Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Grammar of God, Part II: Implications for Sin and Incarnation

In my last post I discussed briefly the difference between God being holy and "being" love. (I'm attempting to be less interminably loquacious in at least some posts; these are a trial run. Of course, that means it must become a series. Of brief posts, that is.) To say that God "is" love is a different thing altogether than to say that God is "holy," precisely because the latter describes God's character through an adjective while the former (mysteriously) equates/dissolves/unifies the noun "God" with the noun "love." Somehow, God himself, God's very being, is love.

This is not abstract theological parsing; there are serious implications.

For example, if God's essential and foremost characteristic is holiness, then God's relationship to creation, humanity, sin, and redemption will be construed in a particular way. We imagine God as the transcendent "Other," creating from afar; angry and vengeful at sinful human beings; totally separate from, indeed unable to be near, sin; and sending his Son to "take care of" "that problem" "down there." Penal substitutionary atonement theory, and its correlative forms of explanation -- so systematic: God is holy (and just); we sin; God takes out his wrath on our sin in Jesus; our faith in Jesus involves God not "seeing" us in our sin but "seeing" only Jesus -- come to mind here as a direct consequence of holiness as God's central descriptor.

On the other hand, what if the inner life, the very self of the triune God is love? We might imagine important theological subjects quite differently.

Take the incarnation. If God is love -- and if God is trinity -- then it is not some distant "high" God "sending" some lower god-like person to "take care of" anything "down there"; rather, the God of the universe himself descends, takes on flesh, shares in our humanity, in our suffering. Walks with us, cries with us, bleeds with us. Spends his time among the brokenhearted, the oppressed, the (sans unnecessary qualifying quotation marks) sinners. God walks among his sinful creation, touching them, hugging them, healing them. Think about that for a moment: God touches sinners; God touches sin.

For a God-is-if-anything-holy theology, this sin-touching, sin-hanging-out-with, sin-coming-near-to God is, at the least, a bombshell. This incarnate God found and named in Jesus of Nazareth explodes our notions of what, and who, the holy God is. What is holiness at all if the holy God spends his time on earth eating and drinking and partying with sinners?

As is clear, the implications are profound, and directly impact how we understand God and his work in the world, and thus God's call to his church for its work in the world. More on this to come.

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful, I think it is a very profound thought. So too, God's other emotions should be seen in terms of love. God wasn't just angry at times, He was angry because love drove Him to it, even required it of Him - so that the most loving thing could be done ultimately.