Tag Archives: love

The unchanging God who changes.

“Several centuries before Jesus’ birth, the Greek philosopher Aristotle had insisted that God was unchanging and utterly indifferent to the affairs of the world. If God cared about the world, he argued, then God would be subject to shifts of mood from every passing change in the world’s affairs. Having passions would destroy God’s perfection, for God would bend to the world’s every joy and pain.

Many Christians have accepted Aristotle’s conclusions, but I find myself agreeing with others, like fourth-century poet and theologian Gregory of Nyssa, who disagreed with Aristotle. Gregory denied that getting involved with the world would be a weakness in God. “God’s transcendent power,” he wrote, “is not so much displayed in the vastness of the heavens or the luster of the stars or the orderly arrangement of the universe or his perpetual oversight of it, as in his condescension to our weak nature.” God is, oddly, most powerful in stooping to our weakness.

Loving in this way, after all, is not a form of weakness but a manifestation of strength. Really loving involves taking risks–the risk of rejection, the risk of having to give of yourself to help the one you love–and real love takes those risks recklessly….

What then about Aristotle’s worry? Is such a God changing, altered by the changing circumstances of the objects of divine love, and therefore imperfect, even unreliable? It depends, from a Christian standpoint, what you mean by “not changing.” Love, after all, manifests its utter consistency precisely by changing. If I love you, and I do not change (grow sad, seek to help) when you fall ill or get into trouble, then my love has changed. True love stays the same by adapting to the changing situation of the loved one. We can be constant in love only by altering our moods and responses according to the circumstances of the object of our love. In that sense the loving God stays ever the same.”

(William Placher, Jesus the Savior: The Meaning of Jesus Christ for Christian Faith, 20-21)

God’s Love and God’s Wrath (Other writings)

After the discussion that arose with the post about being unwittingly Orthodox (“Unwittingly Orthodox?“), I thought it might be interesting to post my paper on God’s love and wrath, which was the last major research paper I wrote for my degree. It then occurred to me that there are a number of other papers I could make available here for posterity’s sake. I will begin to do so today–feel free to read them or not read them as you will.

The paper on God’s love and God’s wrath and how they relate developed out of a question that came to mind during one of our seminary chapels, in which Romans 5:6-11, or a portion of it, was quoted. It says this:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (NRSV)

There is a tension in this passage between God’s love and God’s wrath that I could not resolve. Not that all tensions in scripture need or can be resolved, but something about the tension between needing to be saved from God’s wrath and God saving us from his own wrath bugged me enough to pursue the question. Originally it was going to be an exegetical paper, limited to interpreting this passage, but it soon became clear that it needed to be more theological.

The response to the paper, which I had to present to the class and defend, was generally positive. While most seemed to agree with my conclusions, I sensed some discomfort (though nothing specific was expressed) at the possible implications of those conclusions. There was also a question about the way the paper was organized, which I acknowledge could have been better–my organizational choices were made for aesthetic reasons rather than for the natural/rational flow of the argument.

Anyway, here it is: “Love Wins? God’s Love and God’s Wrath in Romans 5.6-10” (pdf, 20 pages plus bibliography).

If you do read it, tell me what you think.

Who are the exceptions?

Wow.  I’m not sure how this woman (Linda at Kingdom Grace) got into my head and then took what she found there and made it so beautiful and succint:

This might be kind of quirky, but I really am enamored with this topic.  For over a year now,  it has been like a shiny object that I hold in my hand or pocket and take out frequently to admire, study, and enjoy.  I am not sure if the fascination is because it is new to me or if it is just inherently fascinating.  Anyway, I appreciate the people in my real life and on the blog who humor me in my latest obsession.

So what did Jesus accomplish in his death and resurrection?

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. (Romans 5:18)

One has died for all, therefore all have died. (II Cor. 5:14)

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5)

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (I Cor. 15:21-22)

Who are the exceptions to “all”?

Just as death spread to all men through Adam, in Christ we all died and we have all been raised into new life.  We weren’t consulted about this.

The gospel has never been about qualifying people for salvation, it is about letting them know the really good news . . . that they are already loved and embraced by the Father. (Link)

(I posted something similar by Bonhoeffer earlier.)

Realizations

1. Loving my neighbour requires care of creation, because loving my neighbour doesn’t just mean the guy literally next-door to me; not just the people in my community; not just the people in the so-called “global village” (i.e. everyone); but also those generations which will follow ours.

2. Being a servant to others, the life to which Jesus calls his disciples, includes my children as well. They have a special place in the Kingdom of God and my position of authority as a parent does not preclude treating them any differently in terms of my servant approach than I would treat an adult. Authority and service are not mutually exclusive things.

We prove Jesus by our love

(I’m fairly sure that few of you actually read these lengthy quotations and that’s fine; I continue to post them for my own future reference.  And, quite frankly, it’s only 340 words or so—why does it make a difference if it’s original material or someone else’s?)

Tonight I finished Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Real Jesus, which was a pleasure to read.  The last chapter and the epilogue were particularly rewarding.  I wish I had read them before I finished preparing last Sunday’s sermon—they would have been helpful.

Johnson has this to say about Christian apologetics—whether historical, logical, philosophical, or what have you:

From the start, Christianity has been rooted in the paradoxical claim that a human being executed as a criminal is the source of God’s life-giving and transforming Spirit.  From the start, this “good news” has been regarded as foolisness to the wise of the world.  Christianity has never been able to “prove” its claims except by appeal to the experiences and convictions of those already convinced.  The only real validation for the claim that Christ is what the creed claims him to be, that is, light from light, true God from true God, is to be found in the quality of life demonstrated by those who make this confession.

Only if Christians and Christian communities illustrate lives transformed according to the pattern of faithful obedience and loving service found in Jesus does their claim to live by the Spirit of Jesus have any validity.  The claims of the gospel cannot be demonstrated logically.  They cannot be proved historically.  They can be validated only existentially by the witness of authentic Christian discipleship.

The more the church has sought to ground itself in something other than the transforming work of the Spirit, the more it has sought to defend itself against its cultured despisers by means of sophisticated apology, the more also it has missed the point of its existence, which is not to take a place within worldly wisdom but to bear witness to the reality of a God who transforms suffering and death with the power of new life.

Christianity has credibility, both with its own adherents and with is despisers, to the degree that it claims and lives by its own distinctive identity.  This means, at a minimum, recognizing that Christianity is not measured by cultural expectations but by the experiences and convictions by which it lives.  A church that has lost a sense of its boundaries–that is, a grasp of its self-definition—can only recovering it by reasserting its character as a community of faith with a canon of Scripture and a creed.  (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels, pp. 168-69)

This isn’t a call for academic laziness or anti-intellectualism, but to not to try and justify faith on terms set by the wise of the world.

I suppose the notion of Jesus not being “provable” might be troubling to modern evangelical minds, yet there is something profoundly moving (and certainly Biblical) in what Johnson has to say.

I always enjoy authors who cut through the usual left-right/liberal-conservative jibber-jabber.  Johnson appears to be one of them; N.T. Wright and Stanley Hauerwas are two others.