Εἰρήνην διώκετε μετὰ πάντων, καὶ τὸν ἁγιασμόν, οὗ χωρὶς οὐδεὶς ὄψεται τὸν κύριον,
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord . . . Hebrews 12:14
ὄψεται (lexeme: ὁράω), translated in the NKJV above as ‘will see’ is in the future tense third person middle indicative. I have a theological-exegetical theory:
P1. Divine holiness and peace are required in order to have vision and knowledge of God.
P2. Knowledge and vision of God are eschatological realities available now and for eternity to come.
P3. Only Jesus Christ for us has divine holiness and peace to give us vicariously through Him.
P4. Only Jesus Christ is God’s eschatological vision and knowledge of God for us.
P5. Only people in spiritual union with Jesus Christ who are actively and repentantly participating in Jesus Christ’s life can have divine holiness and peace.
P6. Only people in spiritual union with Christ who are actively and repentantly participating in Jesus Christ’s life can have eschatological knowledge and vision of God.
C. Therefore, people in spiritual union with Jesus Christ who are actively and repentantly participating in Jesus Christ’s life can have the type of divine holiness and peace required to have eschatological knowledge and vision of God both now and for eternity to come.
I still need to work on my above syllogism, but you should get the gist: my contention is that what Hebrews 12:14 is referring to is that the type of life the Christian is leading will have direct impact on whether or not said Christian can arrive at any type of proximate knowledge of God. That is, especially pressing the notion of ‘holiness,’ I take it that if a Christian is living in unrepentant sin, whether actively, or simply attitudinally (which would be an aspect of ‘actively’) that said Christian will not be participating in the holiness and peace of Christ in such moments, to the point that their knowledge of God, particularly a growing knowledge of God, will be quenched.
If what I am getting at is true it ought to motivate Christians to live repentant lifestyles. Not in legalistic fear, but out of a compellation of love of Christ. The repentant lifestyle shouldn’t be one of burden and despair, but of great joy, and even happiness, knowing that we serve such a magnificent King (and Bridegroom). There should be an earnestness about living in the holiness and peace of Christ because we have such a burning and passionate desire, and intimate love relationship with our Lord, such that we would not risk allowing anything to hinder our vision, and thus true and dialogical knowledge of Him.
Really, what I am suggesting is that the Christian vision and knowledge of God is a matter of orientation and posture coram Deo. If it is, then our postures before God, as those are grounded for us first in the vicarious humanity of Christ, ought to be ones that echo, that reflect the Son’s for us. The Son, Jesus Christ, submitted Himself to the will of the Father, He was obedient for us, so that we too might, from His mediatorial life for us, do the same by the Holy Spirit. When we sin (and we will because he who says he has no sin is a liar and the truth is not in him), the orientation provided for us by the set apart life of Christ for us will be to obediently recognize our sin, repent, as Christ first repented for us (unto death), and continue on our way growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The moral is this: if a Christian is living in sin, if they are being disobedient and unrepentant continuously, then I would argue that they cannot have a genuine vision or knowledge of God. The result will be at that point, only a compounding of sins, and thus loss of vision and knowledge of God amplified. The Christian in this status can only see God in idolatrous terms. The Israelites illustrate this status well in Deuteronomy 1:
26 “Yet you were not willing to go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God; 27 and you grumbled in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us.
Notice the progression of disobedience: 1) they doubt or rebel against the command of the Lord (in echo of Adam and Eve in Gen. 3); 2) once they abandoned their ‘union’ with God by rejecting God’s vision and knowledge for them they no longer had a genuine vision and knowledge of God; 3) the result was that they had an idolatrous and skewed vision and knowledge of God leading them to arrive at conclusions about God that were ultimately blasphemous. I would take it that at the heart of sin is the bent of humanity to doubt God’s Word, or command, in favor of their own words (and thoughts). When this status is lived into, even (and especially) for the people of God, they no longer can have an accurate understanding of who God is; they have lost all proximate vision and knowledge of God. In the Levitic and Aaronic system, of course, it required sacrifice/atonement to bring people back into a status where they could be under or in God’s Word with the proper orientation and posture with the result that vision and knowledge of God was once again possible and restored. Once the ‘fulness of time’ had come, the ‘schoolmaster of Law’ gave way to its reality in the ‘faith of Christ.’ Either way, what is required, and thankfully for us post-Christ’s first advent, is that the people of God are actively and repentantly participating in Christ’s vicarious life for them, such that we might indeed see God, truly, in the shining face of Jesus Christ. As long as the Christian chooses not to live this type of ‘active life,’ this will determine how long they have a skewed and even blasphemous vision and knowledge of God; just as Israel did in the wilderness scenery.
The implications of this are sobering, I think. If a Christian is living an unrepentant lifestyle then their relative capacity to see God has been lost; not in the sense of losing justification, but in the sense of seeing their Father in a way that only an obedient child can. So, our vision and knowledge of God, as I’m suggesting, is participatory, and it is subjectively contingent upon how we choose to walk with Him daily. Are we going to take up our crosses daily, deny ourselves, and walk with Him; or are we going to be little snotnosed brats who throw fits all day disallowing us to encounter God in the way He would have us to; in a way that allows us to truly see Him in all of His beauty and grandeur—indeed, insofar that we can see Him through the pure eyes of Christ even as we inhabit these simul bodies of death yet to be glorified.
A final word: What I am suggesting throughout this post, based on Hebrews 12 and illustrated by Deuteronomy 1, is that an intellectualist anthropology (such as Aristotle and Thomas present) cannot serve as a basis for developing a proper theological ontology, and thus theological epistemology. What I am suggesting, throughout, is that vision and knowledge of God is based on a moral compunction; that it is an ‘affective’ basis upon which vision and knowledge of God can be gained. In other words, if the Christian is going to have capacity to actually ‘see God’ they can only do so as they first, are one spirit with Christ, and second, are actively walking in that relationship in a way that corresponds to the basis of that relationship as that has been conditioned and established in Christ’s obedience in His vicarious humanity for us. So, I am contending that knowledge of God is contingent on us ‘keeping in step with the Spirit,’ having our hearts of stone replaced with Christ’s heart of flesh, and allowing His heart to beat as our heart as love for the Father by the Holy Spirit. It is in this triune and koinonial relationship that I contend the Christian can have an active and accurate knowledge of God; but only insofar as they are living repentant lifestyles from Christ’s for them.
In end: the holiness and peace of God in Christ matters, as matter of concrete practice. Not for eternal justification, per se, but that too; but in the now, God’s holiness and peace matters in a way that allows us to actually set worshipful eyes on our Holy and triune God. If the Christian continuously lives in sin, which I think they can, they cannot have a right knowledge of the holy God. He has a made a way for that to be actualized, but we do have to do something in order to experience that way. And we’ve been given that capacity in the ground of our lives in Jesus Christ. We look to Christ (outside and come in us) in order to live this visionary and knowledgeable life of seeing God.
PS. Maybe my above theory will better inform the reader on why I have struggled so much with Barth!