The Apostle Paul, Feuerbach, and Bonhoeffer in Convo: On a Crucified Knowledge of God

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” -Galatians 1.11-12

“God did not, as the Bible says, make man in His image; on the contrary man, as I have shown in The Essence of Christianity, made God in his image.” – Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion

The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit writes the aforementioned; the philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach writes the aforementioned under the inspiration of the Spirit of antiChrist. Nevertheless, both identify important aspects about ultimacy, or as Christians we might say: God! Paul understands that knowledge of God is not based on philosophical speculation; whereas Ludwig reflects a person who takes philosophical reflection to its logical conclusion. Philosophical speculation, as it programmatically starts with the self can only end with the self. Thus, Feuerbach concludes that God is only a human projection; a projection of what the self would like to imagine itself to be. Ironically, the self under Feuerbach’s machinations ends up relying on classically understood divine revelational categories, or philosophical categories, and imagines that this is in fact representative of what humanity actually is in se. This is ironic, to me anyway, because Ludwig helps to illustrate just what a god imagined under the constraints of philosophical reasoning naturally reduces to; viz. it reduces or collapses the classically philosophical categories for divinity into the human being as the ultimate terminus for who and what ‘God’ is. I can agree, as a Christian, with Feuerbach. If our notion of God is based upon philosophical speculation, and the subsequent imagining that this speculation fosters, then this God, indeed ends up being a God who “man … made . . . in his image.”

Contrariwise, as already alluded to, the Apostle Paul doesn’t know the God that Feuerbach, or the philosophers in general have imagined. Paul’s knowledge of God is purely based on God’s confrontation of Him, quite literally, on the road to Damascus. Paul’s theological schooling, post-first-encounter, is given to him directly by the risen Christ. Paul doesn’t claim to imagine or construct his notion of God based on philosophical speculation, but he bases his knowledge of God in the category of revelation. Revelation, for Paul, is based on God’s irruption into the world, in and through the risen Christ, and in an ongoing way, as the risen Christ actively and event-ually continues to confront him, and all Christians (and all would-be Christians) through personal encounter; and thus, the disruption of Grace for the world. Paul’s God, clearly, is grounded in a Hebraic understanding, such that God just is the One who freely has chosen, and continues to choose, to confront us with His life of new-creation for the world in Jesus Christ. This notion of God cannot be reduced to a mode of human projection, precisely because it definitionally begins in a question proposed to us from without rather than from within us. Ben Quash gets at it this way as he develops the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer comes to think God:

[T]he opening up of a ‘third term’ in the confrontation between the recipient(s) and the medium of revelation is something that all good theologies of revelation in the modern period have had to attempt in different ways. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has left us with what is arguably one of the most suggestive and fruitful, with his affirmation of the penultimate (the rational, empirical, social domain) in its intimate closeness-in-distinction to the ultimate. The ultimate opens up within the penultimate in the form of a question, as we confront and examine the phenomena of our earthly existence. It is not our own question—it is given to us. And although it is given to us phenomenally (in the penultimate), its answer is not. The question is “Who Is Jesus Christ for us today?’ (Bonhoeffer 1966: 30: 1971: 279). This question draws us along the way of the cross into dispossessive relationship with one who is the non-circumscribable ultimate of existence. We find him incognito, ‘hidden in empirical history as empirical reality, “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3)’ (Janz 2004: 220). He is the definitive revelation of God by allowing himself to be pushed out of the world onto the cross, in this way showing us the God who is not an agent in competitive relation to other agents in the world—not just one who makes particular differences—but one who makes all the difference, in but not in addition to all the differences that there already are. [Ben Quash, 342.]

This, in my view, represents the genuinely Christian way for thinking God. It isn’t something that we construct, but something we are proposed with, actively, as our very capacity for thinking God is put in its rightful place. The Christian way for knowing God is, we might say: staurological (that is, it is a crucified knowledge). The Incarnation and cross of Christ itself shows us that the human animal, left to its own abstract self, can only arrive at the reality that God is us. This is what we see finally in Feuerbach, and the sort of theological modernity he represents. An uncrucified knowledge of God can only be one that starts and ends in the circle of the self; this, ironically, is the pronouncement of the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ, the ‘wisdom of God’, takes Feuerbach, and the spirit he thinks from, to its ultimate conclusion; it shows how the humanly conceived notion of God finally has an end. It is out of the ashes of this projected god that the living God rises victoriously, and in and through recreation of humanity, in Christ’s resurrected vicarious humanity, human beings have come to have the capacity to think and know God as God genuinely is in Himself for us.

One cash out of the aforementioned, from my perspective, is that what is implied is that any notion of God that is based on our own inner-desires, rather than being based on the One who confronts us from outside of ourselves, even from within ourselves in the humanity of Christ, is as Barth says: the No-God (Isaiah says this too). And so, many unbelieving Christians end up counting on a God who indeed represents a projection of the God that they want God to be. This God allows them to live in any variety of sin that we could imagine; this God, this Jesus Christ, smiles on and affirms them in their sinful lifestyles. This God does not contradict or confront them, or tell them to repent. I would suggest that this is the God who largely funds the American religion known as evangelicalism, progressivism, and mainlinism.

A Reflection on Galatians 6:14-16: The World Crucified to Me, and I to the World

14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. –Galatians 6:14-16

This has got to be one of my favorite passages of Holy Scripture. The idea of the world being crucified to me, and I to the world could not underscore the Primacy of Jesus Christ more! The amount of concrete hope this gives me is unsurpassable. When I look at the world, like the Psalmist, there is nothing of this world [system] that I desire. To know that the very ground of my life is rooted in the new creation of God’s vicarious humanity for me in Jesus Christ gives me hope inexpressible. To know that this ‘Israel of God,’ Jesus Christ, is the ground of all reality, and that His life, ever anew and afresh, breaks into the surly bonds of this dying creation is more hopeful than anything this world has to offer. And that’s precisely the point: this world has nothing to offer me except pain, suffering, and death. It is only the new creation, the new humanity of God for us in Christ wherein this old world under an unwanted futility springs to life. It is as the hope of tomorrow disrupts the anguish of today, that today comes to be in-spired by its full redemption in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This primal reality, that is the resurrected and ascended humanity of the Theanthropos, Jesus Christ, gives this weary soul a hope and power to live life from that is unsearchable in its wonder.

None of this reality is contingent upon what I have done for God; it is purely dependent upon what He has unilaterally done for me, for us in Jesus Christ. Again, this is the hope; that is that this old world has already been put to rights; that this world of old has been put to death and raised anew in the re-created humanity of Jesus Christ. This is the hope, the reality that this world could never imagine; and even if it could start to it would never have the power to make it real. At base, it is this primal event in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection that puts the world on notice that the only place where real human life happens is in its death, burial, and resurrection in Jesus Christ. It requires eyes of faith to see this; for the Christian walks by the faith of Christ, not the sight of the heart that is darkened beyond feeling. I live my life by this faith; its touchstone is the smiling face of Jesus Christ shining through this broken vessel that I typically know as my body. ‘For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ’ (I Corinthians 3:11). The Christian life is purely about God’s work for us, and none of our works for Him; this is God’s grace, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God’s work for us, just as He is God’s eternal Logos who freely elected our humanity for Himself that we might come to participate in His Divine Life of Triune intimacy. This is what the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world comes to: that is, the indestructible life of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah; the eternal Son of the Father in the bond of Holy Love breathed over by the koinonial refreshment of the Spirit. This is my inhabitatio Dei. To God Alone be the Glory 

My Redline: A Soldier for Christ Until the Eschaton

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. –Ephesians 6.10-13

I still wonder, at times, why the Lord didn’t take me home through my incurable cancer; why didn’t he allow the statistics to hold true in my case with regard to the type of monstrous cancer I had. I usually arrive at a singular conclusion: it is because I am a soldier for Jesus Christ on this earth. It is because He desires that I would bear witness for Him, for the risen Christ, contra this evil age and its god, the devil. It is because He has prepared me to fight the good fight of faith through the hellish crap He has walked me through in many seasons of the past (and those He walks me through in the present). It is because He wants someone as weak as me to reflect His strength so that His manifold wisdom might be made known to the world, and the principalities and powers who seek to steal, kill, and destroy. I see myself, along with the rest of the communio sanctorum, as part of a great drama; a drama that transcends the seeming mundanities of the everyday world, and charges it with the life of the risen Christ. I see myself as dead to sin, and alive to Christ. I see myself as standing against the tide of evil and deception in this world as an ambassador of Jesus Christ. Because of this I am not seeking to be your friend, but a true brother in Jesus Christ. I am not attempting to fit into the strictures that the culture[s] says are acceptable and fitting. I am simply a Christian who is here to bear witness to the fact that Jesus Christ has triumphed making a public spectacle of the devil and his minions (the losers!). I am here to remind people, along with the Apostle Paul, that we are in a great spiritual battle; a battle that shapes and implicates the political and cultural systems which we inhabit. I am here to bear witness to the fact that God’s Yes in Christ has triumphed, and in so doing has said No to the destruction of the devil and this fallen system he finds sustenance within; like a cancer feeding on acid. Once these tasks of mine are completed I fully intend on entering the presence of the Lord where there is peace and joy forevermore. Until then I fight along with the rest of the church militant. I am contra mundum (against the world) insofar as this world system is the haunt of the already destroyed devil and his serpentine minions. Screw you devil. Let God be true and every man a liar!

I Am a Theologian of Crisis

I see myself as a theologian of crisis. This mode has a pedigree in the development and history of theological ideas and movements. Theology of crisis often is understood in synonymy with the more pejorative label of NeoOrthodoxy. Karl Barth, in its most fulsome iteration, is known as one of its primary progenitors. Some might see this from within the frame of an existentialist mode, and that’s fine. It clearly has that element to it, but it cannot be reduced to that. In general terms Martin Luther might be understood as theology of crisis’s originator (or maybe even Jesus Himself, in his office as Prophet and Priest ought to be understood as its originator). Peter Fischer describes theology of crisis this way:

The theology of crisis had its origin from the revival of Reformation studies. The so-called “Luther renaissance,” perhaps stimulated by the approach of the jubilee year of 1917, produced a number of monographs of significance and also saw the publication of several major journals. Barth’s now famous Römerbrief appeared soon after the onrush of Reformation studies and in a sense can be considered as part of the “renaissance.” In it Barth addressed the twentieth-century church in the name of the first century church interpreted in the spirit of the sixteenth. It will therefore serve our purpose to consider crucial changes in Protestant theology against which the theology of crisis movement reacted. This will of necessity be an abbreviated image, telescoped, foreshortened, even caricatured. But it ought to serve to establish a perspective.

Like its twin, the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation has been viewed from all sides, and with each new angle of view has appeared to be something different. It has also changed hues according to each interpreter’s set of values. But also like the Renaissance, it has retained certain persistently recurring emphases; and none of these is more persistent or more characteristic than the freedom of the living God in relation to man (a fine study of Luther’s theology by P. Watson is appropriately entitled: Let God be God). This emphasis is so strong that critics have frequently confused Luther’s free God with Ockham’s arbitrary God. In its own judgment, the Magisterial Reformation had the primary task of reminding Christendom that God’s free mercy and grace alone are the reason of human salvation. This is the essence of the doctrine of predestination held by all sixteenth century reformers. In the manner of the Old Testament prophets, they pointed to the transcendent, all-powerful one who had shown himself freely when and where he chose, who was not to be confused with philosophical ideas of his existence or attributes. Broadly speaking, the Protestant Reformation was a part of that large revival of piety of the period, which accused the church of having lulled to sleep the consciences it should have awakened. The Brethren of the Common Life, the Christian Humanists, the Oratory of the Divine Love, the congregation of Clerks Regular, individual daring preachers of reform, not to speak of the whole Anabaptist stirring, are other examples of the vast movement of revival of vital piety. It was the outcry of the age against the cheapening of grace, against religious superficiality, against the familiarity with holy things, against the reliance on quasi-magic religious practices that made for easy religion. Luther’s “justification by faith alone” and his “theology of the cross” epitomized the Protestant form of this protest.[1]

This was a development of theology, as far as intentional movement, that developed in the wake of the shocking atrocities of WWI. The human suffering exposed and perpetrated during that time, one that the world itself could not escape, confronted a whole stable of [German/Swiss] theologians, inclusive of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner. But the material point of theology of crisis is that the theologian is confronted, afresh, with some sort of human crisis, and then God in the midst of that crisis. It is an attempt to think God afresh and anew prompted by the uncomfortable circumstances the viator is constantly confronted with as they live in this fallen and chaotic world. It is in the verities of human crises where the person, like the Apostle Paul, who ‘had the sentence of death written on him, that he would not trust himself, but the One who raises the dead’ (cf. II Cor 1.8-9), is forced into encounter with the living God / the risen Christ. In this encounter, the Christian theologian learns to submit all that has come before, in the theologies of the past, and all her categories and emphases, under the specter of Christ’s fresh and forging face.

This is my experience and mode of theology. It is an attempt to think God from within the crises of daily life; with the Pauline sense of the sentence of death being upon me. It is with Luther’s sense of anxiety and torment that I operate, only able to find refreshment and theological reality in the One who raises the dead. As I am ‘constantly being given over to Christ’s death, that His life might be made manifest in the mortal members of my body,’ that I come to know who God is; and thus come to have the capacity to genuinely bear witness to Him in all speech seasoned with Grace. This will always be my mode as a Christian theologian. This means I will repudiate speculative or analytic modes for thinking God. I will only think God from a dialogical or relational mode wherein I first came to know the voice of Christ as a 3 year old little boy. That’s who I have known, do know, and will know finally in beatifico visio. This is my confession coram Deo.


[1] Petr B. Fischer, “Theology of Crisis in Perspective,” The Centennial Review Vol. 8, No. 2 Theology Issue (Spring 1964): 218-19.

The Old Testament God of ‘Genocide’ and the New Testament God of the Cross: An Eschatological and Staurological Theory in Relief

The God of the Old Testament, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, also known as Yahweh, is often derided as a menacing vengeful God who is seemingly bloodthirsty for anyone’s blood who isn’t one of his “chosen” covenant people. We see God commanding His people, upon entry to Canaan, to wipe out whole nations; sparing no one, not even child or mother. This seems not just harsh, but for some it is akin to outright genocide. We have concepts like the ‘ban’ in place—just open to the Book of Moses and you’ll see this—under which, as noted, when the tribes of Israel entered into ‘The Land’, they were to engage in a scourged-earth campaign wherein EVERYTHING was to be wiped out; including certain types of vegetation. People often read these passages in the 21st century, under such sensibilities, and attempt to cohere ‘this God’ with the God we encounter in the New Testament, in Jesus Christ. They see an almost absolute disjunction between Jesus, and the God of the Old; to the point that they engage in creative reading practices that attempt to attribute the Old Testament understanding to the purview of the people of Israel, rather than to who God actually is in Himself (in se).

Frankly, such things as the ‘ban’ are not easy teaching; indeed, it is hard teaching. My strategy, in regard to engaging with this difficulty, has been to recognize that what was going on in the Ancient Near East (ANE) millennia ago, represents worlds and worlds of difference from what is going on currently in the 21st century under the pressures of modernity (although, honestly, things aren’t really that different when we start comparing the similarities between the wickedness that prevailed then, and the wickedness and blood-shed that prevails currently). It is within this acknowledgement that I am able to say: “okay, God was accommodating Himself and His ways, to the currents of that time, rather than the currents of my time.” I am able to conclude that God’s Providential ways have worked through every periodized period of history in such a way that He has been able to unfold and accomplish His purposes as those are entailed by the reality of His elect Son, Jesus Christ.

But something hit me tonight, as I was reading Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2 §14. It involves a theological understanding, more pointedly, a christological understanding of just what might have been going on with the seeming brutality of the ‘ban’, and the way God commanded His people to act when encountering the Canaanites upon entry into the ‘Land of Israel’ (or what would become that). We know, explicitly from the context of the text, that one of God’s purposes was to keep the people from mixing with these corrupted nations; to keep them from adopting their cultural traditions and gods, in order to remain ‘sanctified’ unto God for His peculiar purposes. But this begs the question: ‘why?’ Why was this so important to Yahweh? Why was God so concerned with covenantally preserving the Hebrews? Why was God so intent upon keeping them untouched by the surrounding nations? Here is what cajoled my thinking towards an answer to the “why” of the questions I have just noted:

The Old Testament like the New Testament is the witness to the revelation in which God remains a hidden God, indeed declares Himself to be the hidden God by revealing Himself. In and with this attested revelation a judgment is pronounced upon the whole world surrounding it, since God—here and now actually present—declares the whole world surrounding His revelation to be godless, irrespective of what it apparently believed itself to possess in the way of divine presence. And by this judgment this entire surrounding world is as such destined to die off, to pass away. If it has a hope, it is not to be found in itself, but only in connexion with the divine presence which breaks out fresh in revelation, and is the only real presence. But in the first instance it has no hope. If must first of all pass away. The nations settled in Palestine, which were in certain respects highly civilised nations, were struck with surprise and horror at the nomad nation that broke in from the desert with their first and second commandments, although it was really questionable how far even they understood and followed these commandments themselves. The revelation which was the origin of this nation was the revelation of the one, only God, to be acknowledged without analogy and to be worshipped without image. What invaded Palestine was the radical dedivinisation of nature, history and culture—a remorseless denial of any other divine presence save the one in the event of drawing up the covenant. If there were any pious Canannites—and why should there not have been such?—the God of Israel must have appeared to them as death incarnate, and the faith of Israel as irreligion itself. But admittedly no time was left them for such reflections. In remembering this hiddenness of the Old Testament covenant-God, we also understand that the question, as it was obviously put to Israel in the time of Joshua and the Judges down to and including Samuel, consisted in the frightful dilemma: either God’s presence, guidance and help and therefore fidelity and obedience to the covenant on the nation’s side, or peaceful assimilation into the nature, history and culture of the country, i.e., a common human life with its inhabitants. Or the question put the opposite way: either surrender of the covenant with consequent loss of the presence of God in the nature, history or culture of the country, even involving the physical elimination of its inhabitants. The whole inexorable sharpness of the difference between Yahweh and the baalim, between the prophets on the one hand and the nation and the kings and the “false” prophets on the other, which constituted the theme of the history of Israel down to the Deuteronomic reform and beyond, is understandable in the light of the typical either/or, which according to tradition, constituted the end of the wandering in the wilderness and the beginning of the history of Israel in the country of their fathers (or, rather, in the country of Yahweh). Was it nationalistic narrow-mindedness, religious fanaticism, hatred of men and lust for blood that commanded this people to take such a stand and to act upon it? According to the unanimous testimony of the Old Testament, it is rather driven, against its will and amid numerous attempts to carry out its own opposite will, along this hard. [sic] inhumane way. It would have been very like them to become one civilised Canaanite nation among others, and to be religiously open and pliable or at least tolerant. King Saul, whom Samuel had to withstand, and later King Ahab, whom Elijah had to withstand, must in their way have been outstanding representatives of this naturally human Israel. But Israel could not do as it wished. Wherever the voice of its prophets thundered and was heard, the abyss reopened between the gods and men of the country, and the holy nation, the natural, human Israel was accused, it was called back to the offensive attitude of unconditional resistance. It is not its religious and natural peculiarity that is the restraint here—it would never have been so unconditional in its resistance—but its God, who cannot become manifest without at the same time becoming hidden. The country belongs to Him. It cannot therefore belong to the baalim also or even at all. No other loyalty is compatible with loyalty to Him. Since by its own existence Israel pointed out God’s revelation to the world around it, it had to deny their gods, i.e., their very deepest, best and most vital thing, the supposedly absolute relations in which they thought they stood. Israel had to point out to this world the end, the judgment coming upon them. That Yahweh’s exclusiveness is fundamental, that His revelation really points out the judgment coming upon the world, is to be seen in the fact that the prophetic accusations and threats, which apart from Israel are in Amos still directed only against the nearest nations, reach over in the later prophets to the great world nations on the Euphrates and the Nile. From this later message of judgment we shall have to read off the meaning and trend of the earlier one.

The revelation of God in Jesus Christ is actually the end and judgment, the revelation of the hidden God which the Old Testament indicates. In the cross of Christ God is really and finally to become hidden from the world, from this æon. And thereby judgment will be passed upon this æon. The old will have passed away in the incarnate Word of God. The history of Israel runs to meet this Word and so this passing away. It only runs to meet it. But it does run to meet it. It signifies the proclamation of world judgment in fulfilled time. It is the time for expecting it. But because it is the time for expecting it, it is itself revelation-time.[1]

I am not going to attempt to exegete what Barth offers. I simply wanted you to see what prompted me to some of my own thinking on this issue; it is related, of course. I also wanted you to have the opportunity to be prompted to your own thinking by reading this passage from Barth.

But what hit me takes us back to Genesis 3, and the satanic temptation of Adam and Eve. We see ‘in the Beginning’ that the devil has been intent on thwarting the purposes of God, and that he will go to great lengths to undo the ‘very good’ creation that God is willing to give His own and eternal Life for. We see Cain, Nimrod, and Noah’s generation rising up under the inspiration of the devil’s lisp in a demonic attempt to rise up against God’s proto-evangelium (Gen 3.15), and thwart God’s plan to redeem the world. We see in the post-diluvian world (post-flood) a new generation rising up, one that took various trajectory through the lines of Noahic genesis; a trajectory wherein nations were birthed through the seed of the women. These nations, from their inception, were seemingly under the spell of satan’s deception; constructing cultures and gods who were systemically aerated with the breath of the Serpent.

My thought, within the aforementioned context of the ‘ban,’ was that these nations, from the beginning were constructed in such a way that their purpose was to keep God’s plan from fruiting. It would be through the intermixing and watering down of God’s covenant people that God’s people, as mediators of the Messiah, were intended on thwarting God’s plan. Even as we read in Barth, this is exactly the sort of waywardness that Israel was so prone to. What we see is that even in the mixture of “God’s people” with the ‘secular nations’, even in the failure of God’s people, as they were allowed to grow and mix with the nations and their ways; we see that God’s Way could not be thwarted. No matter the imperfection of these people, “His people,” He would mediate Himself through their loins, as the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world. But it seems that early on as Yahweh was bringing His people into The Land, that the intent was to carve out a space where His sanctified and vivified people might begin to flourish as they moved towards the ‘fullness of time’ (Gal 4).

In a way this helps me understand what was going on in the ‘ban’ period of God’s people as they invaded the Canaanite lands. In the midst of that there was a foreshadowing of the ultimate judgment to come, as that would be realized in the flesh of God in Jesus Christ. Up until that ‘revealed-time’, God worked as leaven in the ‘lost-time’ of the nations with the sole purpose of bringing His rightful judgment of them to an end in the unrightful judgment of Himself as the ‘Judge judged’; which is His Grace enacted. But the harshness of the judgment meted out on these nations, I contend, was ultimately for their own good. It signifies just what is at stake in the coming of the Son of Man, and the harshness of the judgment He bore for them and all of us.

The nations, under the devil’s own motivations, sought, unconsciously, in the spiritually dead state they took formation within, to thwart the means of their own so desperately needed re-conciliation with God. In order to look at this sort of ‘judgment’ for what it is, this requires that we approach this eschatologically, under the staurologic (cross-logic) of God’s ultimate purposes to reverse the curse spawned by the Serpent’s word, by bringing His Word (Logos) to the concretization that the Christ is. But in order for my theory to be persuasive, the primary premise that must be accepted is that Israel was (and is) God’s covenant people; a people with the ‘seed’ (Gal 3) in its loins that would ultimately be the salvation not just for them, but even the nations under Yahweh’s judgment. These things must be thought through this lens, or my thesis falls apart, and we are reverted back to the Enlightenment-critical reading that sees the Old Testament referring to a God of the Hebrew’s own projection. FWIW

[1] Barth, CD I/2 §14, 87-8.

God’s Governmental Providence as Cruciform in Shape: Human Suffering and Death, with Reference to Nabeel Qureshi

“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; 2. for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” Psalm 27:1-2

The Psalmist captures a reality that many in the world do not like; he identifies a truth that kicks against a self-possessed humanity who thinks it belongs to itself. But the Christian finds great comfort in realizing that this is the reality; that the world and all its bounty belongs to the living God of heaven and earth. The Apostle Paul sharpens this idea from a Christocentric angle; the idea that not only is the earth the LORD’s, but that we, as his people do not belong to ourselves; that God in Christ, owner of the heavens and the earth, penetrated our humanity with his in Christ and replaced our self-possessed selves with the recreated reality of a new humanity that realizes that it is only possessed by the living God. Paul writes pointedly: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”[1] This is almost an unfathomable reality, but one that has been made known as what is real through the goodness and graciousness of God revealed in his cruciform life in Jesus Christ.

These passages could be applied in a variety of ways, but what I want to highlight, at a theological level, is how this works towards thinking about God’s care, about his providential sustenance of the earth. And I want to use that context to discuss life and death; with particular focus, in this instance, on the life and death of Nabeel Qureshi, and all those in the world who are suffering in untold ways. I want to see if I can work toward making sense of it all from the big vantage point of God’s providence.

There are at least three ways to think about God’s providence: 1) Conservation, 2) Concursus, and 3) Governance. I want to focus on God’s governance; i.e. how in a God/world relation we might conceive of his inter-action with his creation in an active way; but in such a way that he remains in control, and thus not conditioned by the creation even as he enters it in the Incarnation (Logos ensarkos). In an effort to bring clarity to what is meant by the third prong of God’s providence—his governance—let us read how Dutch theologians Brink and Kooi develop this idea:

3 Finally now, the third aspect of divine providence: God’s gubernatio (governance), or directio (leadership). Traditionally, this part of God’s providence was conceptualized in rather static terms, as if God rules the world as a manager does a company, doing what needs to be done, minding the store. The Bible, however, speaks in much more dynamic—more precisely, in eschatological—terms about God’s rule. The fact that God rules the world means, first and foremost, that he guides it in a particular direction, toward the final realization of his plans and promises. Therefore, history is geared toward the kingdom, for also in his rule the Father works via—and thus in the mode of—the Son and the Spirit. For the time being, God rules “from the wood of the cross” (Venantius Fortunatus, sixth century), that is, in spite of all kinds of misery, setbacks, and experiences of loss. History becomes ever more similar to Jesus’s road to the cross, just as the apocalyptic portions of the New Testament teach. In addition, it should be noted that God works through his Spirit and not by (human) might or power (Zech. 4:6). We should often pay more attention to small things than to powerful revolutions or major changes in society. Where people are touched by the s/Spirit of the gospel and on that basis experience a decisive renewal in their lives, there God is at work, guiding the world to its future destination. So, God’s direction often proceeds via small things and detours, another reason that God’s providential rule is first and foremost a matter of faith and not something that can be gleaned from a newspaper. But it is precisely this faith that is certain that the outcome will not be a failure.[2]

My guess is that when you first heard the words God, providence, and governance, that your mind, like mine did, turned immediately to the description Brink and Kooi started their paragraph with: “…Traditionally, this part of God’s providence was conceptualized in rather static terms, as if God rules the world as a manager does a company, doing what needs to be done, minding the store.” But, as was encouraging to see they made the turn, as they should, to the reality that God’s governance of the world, of his good earth, is cruciform in shape; that he rules this earth by penetrating it in and through the humanity he assumed in Jesus Christ. That his governance is in his humiliation and vulnerability in his being in becoming man, and his reign climaxes in his exaltation of humanity in his risen and ascended humanity as the God-man who can sympathize with the yet broken humanity; but as the one who has conquered the brokenness of this world precisely at the point where it looked like he was going to lose it.

When I think about the death of Nabeel Qureshi, and think about it from the backdrop of God’s governance as described by Brink and Kooi, I have hope. I don’t have all the answers to the questions that I have, but I have hope because the God who is in control is not an aloof deity governing the world like some sort of removed corporatist; he instead became the One for the many, by becoming one of us, entering our fallen humanity and redeeming it from the inside out. He reigns supreme and providentially over the creation as one who has tasted his own creation; all along remaining distinct from his creation in the miracle of the hypostatic union, of God become human in the singular person of Jesus Christ. This is the hope that Nabeel Qureshi lived and died his life from; from the death and life of Jesus Christ.

Not only is Jesus the Lamb Slain, but he is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah risen; the One who is prime and supreme over all of creation. He governs the world from the reality of his resurrection, with hands still bearing the scars of their piercing for us. Nabeel, and all those who die in Christ, currently behold those nailed scarred hands; the hands that hold this world together, and for the purpose that all creation, that the sons and daughters of God in that creation, will finally behold the hands of such a King and ruler as this.

 

[1] I Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV.

[2] Cornelius van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink, Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017), 243-44.