it also coheres with the biblical categories.

At the end: Jesus is God’s predestination for the world. This is the revelational doctrine of pre-destination. If this is accepted the typical theatrics that surrounds this doctrine dissipate into the inferno of God’s white-hot love for the world. We can get back to focusing on Jesus rather than ourselves this way. Oh, what a thought!

 

1 Barth, CD II/2:1. 

No Decree Behind the Back of Jesus: Barth’s ‘Actual’ Doctrine of Election

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. -Ephesians 1.3-6

The doctrine of election has plagued the Christian churches for centuries; but that is because they haven’t more accurately thought this doctrine from the hypostatic union of God and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. When a person is able to finally distantiate themself from the speculative hubris that has surrounded this doctrine for so long—one grounded in the optics provided for, primarily, by Aristotelian causation and actus purus (pure being) theology—it is finally possible to think about God’s relation to the world, with humanity as His principal focus, through the Christic lens He has freely ordained for us, for Himself. Once the foreign grammars have been shed all we are left with us what Scripture is left with: Jesus Christ. Karl Barth saw this, particularly with regard to a doctrine of election, more keenly than anybody prior. Following along the impetus provided for him through the work of his French connection, Pierre Maury, Barth launched out in what I would contend was finally a genuinely Protestant and Nicene doctrine of election grounded in the double homoousios Son of man, Jesus Christ. He writes:

2. THE ETERNAL WILL OF GOD IN THE ELECTION OF JESUS CHRIST

Starting from Jn. 1.1, we have laid down and developed two statements concerning the election of Jesus Christ. The first is that Jesus Christ is the electing God. This statement answers the question of the Subject of the eternal election of grace. And the second is that Jesus Christ is elected man. This statement answers the question of the object of the eternal election of grace. Strictly speaking, the whole dogma of predestination is contained in these two statements. Everything else that we have to say about it must consist in the development and application of what is said in these two statements taken together. The statements belong together in a unity which is indissoluble, for both of them speak of the one Jesus Christ, and God and man in Jesus Christ are both Elector and Elect, belonging together in a relationship which cannot be broken and the perfection of which can never be exhausted. In the beginning with God was this One, Jesus Christ. And that is predestination. All that this concept contains and comprehends is to be found originally in Him and must be understood in relation to Him. But already we have gone far enough from the traditional paths to make necessary a most careful explanation of the necessity and scope of the christological basis and starting-point for the doctrine as it is here expanded.

1 We may begin with an epistemological observation. Our thesis is that God’s eternal will is the election of Jesus Christ. At this point we part company with all previous interpretations of the doctrine of predestination. In these the Subject and object of predestination (the electing God and elected man) are determined ultimately by the fact that both quantities are treated as unknown. We may say that the electing God is supreme being who disposes freely according to His own omnipotence, righteousness and mercy. We may say that to Him may be ascribed the lordship over all things, and above all the absolute right and absolute power to determine the destiny of man. But when we say that, then ultimately and fundamentally the electing God is an unknown quantity. On the other hand, we must say that elected man is the man who has come under the eternal good-pleasure of God, the man from whom all eternity God has foreordained to fellowship with Himself. But when we say that, then ultimately and fundamentally elected man is also an unknown quantity. At this point obscurity has undoubtedly enveloped the theories of even the most prominent representatives and exponents of the doctrine of predestination. Indeed, in the most consistently developed forms of the dogma we are told openly that on both sides we have to do, necessarily, with a great mystery. In the sharpest contrast to this view our thesis that the eternal will of God is the election of Jesus Christ means that we deny the existence of any such twofold mystery.1

Jesus, for Barth, is both the electing God (equals subject of election), and elected man (equals object of election). In his subsequent point #1 we see immediately how this, for Barth, impacts a knowledge of God, and humanity (think Calvin). This is why Barth (and Torrance) believe revelation is reconciliation; it flows organically from Barth’s doctrine of election, from his actualism. There is no unknown quantity in Barth’s theology; no potentia absoluta or ordinata; no decree behind the back of Jesus. This is quintessential Barthian theology: in God’s Kingdom in Christ, for Barth, there are no secrets; it is a genuinely revealed Kingdom that comes populated with God’s furniture as that is all shaped by the face (prosopon) of Jesus Christ.

This is what the critics of Barth don’t get. He is simply working within the Nicene frame of cataphatic theology, exhaustively. There is no uncertainty of who God is in Barth’s theology. There is a Divine vulnerability, revealed in God’s humanity and humility in Jesus Christ; but this vulnerability is not an uncertainty, it is simply an aspect of God’s freedom to be with and for and in us. Classical theologies typically operate with speculative thinking as the fund by which they think theology and its verity of implications. This is what Barth’s doctrine of election overcomes as it thinks all things from God’s Self-revelation; thus, bypassing unnecessary “shiny-things” generated by the imaginative machinations of witty ‘theological’ people.

1 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §32-33: Study Edition (New York, New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 156. 

 

‘My God, You Have Forsaken Me!’: Gregory of Nanzianzus, Karl Barth, and Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? -Psalm 22:1

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” -Matthew 27:46

περὶ δὲ τὴν ἐνάτην ὥραν ἀνεβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγων, Ηλι ηλι λεμα σαβαχθανι; τοῦτ’ ἔστιν, Θεέ μου θεέ μου, ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες; – ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΘΘΑΙΟΝ 27:46

Here is how Gregory of Nazianzus or Gregory the Theologian (329 – 390 A.D.) understands this passage:

He who destroyed my curse was Himself called a curse for my sake (Gal. 3:13). He who takes away the world’s sin was Himself called sin (2 Cor. 5:21). He who took the place of the old Adam was called a new Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-47). Likewise, He makes my disobedience His own, as the Head of His whole body. For as long as I am sinful and rebellious, by my rejection of God and by my sinful passions, for just so long Christ Himself is called sinful on my account! But when He has brought all things into obedience to Himself, through their acceptance of Him and their own transformation, then His state of humble obedience to the Father will be over, as He brings me to God in a state of salvation…

Thus in carrying our salvation, Christ makes our condition His very own. This, I think, is how to understand the words, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). It wasn’t the Son, in His own person, whom the Father forsook. Nor was He forsaken by His own divinity, as some think, as if His divine nature were frightened of the cross, and fled from Him in His sufferings. After all, one forced the divine Son to be born on earth in the first place, or to be impaled on the cross! But as I said, Christ was, in Himself, representing us — and we were the ones who were forsaken and rejected, before He came to save us. But now, by the sufferings of Him who could not suffer, we have been reconciled to God and saved. Likewise, He makes our foolishness and our sins His own. This is why He says what we read in the Twenty-First Psalm. It’s very clear that the Psalm is speaking of Christ.1

In the first paragraph we see the theme of mirifica commutatio (‘wonderful exchange’), and doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ that motivated Karl Barth in his doctrine of election. He writes (as we have observed in a recent post):

The election of grace is the eternal beginning of all the ways and works of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ God in His free grace determines Himself for sinful man and sinful man for Himself. He therefore takes upon Himself the rejection of man with all its consequences, and elects man to participation in His own glory.2

This is an important aspect to emphasize, in a history of interpretation sense, with particular effort to demonstrate that Barth wasn’t making a novel claim in his doctrine of election; even if it was ‘novel’ in its juxtaposition with scholastic Reformed and modern readings.

But beyond that, and this is what I want to underscore most prominently in this post: we can see how someone as early as Nanzianzus was wrestling with the relationship between the two-natures in the singular person of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t defer to a Lutheran sort of communicato idiomatum, but instead operates with an almost Nestorian-like (which the Lutheran would charge Calvinists or the Reformed with latterly, relative to Nanzianzus) focus on the vicarious humanity doing the suffering [on the cross] whilst the ground of His person, in the eternal Logos, remains untouched. Here’s a nice summary of how the various traditions understand the ‘communication of properties’ (communicatio idiomatum), and how that implicates the Christ’s ‘forsakenness’ on the cross:

Roman Catholics and Lutherans hold their respective views based on their shared understanding of the communicatio idiomatum, the communication of properties or attributes of the two natures of Christ. For both traditions, the divine nature of Christ communicates (or shares) divine attributes such as omnipresence to His human nature; thus, Christ’s physical body can be in several locations at once.

Reformed theology rejects this view of the communication of attributes as violating historic, orthodox Christology. According to the Council of Chalcedon, the two natures of Christ are inseparably united in the one divine person of the Son of God without confusion, mixture, or change. The divine nature remains truly divine and the human nature remains truly human, each retaining its own attributes. This must be so. If Christ’s humanity acquires a divine attribute, Jesus is no longer truly human and cannot represent other human beings before God or atone for their sin.

For Reformed theology, the communicatio idiomatum means the attributes of each of Christ’s natures are communicated to the person of Christ. We can predicate what is true of each nature to Christ’s person. So, the person of Christ is omnipresent, but not according to His human nature. He is omnipresent according to His divine nature because only deity is omnipresent. Likewise, the person of Christ died on the cross, but Jesus experienced death according to His human nature, for the divine nature is not subject to death and decay.3

According to the above description, Gregory is simply being a good proto-Chalcedonian Christologian; that is prior to the convening of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. For the Chalcedonian, or more accurately, the Reformed perspective, the natures of Christ, both human and Divine, find their predication in and from the singular personalis of Jesus Christ. So, from this frame, Christ’s humiliation in the incarnation and atonement has grounding in the single person of the whole Christ, but within the whole Christ (think from a qualified Christus totus) it is possible, and necessary, to think in terms of the operations of both his Divine and human natures per those natures as defined by Christ’s person (so there is a dialectic afoot). This gets into the Reformed understanding of what has been called the extra Calvinisticum as well; but let us simply acknowledge that for the moment, and develop that later.

I think the Theologian’s take above is adequate, but requires further theological development; which my friend Darren Sumner does in his book titled, Karl Barth and the Incarnation: Christology and the Humility of GodSumner offers a constructive, and yet Reformed retrieval of this important doctrine; in regard to thinking about the ‘forsakenness’ of Christ, from both Lutheran and Reformed trajectories. But of course, Darren does so, admirably, from within the Christological dialectic that Barth offers in his theology in general, and in his doctrine of election, in particular. Suffice it to say, what remains the major thrust is the significance of emphasizing how the natures of Christ are predicated within the person of Christ, and to think these things from there; even if that negates (or not) what some have called the Logos asarkos. 

Conclusion

I sort of got lost in the underbrush of the trees in my sketch of things here. But hopefully the reader can appreciate the complexities involved with thinking about how the sui generis reality of God become human in Jesus Christ ought to impact this discussion. What remains true, from my perspective, is that the Son of Man freely chose our forsakenness, so that we might ultimately participate in his exaltedness through His resurrected and re-created humanity (pro nobis). God surely ‘suffered’ in the incarnation and crucifixion, and yet His divinity remained divine; and this is the mystery of it all. God has humanity in Jesus Christ, and chose freely to forever be defined by that humanity for-our-sakes (Deus incarnandus). And yet, His choice to be defined by Christ’s elected humanity, for-our-sakes, is grounded first in who He eternally is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, God is who God has always already been, it is just that within His who-ness as God, because of this, He freely chose to become something ‘new,’ in the sense that enfleshment is distinct from God, but now eternally who God has chosen to be for us in Christ. It is within this remaining mystery that God suffered; and He did so, as Nanzianzus rightly underscores, as the Theanthropos, or as the God-man, who came to have capacity to suffer as a human insofar as God has humanity in Jesus Christ.

Does this solve things for you? Probably not in the way you would like, or the way I would like. But this is what happens when us plebeians are confronted by the Novum of God’s life for us in Jesus Christ. I prefer to worship at the majestic reality of God’s forsakenness for us in Christ. But to do so with some understanding; which includes his exaltedness in the same breath. He is the God who makes the impossible possible, and it is because of this that we have been allowed to participate in the eternal life of the triune God; that is because He chose ‘to become us that we might become Him’—this is God’s Grace.

1 Gregory Nazianzus, The Early Church Fathersedited by Nick Needham (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2017), March 16th reading. Gregory refers to Psalm 21 rather than 22. That is because he was referring to the LXX or the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament that he would have had available at his time. The chapterification was off by one relative to our translations today. 

2 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §32-33: Study Edition (New York, New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 99. 

3 Ligonier Ministries, A Communication of Attributesaccessed 06-10-2021.