Living in the ‘Feeling’ and Reality of Freedom from Sin that God Desires For Us In Christ: From Gestation to Resurrection

I really struggled with a false sense of guilt and condemnation for particular sins from my past for years upon years. The enemy of my soul kept me living under ‘a yoke of bondage’ that Jesus said I ‘would be free indeed’ from. The Lord did not leave me as an orphan though, by the Spirit he ministered to me through a sort of rigorous exercise of training me to think rightly about reality as declared in the evangel of His life as borne witness to in Holy Scripture. After many years of anxiety and depression, particularly stemming from living under this false yoke of condemnation the Lord used the reality of creation and recreation to bring the freedom that I so desperately desired. I am sure that I am not alone in this walk, and so I thought I would share a little bit of how this ‘training’ from the Lord looks; at least the way it looks for me.

As I just intimated a doctrine of creation and recreation, along with God’s sovereign providential care of all reality, played the required roles for me to finally see that I truly was and am free (for God and others). As already noted this sort of education from God was motivated by a crisis—we might refer to it as a theology of crisis—a crisis that brought the realization home that I did not have the resources in myself to bring the freedom that God alone could bring.[1] So how does this relate to God being Creator; and not just in an intellectual sense, but how does that reality relate to these real life spiritual issues in a existential felt manner?

In order to help explain what I’m attempting to detail let me offer a very brief definition of the theological concept creatio ex nihilo (‘creation out of nothing’). Keith Ward offers this definition:

Creatio ex nihilo (Latin for “creation from nothing”) refers to the view that the universe, the whole of space-time, is created by a free act of God out of nothing, and not either out of some preexisting material or out of the divine substance itself. This view was widely, though not universally, accepted in the early Christian Church, and was formally defined as dogma by the fourth Lateran Council in 1215. Creatio ex nihilo is now almost universally accepted by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Indian theism generally holds that the universe is substantially one with God, though it is usually still thought of as a free and unconstrained act of God.[2]

There are many important theological implications we could explore simply based upon this brief definition, but for our purposes I wanted to inject this definition into this discussion to elevate the idea that God is the Creator, and thus all of creation is contingent upon his Word. It was this idea that God started to use in my life, years ago, before I ever had any understanding of ‘creation out of nothing’, that I could have freedom from my past. This concept, before I knew the theological parlance was captured for me in this Bible verse, “3And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high….” (Heb. 1.3). Interesting how even in this verse the concept of being purified from sins and God’s ‘upholding all things by the word of His power’ are connected. It was this connection that God used to bring freedom for me. The lesson took many years, and was full of ‘anfechtung’ (trial-tribulation). The Lord allowed me to existentially feel the weight of what this world might look like without him as the One holding it together. It is very hard for me to verbalize the sense that I experienced, but it was as if I was questioning all of reality; even physical reality. I would look out at the world and based upon the sort of nihilistic logic that had infiltrated my mind (as a Christian!) over the years I would have this excruciating condition of feeling the transitoriness of all of reality. It was living in this reality, accompanied by ‘intellectual doubts’ (not spiritual) about God’s existence, that of course!, threw me into great pits of despondency and despair. But it was also through this that my perception of reality was transferred from one contingent upon my word—and this world system’s word—to God’s Word. It was this process, ironically, that allowed me to finally understand that “If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” (Rom. 8.31–32) Again, like with the Hebrews passage, we see here in Paul’s theology that a connection is made between freedom from condemnation and the creational reality of God’s Word; except here what is emphasized is not creation in general, but creation in particular as that is particularized in the re-creation of God in Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Once I’d been schooled enough with the reality that ‘reality’ is God’s reality based alone upon his given and sustaining Word; once I could ‘feel’ that weight, not just intellectually, but spiritually-affectively, the resurrection and re-creation therein had the real life impact I personally needed to be ‘free’ and stand fast in the freedom that the Son said I would be free within (Jn. 8.36); his freedom in the re-creation; the resurrection; the new creation; the new humanity that is his for us.

So I had this doctrine of creation out of nothing in place, in a ‘felt’ way; with the emphasis being upon the reality that God alone holds all of reality together. It was within this conceptual frame that the doctrine of re-creation and resurrection came alive for me; in an existential-spiritual-felt and lived sense. This is why Karl Barth’s doctrine of resurrection has resonated with me so deeply. It is tied into the type of ‘primordial’ thinking that creatio ex nihilo operates from—as part and parcel of God’s upholding Word—and then explicates that from within a theology of God’s Word wherein the primacy of Christ’s life is understood as the telos the fulcrum of what created reality is all about. Robert Dale Dawson really helped me to appreciate this sort of connection between creation out of nothing and Barth’s doctrine of re-creation as he wrote this:

A large number of analyses come up short by dwelling upon the historical question, often falsely construing Barth’s inversion of the order of the historical enterprise and the resurrection of Jesus as an aspect of his historical skepticism. For Barth the resurrection of Jesus is not a datum of the sort to be analyzed and understood, by other data, by means of historical critical science. While a real event within the nexus of space and time the resurrection is also the event of the creation of new time and space. Such an event can only be described as an act of God; that is an otherwise impossible event. The event of the resurrection of Jesus is that of the creation of the conditions of the possibility for all other events, and as such it cannot be accounted for in terms considered appropriate for all other events. This is not the expression of an historical skeptic, but of one who is convinced of the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.[3]

Threading out the academic technicalities (that are important in their original context), and focusing on the concepts that serve our purposes, what I draw from this is the significance of what Dawson identifies in Barth’s theology as ‘the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.’ Can you see how all of this might provide the sort of apocalyptic freedom we are in need of in order to live the sort of ‘free’ life that God wants us to before him? It does seem rather mechanical and academic; I agree. Let me try to summarize and draw together the themes I’ve been attempting to highlight in order to provide you with a maybe-way forward in your own spiritual walk and life as a Christian.

The Conclusion. It is actually rather basic, but deeply profound; at least for me. What is required is that we ask for eyes of faith to see what God sees in Christ. He will school us in his ways as we seek him first in the Scripture’s reality in Christ. He will work things into our lives that will shorn away the accretions of the ‘worldly-system-wisdom’ with his wisdom; the wisdom of the cross. He will allow you to ‘feel’ the existential weight of his life, and the reality that that upholds, and within this, this apocalyptic reality of his in-breaking life into ours, the reality that the God who could rightly condemn us has broken into the surly contingencies of our sinful lives and become the ‘Judge, judged.’ If the God who holds all reality together by the Word of his power in Jesus Christ invades this world in the Son, takes his just condemnation of our sins (no matter what they are!) upon himself for us, puts that death to death in his death on the cross, and then re-creates all of reality in his resurrection; then there remains no space for condemnation. The One who could condemn me stands in the way and has eliminated the sphere for condemnation insofar that he has re-created a world wherein only his righteousness reigns and dwells in his enfleshed life for us in his Son, Jesus Christ. What I just noted is the key to grasp. There is another world in Christ; a world accessible by the eyes of faith, provided by the eyes of Christ, in his vicarious humanity which we are enlivened into by the Holy Spirit. This is the real reality that Christians live in and from; and it is this reality that I cling to whenever the enemy of my soul wants to bring me into a life of bondage that belongs to the world that he is king over; a world that is dead and no longer real by virtue of the reality of God’s new world re-created and realized in the primacy of Jesus Christ.

I hope this small reflection might help provide some liberation for some of you out there as well. I realize this all might seem pretty academic, but I don’t really see things that way; I’m hoping you’ll see as a result of this post why I don’t see things in terms of the ‘academic.’ I think good theology, whether people think it is “academic” or not can begin to see that at spiritual levels these ideas can have real life impact and consequences, and that God can use them for the good; he did so, and continues to work this way for me. Just recently, as recent as yesterday, the devil tried to bring me back into a sense of false condemnation and guilt, and I found relief in the very ideas I’ve just outlined. The process, in the head, can be somewhat mechanistic, when working through things this way, but, at least for me, it is what is required for to live a life of freedom that God wants me to live in and from his Son, and my Savior, Jesus Christ. Soli Deo Gloria.

 

[1] This might also explain why I have so much resonance with Karl Barth’s theology. Early on Barth was known as a theologian of crisis. Martin Luther’s theology was spawned by deep angst, and his theology is often related to what is known in German as Anfechtung (trial/tribulation). This is why I have found these theologians, among others, as some of my most insightful teachers; they understand that the ‘wisdom of the cross’, that a theologia crucis and a theologia resurrectionis are the key components for knowing God and making him known to others. This is where God meets us; it’s where he knows we must be met if we are going to meet him.

[2] Keith Ward, Creatio Ex Nihilo (Encyclopedia.com), accessed 05-18-2018.

[3] Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (UK/USA: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 13.

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Can-o-Worms: Robert Jenson and the Resurrection

As usual I have opened a can-o-worms with my posts on Robert Jenson’s doctrine of resurrection—I say “as usual” in the sense that often over the years I’ve touched upon a variety of controversial issues. So I have been processing all of this out in the open allowing you all to provide me feedback—if you will—and this opening has garnered response from learned people; particularly on Facebook (through contacts there). But let’s be clear, just as is the case for anyone, we all must come to our own convictions and conclusions based upon a best faith effort; that’s the effort I am attempting to put forth in regard to understanding Jenson’s doctrine of resurrection.

I received a copy of an essay/chapter a friend of mine, Oliver Crisp, contributed to the recently released volume The Promise of Robert W. Jenson’s Theology: Constructive Engagements. As Divine Providence would have it Oliver’s chapter just happens to be on the very issue that has been causing me some angst—let’s not be too overwrought, whether or not Jenson did affirm the actual and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ has no long term bearing on what I actually believe relative to the bodily resurrection of Christ as attested to by the Apostolic witness. Nevertheless, insofar as we are beholden—as people of the truth—to represent each other in a more accurate way, it is important to do due diligence in representing the theology of Jenson vis-à-vis resurrection.

I have actually been getting it from both barrels; as is the case in the theological endeavor there are of course competing angles from, it seems, infinite sides of a position or doctrine. Jenson, just as any theologian worth their salt, has presented us with no cause for small polarization; in other words, his offering, theologically, has the potential to divide—I’d expect nothing less from any sober attempt to divulge the implications and inklings produced by the reality of the God of the Gospel, of Jesus Christ. I have been presenting one line in regard to Jenson, that his presentation on the resurrection comes from a Bultmann-inspired angle; one of demythologizing in light of the “modern progress” and scientific age we currently inhabit. One push back I’ve received on this front from someone who has done their PhD work on Jenson went like this (this is from Facebook interaction, I won’t share the name of the interlocutor since I’m not sure he wants me to):

Jenson isn’t saying that the body of Christ remains dead. He is saying that bodily resurrection is a new body, not a resuscitated old one. I don’t know how one could bracket off the sacramental question. His entire understanding of what a body is is central to his interpretation of the resurrection; ie, objective availability. To say that Jesus’ body could have remained in the tomb is to say that it is no longer the way he is available. One needn’t agree with this interpretation, but it isn’t accurate to suggest that Jenson’s interpretation of the resurrection is subjective or beholden to demythologization. I think there’s much to say about the fact that the old body is the object of resurrection, and therefore that it must be related to the risen body. That’s a valid critical question of Jenson’s theology. But I think what you’ve said in this thread misfires a bit.[1]

TheologianJ, just to reiterate says this: “Jenson isn’t saying that the body of Christ remains dead. He is saying that bodily resurrection is a new body, not a resuscitated old one”; and this: “To say that Jesus’ body could have remained in the tomb is to say that it is no longer the way he is available.” There are many thought experiments taking place in all of this; particularly by Robert Jenson. TheologianJ, in his attempt to represent Jenson more accurately, wants to emphasize that for Jenson there is an asymmetrical relationship between the pre-resurrection and crucified body of Jesus, and the post-resurrection and glorified risen body of Christ. And to get this point across, as TheologianJ rehearses Jenson’s point, the hypothetical of a body remaining in the tomb, even after Jesus resurrected, is the idea that presses into the mystery that actually took place at the resurrection. Yet, the image, maybe strangely, that is conjured in my mind as I reflect upon TheologianJ’s words here, is to think of a caterpillar and butterfly; as if the pre-resurrection body of Christ is the caterpillar and the post resurrection body the butterfly; as if when Jesus resurrects he sluffs off the old body (as if a shell or husk), and assumes the new body that has an inextricable relation to the old ‘carrier-body’, but nonetheless is a brand new body of a different sort. Even though this analogy breaks down, especially on the biblical front, at least at some levels, it does have some purchase to it in regard to noting the miracle that the resurrection body entails and the discordant yet concordant relation that remains present between the old and the new.

Okay, I can accept some of this. But I don’t think this line of thought is neither necessary nor required. As I noted in response to another interlocutor on Facebook, the way I’m approaching this is from a pre-modern/pre-Copernican way of viewing the resurrection—like from a cosmology that simply accepts that what Scripture says about the resurrection simply maps onto what actually is the primal reality of all creation (i.e. without reference to modern scientific theories in regard to cosmogony and cosmology). Jenson, on the other hand, feels compelled to work his thinking in and from under the pressures presented by the modern scientific world; a post-Copernican world. This is why I will remain at disparate odds with Jenson. But there is some irony, because even as Jenson is attempting to work his theological project into the modern 21st century world (late 20th century as he wrote his Systematic Theology) he re-mystifies how he thinks resurrection through his Lutheran antecedents found in Swabian Cosmic Christology and in his stylized mode of sacramental theology.

Let me back off the idea that Bultmann is the primary point of departure for Jenson. But let me maintain that I still think that what Jenson is doing is a kind of de-mystifying and then re-mystification of what the resurrection of Jesus Christ entails; so in this sense I think we can at the very least, insofar as both Bultmann and Jenson are modern theologians (to one degree or another), come to the conclusion that while Jenson’s project of “evangelizing the cosmology of the Christ” is distinct, in his own ways from Bultmann’s, there remains an incidental over-lap between the two insofar as they are indeed working intentionally from modern soundings and categories. Note Jenson:

Copernicus’ new cosmology undid this accommodation. The Copernican universe is homogeneous; no part of it can be more suited for God’s dwelling than any other. It can map no topologically delineated heaven. There is in a Copernican universe no plausible accommodation for the risen Christ’s body; and, indeed, within any modern cosmology, the assertion that the body is upper there some place must rightly provoke mocking proposals to search for it with more powerful telescopes, or suggestions that perhaps it is hiding on the “other side” of a black hole. But if there is no place for Jesus’ risen body, how is it a body at all? For John Calvin was surely right: “. . . this is the eternal truth of any body, that it is contained in its place.”

The disappearance of heaven from the accepted topography of the universe has had powerful and destructive impact on the actual theology of believers. It is safe to say that most modern believers, whatever doctrine they may formally espouse, actually envision the risen Christ as not embodied, as a pure “spirit,” or perhaps as embodied in a a [sic] very thinned-out fashion, as—not to be too fine about it—a spook. A body requires its place, and we find it hard to think of any place for this one.[2]

We cannot go back, or maybe we can, according to Jenson. Here it becomes apparent the type of world Jenson believes we must do theology in; the world that has been bequeathed to us as moderns and now post-moderns. He immediately (following the quote I just shared from him) anticipates that folks, like me, might simply fall back to a traditional pre-Copernican position on thinking resurrection and body-place in the heavenlies. He says that’s not advisable, and that even reversion to the past, prior to Copernicus, as far back as the 9th century, we have Christian thinkers attempting to understand how the bodily presence of God in Christ, in the continued reality of the incarnation in the resurrected body, relates to the world of time-space. This is where he refers, and turns his focus to the Swabian theologians, post-Copernicus, who he thinks provides him with the kind of pregnant theological resource to fund his own incarnational theology of sacrament and how the body of God in Christ continues to be mediated to humanity in the “body” of the broken bread and red juice.[3]

I will say that Jenson is a complex; aren’t we all. He is a modern theologian attempting to think modernly about a reality that transcends all analogies and human categories of wit. His modern impulses, or at least the way he self-consciously owns those, drives him to say things about the “empty tomb” and the resurrected body of Jesus Christ that I wouldn’t say in the way he does. I think this is the rub for me, and will continue to be when I read Jenson. I still can learn from him, but I’d rather learn from people like Thomas Torrance, Karl Barth, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Maximus the Confessor, Athanasius, Irenaeus et al. Jenson looks back and listens to the past too, but his impulses are his own (which of course makes some sort of sense if you think about it). I don’t want to misrepresent Jenson, I’m just thinking all of this out-loud; bear that in mind as you not only read these posts on Jenson, but on every single post I have ever written or will write here at The Evangelical Calvinist. Pax Vobiscum

 

[1] TheologianJ, Anonymous Facebook Source, accessed 11-14-2017.

[2] Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology Volume 1: The Triune God(Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 202.

[3] Ibid., 202-03.

Staying with Robert Jenson’s Doctrine of Resurrection for a Minute Longer

Let me hit on this one more time; i.e. the topic of the last post. Here is the quote I referred to from Jenson in regard to the resurrection of Jesus:

Most of the Gospel’s resurrection stories are of appearances, in line with the tradition followed by Paul. But the other ancient account, transmitted by Mark writing perhaps ten years later than Paul, is of finding Jesus’ tomb empty. The historical difficulties of Mark’s story have, one may think been much exaggerated. It is nevertheless noteworthy that other empty-tomb stories in the Gospels may well be dependent on the single story in Mark, and that the New Testament contains no trace outside the Gospels of a conviction that the tomb was empty, or even of any interest in the matter.

In any case, the two claims are not conceptually symmetrical. The assertion that the tomb was empty could be true while Jesus nevertheless remained dead. But if the claim was true that some saw Jesus alive after his death, then Jesus had indeed been raised. Therefore, whether or not the tomb was found empty, only the appearances could be the actual occasion of the Easter-faith.[1]

The question is basic (I think): Is Robert Jenson waffling some on the actual resurrection, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ? The feeling I get as I read Jenson’s whole chapter on Resurrection is that he remains ambiguous as to whether or not there is a correlation between the pre-resurrection crucified body of Jesus Christ and the post-resurrection body of Jesus Christ. In the quote above it does appear that Jenson affirms the resurrection (and as the other quote I shared from him attests, he does conclude that there was some sort of resurrection), but what remains ambiguous with him is the reality of the bodily resurrection; in the sense that there is a one-for-one correspondence between the preresurrection and postresurrection bodies of Jesus Christ. I can’t help but see, for Jenson, that there is indeed a type of Bultmannian Jesus of history/Jesus of Faith distinction; the Jesus of Faith corresponding to the Easter-appearances and Jesus of Faith that the Apostle’s had some sort of mystical experience of.

Some have wanted to respond that because Jenson is subsuming his doctrine of resurrection (as well as other loci) under his doctrine of the church that his ambiguity on the bodily resurrection of Christ is neither here nor there; i.e. that Jenson has bigger concerns in regard to narrating for the church where her significance comes from—even if for him whether or not Jesus genuinely or physically did raise is an incidental.

I don’t really appreciate posturing types of responses to such things (which is some of what I received). Some people responded to my first post by trying to suspend the obvious observation that there is indeed this kind of Bultmann existentialism attending to Jenson’s own formation in regard to his doctrine of resurrection. Just because someone is a devotee to Jenson’s theology in the main doesn’t mean he didn’t have weak spots, and is not vulnerable to any sort of critique in any way. And yet this is the sense you get when trying to elevate something like this vis-à-vis Jenson’s theology. I’m not interested in subterfuge or suspension. Jenson is a clear and good communicator; he’s not unclear in regard to the types of antecedents present for him when it comes to his developments on resurrection.

 

[1] Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology Volume 1: The Triune God(Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 195.

A Quick Report on Robert Jenson’s Bultmannesque Demythologized Account of the Resurrection

I just finished Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology: Volume 1: The Triune God; I’d read most of V1 in the past back in 2005, but this is the first time I read it in full. I have mixed feelings about what he communicates via his theological offering; his Lutheran Christology seeps throughout (i.e. communicatio idiomatum), and his writing style is something to get used to. Since I’ve offered two posts that have been on the constructive/positive side in regard to Jenson’s theology, let me, in this post, offer a critical/critique oriented post. It has to do with what some might call Jenson’s Bultmannesque theology of the resurrection of Jesus; i.e. in regard to the bodily nature of the resurrection.

For the remainder of this post we will look at two quotes from Jenson which will help to illustrate why I have serious concerns with Jenson on the issue of the resurrection. He demurs—and this is to frame it collegially—at just the point wherein historic orthodox Christianity finds its juice; he flounders at just the point where you think he would hit his stride—since he sells his theology as one that pivots on the resurrection, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ (or at least that’s what a reader would think based upon the way Jenson uses the language of resurrection). Someone I know (Kurt Anders Richardson) “warned” me about Jenson’s Bultmannian approach to the resurrection, but honestly I was a bit skeptical; that is until I read Jenson for myself. What my friend warned me of turned out to be true in the case of Jenson.

For Bultmann in the modern world of science and human progression something like the bodily resurrection of a divine-man kicks against all rational and empirical sensibilities. And so just as we find with Bultmann, Jenson acknowledges the world within which we live, takes his hat off for it, and attempts to make sense of the orthodox and biblical assertion that Jesus rose again bodily from within the modern milieu; so he demythologizes and attempts to give us the essence and existential gist of what the idea of the resurrection implies self-referentially within the Christian narrative. Realizing that this is in the background of Jenson’s informing theology, in general, it rather guts much of the valuable “sounding” things he connives throughout the rest of his theological meandering. I’ll leave us with two quotations from the pertinent section of his ST:

Most of the Gospel’s resurrection stories are of appearances, in line with the tradition followed by Paul. But the other ancient account, transmitted by Mark writing perhaps ten years later than Paul, is of finding Jesus’ tomb empty. The historical difficulties of Mark’s story have, one may think been much exaggerated. It is nevertheless noteworthy that other empty-tomb stories in the Gospels may well be dependent on the single story in Mark, and that the New Testament contains no trace outside the Gospels of a conviction that the tomb was empty, or even of any interest in the matter.

In any case, the two claims are not conceptually symmetrical. The assertion that the tomb was empty could be true while Jesus nevertheless remained dead. But if the claim was true that some saw Jesus alive after his death, then Jesus had indeed been raised. Therefore, whether or not the tomb was found empty, only the appearances could be the actual occasion of the Easter-faith.[1]

I once heard, in person, at a regional Evangelical Theological Meeting in Portland, OR in 2011, Jesus Seminar fellow, Marcus Borg, make almost a verbatim accounting of Jesus’ Easter-faith resurrection appearances. It is something that we might expect from a neo-Gnostic like Borg, or the demythologizing theologian, par excellence, Rudolph Bultmann, but not what I would have expected to hear from America’s best theologian (according to some), Robert Jenson.

He closes this section on Resurrection with this:

. . . The tomb, we may therefore very cautiously judge, had to be empty after the Resurrection for the Resurrection to be what it is. We can, of course, say nothing at all about what anyone would have seen who was in the tomb between the burial and the first appearances. If the tomb marked by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is indeed where Christ lay, then it is empty not by inadvertence but as the Temple of Israel was empty.[2]

It strikes me as rather odd that Jenson, a theologian known for placing such emphasis on the resurrection, per the paces of his theology, is so agnostic and ambiguous in regard to the bodily resurrection of Christ. Even in the last quote from him, we need to read that from within the context set for that in the first quote I shared from him. For Jenson, what is important is the existential Easter-faith of the Apostles rather than the actuality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ; this comes off as an incidental for Jenson, in regard to whether or not it did in fact happen or not.

While Jenson does have some insightful things to say about church history and ideation, at the end of the day, without the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ informing his theology, as the Apostle Paul notes:

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.[3]

In an ultimate kind of way I don’t have very much interest in Jenson’s theology precisely because what should be the capstone of his theology—even on his own assertion—is weakly. Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance et al. are all strong on the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and for them it can truly serve of primal import in regard to the development of their respective theological offerings. Because of the waningness of Jenson’s own report on the bodily resurrection he cannot claim the same type of bravado when it comes to offering a Trinitarian theology that has the Gospel of the bodily resurrection at the core of the core of his theology.

I plan on finishing up Jenson’s Volume 2, but only to say that I’ve been there done that. Any kind of abiding interest I might have had in Jenson’s theology has been somewhat quenched by his material lacuna in regard to the necessity of an empty tomb or not.

[1] Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology Volume 1: The Triune God (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 195.

[2] Ibid., 206.

[3] I Corinthians 15:12-19, NIV.

Job 19. Miscellaneous Personal Reflection. Death and Suffering, Incarnation and Resurrection

I am an avid Bible reader, and have been one since 1995; by the grace of God. Indeed, this is where it all started for me; i.e. where the love of theology has come from. But I’m afraid this reality about who I am doesn’t come through enough in my posts; so in an effort to remedy that I’m hoping to post reflective posts on wherever I’m at in my Bible reading at that point. I’m currently in the book of Job, and one of my favorite passages of Scripture is found in Job 19. Let me share the section I’m thinking of, and you’ll see the passages I particularly like emboldened. I will share more on the other side.

13 “He has alienated my family from me my acquaintances are completely estranged from me. 14 My relatives have gone away; my closest friends have forgotten me. 15 My guests and my female servants count me a foreigner; they look on me as on a stranger. 16 I summon my servant, but he does not answer, though I beg him with my own mouth. 17 My breath is offensive to my wife; I am loathsome to my own family. 18 Even the little boys scorn me; when I appear, they ridicule me. 19 All my intimate friends detest me; those I love have turned against me. 20 I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped only by the skin of my teeth. 21 “Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me. 22 Why do you pursue me as God does? Will you never get enough of my flesh? 23 “Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, 24 that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever! 25 I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. 26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; 27 I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me![1]

I don’t really want to try and wax eloquent, but I do want to share from the heart as I reflect upon this passage.

Job obviously was no stranger to human suffering, indeed, we might call him a ‘type’ of the Suffering Servant; in fact I think we’d have exegetical (intertextual) warrant for that. But look at the depth of his suffering given poetic voice in the passage I’ve shared; like many of the Psalms Job moves from utter despair to utter hope. What I love the most about Job’s hope is the contrast we see between the God that he has come to know through his suffering with the God that his “friends” throughout the pages of Job presume to know as the true God. Indeed Job seems to have the same conception of God that his friends have, in the beginning, but as we progress through the book we see an intimacy forged, and knowledge of God gained in and through the suffering Job experiences. It’s as if everything else is torn away, and Job is shorn down to his bare bones; what he finds there is the hope of the Incarnate God (Deus incarnandus). This seems to be an inescapable observation, that is that Job had an idea of the ‘incarnation’ (maybe thinking back to the Genesis theme of God walking in the cool of the garden, and projecting that out proleptically as a real and coming hope). Job also seems to have an understanding of the resurrection; this is all amazing to me. Ostensibly Job is one of the earliest books of the Bible, at least the history it covers, and yet here we have a man who somehow knows the Covenant God, Yahweh, and somehow has an idea about incarnation and resurrection.

What I’m impressed with most is the idea that death and suffering, in God’s economy, within his covenant with humanity (typified in Israel) leads the submitted person to the reality that our only hope is the incarnation and the resurrection of God in Christ for all of us. I see this as the ‘depth dimension’ of what Job is about; that suffering and death only lead us deeper into God. As the Apostle Paul opined ‘he had the sentence of death written upon him so that he wouldn’t trust himself but in the One who raises the dead.’ Job had this same Pauline expectation and hope driven into him through the death and suffering he was pushed up against.

This reality, at least to me, is not the most comforting thing. I mean it does portend that we will and must go through all types of tribulation as we enter the kingdom of Christ, in the kingdom come who is Christ; but then there is this ultimate type of hope. And even in the immediate as Paul also knew, and Job came to know, God’s grace is sufficient and heightening even in the deepest depths; so elevating, in fact, that we get to see God’s face, his glory, in Christ in ways we never have before. For Job this meant that he got to know God in a personal and relational way, contrary to his friends who walked away from the experience only frustrated by the fact that all they were able to do was project a god from their own insecurities that in the end was found wanting by the true and living God.

There is something to be said for suffering before God. It isn’t that we can say it desirable, or easy; or even part of what God ultimately desires. The most we can say about human suffering is that it isn’t something that is absent in God; he is present with us in the deepest of ways because he freely and graciously elected the human predicament for himself to not be God without us but with us in Jesus Christ. In other words, human suffering (death), and all the angst and alienation we experience in our daily lives, to one degree or another, has come to have ultimate and immediate value because God has freely chosen that his life for us be cruciform in shape. He can sympathize with our weaknesses in ways that no one else can. I know that from experience, and I’m sure many of you do as well.

Job is one of the most Christ anticipating books in the canon of Scripture; at least I think so. And now you can see why I might think that.

[1] Job 19, NIV.

God’s Story in the Drama of Human Suffering: Applied to an Incurable Cancer Diagnosis

I wanted to share something I wrote on April 14th, 2010. I was still in the thralls of my treatment; I was totally beat up! I had gone through 6 cycles of very hard-core chemo, had lost over 50 pounds, and came close to losing my life without the intervention of the oncologists; i.e. from the treatment. At this moment they were just giving me time to recover to prepare for surgery (that would happen until May 6th). As I gained strength back, having a break from my chemo, I gained strength to write; and so I produced the following reflection on the story of Job. Here’s what I wrote:

In Bible study (or literary studies) there is a “device” called “dramatic irony.” The perfect example of this is found in the book of Job. We as the readers have a birds-eye view of the whole story; we see God’s discussion with satan in heaven, we see God giving satan space to slam Job for a “season.” Then we see the unfolding of satan’s attack upon Job, we go through all the false accusations of Job’s friends; we see Job in great pain and affliction, we see him wondering what’s going on, wondering where God was. We see Job in great mental, emotional, and physical anguish. Then we turn the pages and see God responding to Job — not in the way we might think either — and finally we get to the end of the book; we see how it turns out, how Job is blessed, even more so than he was before — mostly because He came to know the LORD in ways he never did before. My point, is that with Job we know he’s going to be okay (we know the end of the story); Job didn’t have our vantage point, he had to go thru it.

As I think about this, and my own precarious situation, it is amazing to think about dramatic irony; there is a story that has already been written by God, there is a so-called “back-story” going on here. To learn from Job, God is sovereignly in control of all the circumstances of my life; when I cry out to Him and wonder where He is and what He’s doing, to learn from Job, God is in control and every circumstance is ordered by Him. Beyond this there is a time of refreshing and rest coming; in ways that me and my family have never known (since we’ve never known the depth of suffering we are currently experiencing). There is great hope in looking at Job. God is in control, and He doesn’t want to keep that a secret; He also doesn’t want to hide that He is a God of great comfort, who doesn’t answer to us, but instead lovingly comes to us in His way, in His time. Dramatic irony is an ongoing reality, in my life, and in all of our lives; unfortunately we don’t know, specifically (we do in general as Christians), how each of our particular stories end (whatever kind of suffering or trial we are currently facing in life as God’s children). The good news is that God knows how each of our stories end and begin; He’s in control, and He just wants us to trust and rest in Him (I say to myself). [originally posted here]

As I contemplate this over 6 years removed from that time I am able to look back and see more of the story, but I still do not know the whole story of course. Like Job, like someone like Lazarus, just because my body has been “raised from the dead” “delivered from the valley of the shadow of death” I am still human and I am still facing my mortality on a daily basis. I have a greater confidence in God’s care and capacity to intervene, to break into my life in a very personal and concrete way. I have come to understand that my life is indeed but a vapor, but that ‘vapor’ is the LORD’s; He is in control of the vapors. The further out we get from my cancer free date (May 6th, 2010), the further away we seem to be removed from that strange world. But in honesty I don’t really feel that removed from it. I still have a 12 inch scar running from the bottom of my sternum to the top of my groin; I still have a horizontal scar running about 3 inches across my upper right chest from where they embedded my port under my skin; I still have some neuropathy in my feet from the chemo; I still have one less kidney; and I still have 6 inches of gortex holding my inferior vena cava together. Beyond that, and this is the more blessed part: I still have not forgotten the dramatic in-breaking of God’s life into our lives during that season. His provision and presence was other-worldly; He spoke with His still small voice into my heart words of encouragement; He pointed me to passages of Scripture before I even knew they were passages of Scripture and spoke those words into my life.

In a small way we have experienced the dramatic irony of God’s dealing with our life. We can look back at that part of the story and see how God has worked. More broadly we can look to God in Jesus Christ and have confidence that this same God from In the beginning to the amen has written the story of all of our lives in the life of Jesus Christ. We can read the drama that this life produces over and again from the Alpha&Omega of God’s finished work in Jesus Christ and know that the story ends very well; just as it did in a temporal sense for Job; just as that happened for Lazarus; and just as it has happened for me in this instance of living through (thus far) an ‘incurable cancer.’ Soli Deo Gloria!

The Christian Bodily Hope as Commentary and Critique on Current Politics

What this current season of political carnival has worked into me is a sense of loss, of hopelessness. But this sense isn’t discordant with what I’ve already felt for a long time in regard to human government and institutions; indeed, this loss is associated with the human condition in general. This condition noted by the Apostle Paul in his own struggle when he asks: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”[1] Humanity lives in a ‘fallen’ state, whether it recognizes it or not; that is God’s conclusion about humanity, and His ‘judgment’ is given in the
hillaryincarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ; the judgment, that indeed humanity is in a situation, left to itself: where there is no hope!

The fact that the two candidates we have before us, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, as a  fact is rather horrifying. But at the end of the day they seem to be types of a logical conclusion to the human condition, and so their arrival at just this time seems fitting relative to the extent to which the human condition has “flourished” in itself. A “flourishing” of humanity that is fitting with its own self-determined self-possessed path of homo incurvatus in se or narcissism; a path where liars are free to be liars, and larceny gets to run unabated. I know we all like to blame the elites for all of this, but in reality we are all at fault; the human condition, the fallen one, has so cultivated a society[s] such that it gives blossom to what we see in the “elites” of our world—something like self-expressions of our inner-selves projected outward and personified in the so called establishment.

Has the picture I’ve been painting caused enough despair yet? It has for me. Despair to the point that I can no longer handle looking inward; I can no longer sustain any hope in human institutions or personages who embody those institutions of self-aggrandizement and self-glorification. My eyes look elsewhere for hope; my hope is eschatological. It is the hope of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Christian hope of Second Advent; that Jesus, as He promised, is coming again (the parousia). I don’t hear enough Christians speaking about this in North America, but you would think that would be all we were looking to these days. It is what Jesus Himself comforted and reproved the many churches in Ephesus with through his letter to them found in the book of Revelation. Unfortunately things like Left Behind, and Dispensational theology have made many Christians reticent to even speak of eschatological hope when it comes to facing real life crises; such as we face in this current political season. But this shouldn’t be the case, Christians should boldly hope as Jesus wants us to and look to the heavens from whence, as the King James says, ‘our redemption draws nigh’.

To my encouragement this morning as I was doing some reading I came across something very edifying and hope-filled, especially in light of our two options (Donald and Hillary) as reminders of the human condition. I was reading an essay by Richard Bauckham called The future of Jesus Christ. As Bauckham usually does[2], especially when it comes to things eschatological, he provides prescient words for the weary Christian soul; he writes of the genuine hope that we have for the future, and how that hope breaks in on us trumpcurrently afresh and anew, and how that ought to offer us, as Christians, hope eternal and perspective for the moment that allows us to fulfill our vocation as witnesses for Jesus Christ. Here is Bauckham in extenso:

A powerful Jewish objection to the Christian identification of Jesus as the Messiah is that, when the Messiah comes, the world will be freed from evil, suffering and death. As Walter Molberly puts it, in chapter 12 above: ‘The heart of the Jewish critique is simple: if Jesus is the redeemer, why is the world still unredeemed?’ One form of Christian response, and unfortunate one, has been to ‘spiritualise’ redemption in a way that is alien to the Jewish religious tradition. Salvation is reduced to what Christian believers experience as forgiveness of sins, personal justification before God, and virtuous living, with spiritual immortality in heaven after death. But the Christian tradition at its most authentic has realised that the promise of God made in the bodily resurrection of Christ is holistic and all-encompassing: for whole person, body and soul, for all the networks of relationship in human society that are integral to being human, and for the rest of creation also, from which humans in their bodiliness are not to be detached. In other words, it is God’s creative renewal of his whole creation. Here and now such salvation is experienced in fragmentary and partial anticipations of the new creation, and these are only properly appreciated as anticipations of the fullness of new creation to come. But even these anticipations are not limited to a ‘spiritual’ sphere artificially distinguished from the embodiment and sociality of human being in this world. Significantly, what has most kept the holistic understanding of salvation alive in the church, when tempted by Platonic and Cartesian dualisms to reduce it, have been the resurrection of Jesus in its inescapable bodiliness and the hope of his coming to raise the dead and to judge, which makes all individual salvation provisional, incomplete until the final redemption of all things. Hope for the future coming of the crucified and risen Christ has continually served to counter Christian tendencies to pietism and quitetism, spiritualization and privitisation, because it has opened the church to the world and the future, to the universal scope of God’s purposes in Jesus the Messiah.

It has also been a corrective to absolutising the status quo in state or society: either the transformation of Christianity into a civil religion uncritically allied to a political regime or form of society, or the church’s own pretensions to be the kingdom of God virtually already realised on earth. In such contexts the Christ who reigns now on the divine throne has been envisaged as the heavenly sanction for the rule of his political or ecclesiastical deputies on earth. Resistance to ideological christology of this kind can come from the hope of the Christ who is still to come in his kingdom. The expectation of the parousia relativises all the powers of the present world, exposing their imperfections and partialities. This is why it has often been more enthusiastically embraced by the wretched and the dispossessed than by the powerful and the affluent. It embodies the hope that the world will be different, contradicting every complacent or resigned acceptance of the way things are. It offers an eschatological provisio and a utopian excess that keep us from pronouncing a premature end to history, as a tradition of Enlightenment thought from Hegel and Comte to Francis Fukuyama has encouraged people to do and as totalitarian politics is often minded to do in justification for repressing dissent. Thus the Jewish messianic critique of Christian messianism is a necessary one whenever the church’s faith in the Christ who is still to come falters.[3]

maranatha.

[1] NRSV, Romans 7.24.

[2] See Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation; and Climax of Prophecy: Studies in the Book of Revelation.

[3] Richard Bauckham, “The Future of Jesus Christ,” in The Cambridge Companion To Jesus, ed. Markus Bockmuehl (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 268-69.

The ‘Return of Reason’ through Resurrection: A Parable in Daniel 4:28-37

28 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon,30 and the king said, “Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?” 31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: “O King Nebuchadnezzar, danielprophet1to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you! 32 You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will.”33 Immediately the sentence was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws.

34 When that period was over, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me. I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored the one who lives forever. For his sovereignty is an everlasting sovereignty, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does what he wills with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can stay his hand or say to him, “What are you doing? 36 At that time my reason returned to me; and my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom. My counselors and my lords sought me out, I was re-established over my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are truth, and his ways are justice; and he is able to bring low those who walk in pride. ~Daniel 4:28-37

Daniel, as a true prophet of the living God, his word, or God’s word came true for King Nebuchadnezzar. I see this as something of a parable (not that I don’t see this as a historical event, I do!) for humanity in general. We are all born into this world in the same state, with the same proclivity for an incurved existence as Nebuchadnezzar; it’s just that he had more available to him, as far as material and pleasurable resources. Nevertheless, he did what we do; indulge himself in self-adoration, finally to the point that God said that was enough—God graciously and mercifully humbled him.

It isn’t until God does the same for us, for modern humanity that ‘reason’ returns to us; reason being that orientation where we have right knowledge of God resulting in right knowledge of ourselves (something which Calvin knew something of). Aren’t all humans prone to live like socio-paths, like feathered loons (to one extreme or another) without a right orientation to God; without bowing the knee to God? Sure, we are good at fooling ourselves into thinking we are ‘normal’ sentient human beings who live relatively well ordered lives (at least relative to the Jones’ next door); we are good (well kind of) ordering chaos in such a way that we think we have got things together. But of course the knowledge of God, the knowledge of the cross won’t let us honestly live like that for very long; reason will return, and in this dispensatio it is at the cross where the humiliation and exaltation of God and humanity in Christ have met, where genuine reason and right-mindedness have come.

Personally I went through a season of life (many years ago) where I thought I was losing it, mentally. The only place where I found intellectual and heart solace was in the place where Nebuchadnezzar found it; with the recognition that God alone rules heaven and earth, and it is therein where I found my place as His creature. Reason for humans can only be present when they are rightly oriented to God. That orientation does not come willingly, but only through God’s choice for us in Jesus Christ to put us to death with Him at the cross; and then to raise us with Him as new creations—that’s the reason that radiates God’s Kingdom, the resurrected life of the eternal Son, Jesus Christ. Reason has returned for humanity in Christ, in His resurrection, and now in our participation with His resurrected humanity.

 

Coping with the Fear of Death through the Vicarious Humanity of Jesus

Death is scary, or at least the thought and the process of death are scary. It goes against the grain of humanity; the grain of humanity after all is the indestructible life of God in Jesus Christ for us (Deus incarnandus), as He is the imago Dei, the εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ, the image of God whose image humanity simpliciter has been both created and recreated in (i.e. the resurrection). To be ripped lastsupperasunder from that life, His life necessarily creates an existential anxiety and response within human beings who live in that state of separation on a day to day basis. But even for those of us who have acknowledged our election in God in Christ, even for those who have actively said yes to God from the Yes and Amen of God for us in Jesus Christ, we still live in these fallen frail bodies that cry out from the futility that has been inflicted upon them. Even though we know that our lives are grounded in Christ’s life, in His resurrected humanity (cf. Rom. 6; Col. 3; etc.) we still live in bodies that are subject to biological death, aging, sickness, disease, and a host of other unnatural things (if we understand that the natural mode for what it means to be human is determined by Christ’s humanity rather than the fallen humanity we continue to inhabit). And so when we are confronted with our mortality it is scary; it is something that humans as a rule don’t dwell upon from day to day, instead we live as if we might never die (or at least that’s how people tacitly seem to function day to day).

But we are going to die, and are dying every day; the reality of death is inescapable. When I was diagnosed with incurable statistically terminal cancer back in 2009 I was scared! I can remember before that though, for most of my life, I had this inexplicable fear of death (and I have been a Christian from a very young age); it was an oppressive fear I would sometimes get when faced with the thought that I could get cancer or something, and then I did! When that happened, the diagnosis, I went into a deep shock.

One of my particular plagues is that I am a deep thinker, and at points my mind can grab onto an idea and run it deeper than it should, or even really can. This was part of my problem from years past, ever before I was diagnosed with cancer; I would take the concept of my personal mortality, and its reality, and try to make some sense out of it at an existential and subjective level, at a felt level. But my mind, obviously, could never make sense of it; it was like entering into a dark abyss and trying to navigate a course through it. The moment I would finally hit the wall, and admit it, this is where heavy fear would come in; it meant I was up against a reality that I could not control, and my ‘flesh’ could not handle that. But it wasn’t just that, it was the thought of trying to conceive of life apart from what I’ve always known life to be, with full extension into space and time in my embodied physical concrete state. I think this reality is the one that scared me the most about death (and when I think about it it still is scary). It simply is not natural for a human being to die, as such it becomes a totally inscrutable thing to try and conceive of and make sense of; it truly is a labyrinth that humans have not been equipped to grasp or navigate through, it truly is a privatio or privation of what makes sense (which is what humanity has been created for; i.e. life with God).

This particular deep fear of mine, and I would imagine this is not my fear alone, was given some perspective as I walked through the valley of shadow of death with my cancer. Did the ‘fear of death’ completely go away? Absolutely not! I have no desire to die or go through the process of death. But what did happen is that that Lord showed up in some very real and tangible ways; in ways that let me and my family know that the armies of heaven were standing with us, and that the Lord of Hosts Himself was ever present. Not in some sort of abstract ‘up there’ kind of way, but in a concrete way that made clear that death was no match for Him! The reality that He is “the resurrection and the life” and that though I may “die, yet I shall live” became very real.

As I started this post out with, the ground and reality of our lives is the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. There is no separate humanity from His, but we find our humanity as we participate from His for us. We look solely to Him as the source of eternal life that springs up from our navels as living waters which cannot be quenched. This is my hope, and I am glad that I have found it in Jesus Christ! We need this hope in our world today! People are dying all around us, even if they try to live and act like they aren’t; they are. They need the hope of Jesus Christ, and the hope of His resurrection life as the ground and basis of their lives. He alone can enter into the abyss of death, put it to death, and rise again in a glorified body, and has! If we are going to have hope and a way through such darkness we need to be in a participatory relationship with Him by the Holy Spirit. If this is the reality we live in and from, ‘in Christ,’ then all hope is ours and the fear of death can no longer hold us captive; we can live truly free in and from the freedom of God’s indestructible Triune life which is indeed graciously for us in Jesus Christ.

25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? ~John 11.25-26

14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. ~Hebrews 2.14-15

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: ~Romans 6.4-5

For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. ~Colossians 3.3-4

For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. ~II Corinthians 5.1

 

 

 

The Problem of Sin and the Last Word, The Death of Death

I don’t know about you, but I grow weary of sin; I (we) face an ongoing battle every breath that we take. Whether it be perverse thoughts, dark deep secrets that plague the conscience, actions that result in destruction for you and all those related to you, systemic evil that permeates the very fabric of society (this is probably most insidious since we are conditioned by it in ways that give it a normalcy and thus societal and then personal acceptance); the Apostle can relate,

23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Romans 7:23, 24

We battle on. But how do we know what we battle; how do we gauge the target, how do we even know that there is a target to hit? How do we realize that evil isn’t some just mysterious lurking principle ‘out there’ that ultimately is outside of me, and not something that actually implicates my very being to its deepest depths—even when I engage in the evil ‘out there’ occasionally or situationally? How do I know, even if I can index concrete and ongoing instantiations of evil ‘out there, that the evil is indeed me? And that this all encompassing wickedness and deprivation consumes my inner self, which organically shapes my outer self—since really ourselves (body/soul) are integrated wholes. In other words, I am sin to the depths, and the reason there is sin, evil, wickedness ‘out there’; it is mostly because it has a context ‘in here’, in me. But how can I say such things, how can I ground such assertions beyond some sort of psychological intuition? We know that we are blind when the impression of light intensifies our darkness; when Jesus acts the way he does, and did, we know we are indeed blind. We come to the realization that for all our good, for all our posturing toward ourselves; that the next to the last word is that we live in a state of No, or blindness to the fact that what we see the Apostle Paul giving voice to can only come when faced with the depth of our problem as we participate in the life of Christ. The One who took our No, our blindness, and indeed our sin unto himself ‘by becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him’ (II Cor. 5:21). As Calvin so perceptively knew, we only truly have knowledge of ourselves (and our abysmal state), when we first have knowledge of God through Christ, God the Redeemer.

It is this that John Webster masterfully elucidates as he engages Karl Barth’s vision of a christologically conditioned knowledge of sin in its most depth dimension. Let me quote Webster, who is commenting on Barth’s Church Dogmatics & Ethics, and the moral anthropology embedded therein:

[B]arth’s Christological determination of sin is not so much an attempt to dislocate ‘theological’ from ’empirical’ reality, as an argument born of a sense that human persons are characteristically self-deceived. Human life is a sphere in which fantasy operates, in which human persons are not able to see themselves as they truly are. The ‘man of sin’

thinks he sits on a high throne, but in reality he sits only on a child’s stool, cracking his little whip, pointing with frightful seriousness his little finger, while all the time nothing happens that really matters. He can only play the judge. He is only a dilettante, a blunderer, in his attempt to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong, acting as though he really had the capacity to do it. He can only pretend to himself and others that he has the capacity and that there is any real significance in his judging. (CD IV/1, p. 446.)

This theme of concealment surfaces frequently in paragraph 60 (and elsewhere). Believing ourselves to see clearly, even allowing ourselves to suppose our sight to be sharper than that of our fellows, we are blind to the reality of our own selves. Barth acutely perceives that moral earnestness frequently rests upon clouded vision and lack of self-awareness and self-distrust. And so, once again, we return to the Christological basis for the treatment of human sin: ‘Compared with Him we stand there in all our corruption … The untruth in which we are men is disclosed … We are forced to see and know ourselves in the loathsomeness in which we find ourselves exposed and known.’

Human sinfulness, then, entails an ability to disentangle ourselves from our acts in such a way that they are no longer really ours. As Barth puts it in a passage in Church Dogmatics IV/2, we allow ourselves to believe that:

The sinful act is regrettable but external, incidental and isolated failure and defect; a misfortune, comparable to one of the passing sicknesses in which a healthy organism remains healthy and to which it shows itself to be more than equal. On this view, the individual — I myself — cannot really be affected by the evil action. I do not have any direct part in its loathsome and offensive character. In the last resort it has taken place in my absence. I myself am elsewhere and aloof from it. And from this neutral place which is my real home, I can survey and evaluate the evil that has happened to me in its involvement with other less evil and perhaps even good motives and elements; in its not absolutely harmful but to some extent positive effects; in its relationship to my other much less doubtful and perhaps even praiseworthy achievements; and especially in my relationship to what I see other men do or not do (a comparison in which I may not come out too badly); in short, in a relativity in which I am not really affected at bottom. I may acknowledge and regret that I have sinned, but I do not need to confess that I am a sinner.  (CD IV/2, p. 394)

These clarifications of the forms of human self-deception (which are by no means intended to underrate the ambiguity of the moral situation) are an important background to Barth’s treatment of original sin. His objection to some formulations of that doctrine is, at heart, that they are deficient in their account of positive evil. And his refusal of an independent locus peccati, his rejection of anything other than a Christologically determined account of sin, is directed by precisely the same concern. Far from averting attention from evil as fact, Christology is intended to furnish a means of clarifying our vision and dissolving our illusions about our own moral integrity. [John Webster, Barth’s Moral Theology: Human Action in Barth’s Thought, 69-70.]

The Apostle Paul concurs with this kind of assessment about the deleterious effects of sin upon a life that knows that it only knows its true state of affairs because of the One who finally has given the last word  to our No-being by his Yes to the Father for us—viz. a Yes that is given concrete form through his death, burial, and most importantly resurrection-ascension. The Apostle Paul, with his eyes wide open, as we noted earlier, gives a final sigh of relief when he writes:

 25I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:25

The Apostle knew, that he knew sin, not ultimately because of the Law; but ultimately, because of Christ who penetrated deeper than the Law could on its own—viz. into the cavernous depths of the human soul which left to itself continues to look at evil and wickedness as if its ‘out there’, while all along failing to realize that they’ve never even seen sin and evil and wickedness in its most grotesque form; that’s because they’ve never presumed that maybe, just maybe the most insidious form of evil, in the end, dwells where they can’t peer, where they dare not, in themselves.