‘What kind of resistance is possible against a world without mercy?’

Hannah ArendtThe LARB has published an interesting essay by Wen Stephenson that draws upon wisdom from Hannah Arendt for those living at the dawn of a new ‘era of increasing global instability, ripe for all the varieties of political and social evil’.

The essay includes reflections on subjects such as totalitarianism, human rights, making judgements, collective guilt, conscience, evil, making moral choices, nonviolence, civil disobedience, and crimes against humanity.

And on empathy:

[Em]pathy, though much celebrated, is not always a reliable impulse toward moral action – that it can cut both ways. Because our natural inclination to empathize with the victims of crime and injustice, while generally a good thing, when mixed with our tribal instincts – our biases, conscious or not, in favor of people like ourselves, members of our own communities — can lead to a dehumanization of the stranger, the other, especially if that other is the perpetrator (or perceived to be) of a crime. It’s easy to empathize with a victim, as one should; to empathize with a murderer – to see ourselves in another who violates our deepest values and taboos – is something else, something that may seem beyond our merely human capacity.

You can read the whole piece here.

An interview with Niklas Frank

Niklas Frank.jpg

Today, the BBC World Service’s Hardtalk program ran a fascinating interview with Niklas Frank, the son of Hans Frank, Governor General of Nazi Occupied Poland.

As I listened, I was reminded again that forgiveness is always inescapably personal, and unimaginably hard; and, for some, simply unimaginable: ‘I will never forgive him’.

I was reminded too of the work of the Polish theologian Józef Niewiadomski, who visited Melbourne in 2014. Niewiadomski conceives of the last judgment as an event in which all victims and all perpetrators face each other, and all the evil suffered and inflicted fully is exposed to each person. Were it not for God’s immense good­ness and unrestricted willingness to forgive, and to heal, such an event would no doubt turn into a bloodbath marked by self-justification and accusation of others in which victims and perpetrators would condemn each other to hell. For, as Niewiadomski writes, ‘Each would insist on his or her own status as a victim, each would demand retaliation and each would seek to place on others the punishment that he or she ought to receive’. But confronted with the radical grace of divine forgiveness, he says, ‘hardly anyone [and possibly no one] will withhold forgiveness and continue to insist anachronistically upon his or her own right and revenge’.

That’s hard to believe; it may be even impossible for us.

Perhaps it is a foretaste of this very reality – including its impossibility – that we are given in the Lord’s Supper – a vision of a judgement day marked by victims and perpetrators meeting together around the Table and, in the safe and reconciling love of Christ the host, eat and drink together, and in that action experience the beginnings of healing and transformation and mercy toward the other. Monsters transfigured. We can learn to trust again … and again. It may be that in time, we can move towards forgiveness, apart from which there can be no future.

That’s hard to believe; it may be even impossible for us.

Being has a memory

‘Toward the end of To the Castle and Back, [Václav Havel’s] unconventional presidential memoir, in a section datelined “Hrádeček, December 5, 2005,” Havel confronts the question of his own death. “I’m running away,” he writes.

What I’m running away from is writing. But it’s more than that. I’m running away from the public, from politics, from people. Perhaps I’m even running away from the woman who saved my life. Above all, I’m probably running away from myself.

He finds himself constantly fretting about the tidiness of the house, as though he were expecting a visit from someone “who will really appreciate that everything is in its proper place and properly aligned.” Why this obsession with order?

“I have only one explanation,” he says.

I am constantly preparing for the last judgment, for the highest court from which nothing can be hidden, which will appreciate everything that should be appreciated, and which will, of course, notice anything that is not in its place. I’m obviously assuming that the supreme judge is a stickler like me. But why does this final evaluation matter so much to me? After all, at that point, I shouldn’t care. But I do care, because I’m convinced that my existence—like everything that has ever happened—has ruffled the surface of Being, and that after my little ripple, however marginal, insignificant and ephemeral it may have been, Being is and always will be different from what it was before.

“All my life,” he went on,

I have simply believed that what is once done can never be undone and that, in fact, everything remains forever. In short, Being has a memory. And thus, even my insignificance—as a bourgeois child, a laboratory assistant, a soldier, a stagehand, a playwright, a dissident, a prisoner, a president, a pensioner, a public phenomenon, and a hermit, an alleged hero but secretly a bundle of nerves—will remain here forever, or rather not here, but somewhere. But not, however, elsewhere. Somewhere here’.

[Source: The New York Review of Books]

Who said it?

It’s been around six weeks since our last ‘Who said it?’ competition, so probably time for another round (not that we need an excuse or anything). Here’s one from the archives:

‘Can it be just that God should bring beings into the world unprotected by an infinite armour of foresight against the infinite chances and temptations to wrong, and yet hold them liable to infinite punishment when they had gone wrong? … Punish a man for his sin, that is just; punish him for ages (if in that other world you can reckon time), that may be just; but make no end of punishing him for that sin, reduce him from a man to a devil and keep him there, let him become for ever vile, mainly because he was ignorant to start with, that is not just … Preach the eternal, unappeasable wrath of God upon lost souls and you offer men a devil to worship’.

So, who said it?

We’ll wrap it all up on Friday.

The judgements of mercy

Kim Fabricius has posted a thought-provoking reflection (does Kim ever post any other kind?) on why the Iceland volcano is God’s judgement! It reminded me of this wonderful hymn penned by Geoffrey Bingham:

1. We have not been knowing the voice of the Father,
We have not been hearing the voice of His pain,
We have not been knowing the heart of His loving;
Our own have been sinning—yes—time and again.

2. Long have we persisted in ways of rebellion;
Unnaturally pressed in the ways of our loves:
The love of our idols and love of our pleasures,
Ignoring the grace that flows full from above.

3. The work of the Cross is as nought in our thinking,
The plan to redeem but a trifling thing,
’Tis worship we worship, but not in the Spirit,
’Tis love that we love, but not Him who is King.

4. Our hearts are so barren though we have such riches;
Our riches are rags—not the raiment we claim;
Our spirits are naked, yet flaunt we our hardness;
Our wounds are so deep, but we say there’s no pain.

5. His judgements that come are the judgements of mercy—
The droughts and the famines the gifts of our God;
The pain that we feel is to heal us from evil;
The scourge in our spirits the blessing of God.

6. The judgements of God now release us from judgements,
The death of our dying to bring us to life;
The pain of our idols will drive us to Jesus,
To cry in the days and to weep in the nights.

7. There’s balm in the fountain of Calvary’s Gilead,
There’s healing from pain in the Cross of His love,
There’s pardon that heals us, and purifies wholly;
There’s peace for the conscience which comes from above.

8. The Father has healed from the wounds of our sinning,
Has clothed us with beauty—all brought by the Dove;
The judgements are finished, ’tis joy until glory,
’Tis grace upon grace, and is love upon love.

— Geoffrey C. Bingham, 1991

For those who would like a copy of the music to this hymn, here it is. By the way, this hymn, along with hundreds of others, is available freely from New Creation Teaching Ministry whose hymn books are, to my mind, among the richest collections of songs for congregational worship around. They are available in C, Bb and Eb music, and as overheads. Some of the songs are also available for purchase on CD.

‘God will Transform’, by Jürgen Moltmann

Moltmann 2‘God will Transform: Destructive Judgement is a Godless Picture’

By Jürgen Moltmann

Since the Middle Ages, a conception of death and resurrection became fixed in Christian thinking that is deeply unchristian: the pictorial world of heaven and hell, the conception of a Last Judgement that rewards good works and punishes bad deeds to order the transition to the world to come. According to this notion, God’s judgement only knows two sentences: either eternal life or eternal death, either heaven or hell. If one asks what will come of the good visible creation, the earth and God’s other earthly creatures, the answer is everything will be burnt to ashes. This world will not be needed any more when the blessed will see directly in heaven without mediation by other creatures.

This idea of judgement is incomprehensible and hostile to creation. Are God the Judge and God the Creator different gods? Does the judging God destroy the faithfulness of the Creator to his creatures? This would be God’s self-contradiction or different gods. The Biblical trust in God is destroyed as well as trust in Jesus. The judging Christ with the two-edged sword has nothing to do with the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus of Nazareth healing the sick and forgiving sins. The idea of destructive punishment is an extremely godless picture.

However, there is another conception of world judgement. Injustice is a scandal. Victims do not die away. All the murderers do not find any rest. The hunger for justice remains as a torment in a world of violent crying. The powerless and oppressed hope for a world judge “who creates justice for those suffering injustice.” Israel’s psalms of lamentation are an eloquent example of true creative justice. God’s righteousness will “create” justice for victims, raising them from the dust and healing wounded life.

Later and under foreign influences, a universal criminal judge was made out of this saving Liberator in the biblical scriptures who judges good and evil and does not ask about the victims any more. A deed-oriented moral judgement according to the standard of retributive justice came out of a victim-oriented expectation of saving justice. Correcting this aberration means christianizing the idea of judgement so it is oriented in Israel’s original experience of God’s creative, saving and healing justice.

The New Testament offers staring-points. The New Testament understands Judgement Day as the “day of the Son of man” on which the crucified and resurrected Christ will be revealed and all the world before him. Both will appear out of their concealment in the light of truth, the Christ now hidden in God and the person hidden from him/herself. The eternal light will be revealed to them. What is now hidden in nature will be transparent because persons are physical and natural beings connected with the nature of the earth. We cannot be separated from the nature of the earth, neither in the resurrection nor in the end-time judgement.

Christ will be revealed as the crucified and resurrected victor over sin, death and hell, not as the avenger or retaliator. Christ will be revealed as the Everlasting One and leader of life. He will judge according to the justice he proclaimed and practiced through his community with sinners and tax collectors. Otherwise no one could recognize him.

God’s justice is a creative justice. The victims of sin and violence are supported, healed and brought to life by God’s righteousness. The perpetrators of sin and violence will experience a rectifying transformative justice. They will change by being redeemed together with their victims. The crucified Christ who encounters them together with their victims will save them. They will “die off” in their atrocities to be “reborn” to a new life.

Helping and supporting the victims and straightening the perpetrators as the victory of God’s creative justice over everything godless, not the great reckoning with rewards and punishments. This victory of divine justice leads to God’s great day of reconciliation on this earth, not to the division into blessed and damned.

Seen this way, the Last Judgement is not the end of God’s works. It is only the first step of a transformation out of transitoriness into intransitoriness. The new eternal creation will be created on the foundation of justice. Because the judgement serves this new creation of all things, its future-oriented justice is creative and not only a requiting justice referring to the past. It was the mistake of Christian tradition in picture and concept, piety and teaching to only see the judgement over the past of this world and not God’s new world through the judgement.

If a social judging occurs in the Last Judgement, it is in truth a cosmic judgement because the coming Christ is also the cosmic Christ. Already in the psalms, YHWH is called “to judge the earth.” All shattered relations in creation must be straightened out so the new creation can stand on the solid ground of justice and abide in eternity. All creatures should share in eternal being and in God’s eternal vitality. That will be a fundamental change of the cosmos and life. “God will indwell all things and be present in all things.” Then the nothingness will be destroyed and death annihilated. The power of evil will be broken and separated from all creatures. The misery of separation from the living God – sin – will end. Hell will be destroyed. Then the reign of glory will begin.

[Source: Publik-Forum; HT: Marc Batko, via Jürgen Moltmann group]

‘The Gospel of the Judgement and New Creation of All Things’, by Jürgen Moltmann


The Gospel of the Judgement and New Creation of All Things

By Jürgen Moltmann

What is the Goal of Christ’s Judgement?

The goal of helping victims and rectifying culprits is the triumph of God’s creative justice over everything godless in heaven, earth and below the earth, not the great reckoning with wages and punishments. This victory of divine justice leads to God’s great day of reconciliation on this earth, not to division of humankind into blessed and damned and the end of the world. On Judgement Day, “all tears will be wiped away from their eyes,” the tears of suffering and the tears of repentance. “There will be no mourning, crying or pain” (Rev 21,4). Thus the Last Judgement is penultimate, not ultimate and is not the end of God’s works. It is only a first step in a transition or transformation from transitoriness to intransitoriness. The new eternal creation created on the foundation of justice is definitive. Because the judgement serves this new creation of all things, its justice is a healing, creative justice re-establishing life according to this future, not a retaliatory justice referring to the past. The judgement serves the new creation, not sin and death as the great reckoning. It was the error of the Christian tradition in picture and idea, piety and teaching to see only judgement on the past and not God’s new world beyond the judgement and thus not believing the new beginning in the end.

The practice and endurance of evil are not always apportioned to different persons and groups of persons. Victims can also be perpetrators. In many persons, the perpetrator side and the victim side of evil are inseparably connected. The knowledge that the coming judge will judge us as perpetrators and as victims, reject the Pharisee in us and accept the sinner in us and reconcile us with ourselves. Judging victims and perpetrators is always a social judging. We do not stand isolated and dependent on ourselves before the judge as in human criminal courts or in nightly pangs of conscience. The perpetrators stand together with their victims, Cain with Abel, the powerful with the powerless, the murderers with the murdered. Humanity’s story of woe is inseparably joined with the collective history of culpability.

There are always unsolved and unsolvable social, political and personal conflicts where some become perpetrators and others victims of sin. As in the Auschwitz trials and the South African truth commission, victims have a long tormented memory while perpetrators have only a short memory if they have a memory at all. Therefore the perpetrators depend on the memories of their victims, must hear their reports and learn to see themselves with the eyes of their victims, even if this is frightening and destructive.

Dialectical Universalism

In conclusion, what practice follows from this future expectation? How do we visualize Christ’s coming justice?

An American friend asked his Baptist grandmother about the end of the world and she replied with the mysterious spine-chilling name “Armageddon.” According to Revelation 16,16, this is God’s end-time battle with the devil. Today the struggle of good against evil is generalized with the final victory of the good at the end. From this idea of the end, American fundamentalism developed a fantastic modern end-time struggle scenario. George W. Bush Jr. invented such a scenario, justifying “friend-enemy thinking” as a basic political category. To this end, he conjured the “axis of evil” reaching from Iraq to Iran and North Korea. “America is at war,” he announced after “September 11” and “whoever is not for us is against us.” America remains “at war” since no state had attacked the US but the criminal Islamic unit Al-Qaeda. In what war? The apocalyptic war called Armageddon has already started!

The judgement expectation common to Christianity and Islam has a very similar effect on the present. If the end of the world is God’s judgement over believers and unbelievers with the twofold end: believers in heaven and unbelievers in hell, the present will inevitably be ruled by religious friend-enemy thinking: here the believers in “God’s house” and there the unbelievers in the “house of war.” Since there is no hope for unbelievers, they can be punished here with contempt or terror. Unbelievers are enemies of believers since they are God’s enemies. Anticipation of the Last Judgement by separating people into believers and unbelievers and possibly persecuting unbelievers as God’s enemies is wrong because it is godless. God is not the enemy of unbelievers or the executioner of the godless. “For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all” (Rom 11,32). Thus all people of whatever faith or unbelief must be seen as befriended by God’s mercy. God loves them whoever they are. Christ died for them and God’s spirit works in their lives. Thus we cannot be against them.

The all-embracing hope in God’s future explains this boundlessness of love. Why should we take seriously the faith, superstition or unbelief of others as God’s mercy? That was a theme for Christendom in the atheistic East Germany (DDR) state. This cannot be otherwise in our dealings with people of other religions that must be marked by God’s unconditional love. The difference between believers, persons of other faiths and unbelievers are real but are annulled in God’s mercy with everyone.

Christian universalism does not hinder but promotes taking sides for victims of injustice and violence. In a divided and hostile world, the universalism of God’s mercy with everyone is reflected in the well-known “preferential option for the poor.” God acts unilaterally in history in favour of victims and also saves perpetrators through them. Jesus calls the burdened and heavy-laden to himself, accepts sinners and sends the Pharisees away empty. For Paul, the community itself is a testimony for God’s unilateral action in favour of all people. “Consider your call, brethren: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth, but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Cor 1,26-29). Therefore we sing “Sun of Righteousness, Arise in our Time.”

Ecumenical Church Hymn

Sun of righteousness,
arise in our time.
Dawn in your church
so the world can see.
Have mercy, O Lord.

Wake up, dead Christendom
from the sleep of security
so it hears your voice.
Have mercy, O Lord.

Behold the divisions
that no one can resist.
Great Shepherd, gather
everything that has lost its way or gone astray.
Have mercy, O Lord.

Open the gates to the nations.
Let no cunning or power
hamper your heavenly race.
Create light in the dark night!
Have mercy, O Lord.

Let us see your glory
in this time
And seek what creates peace
with our little strength.
Have mercy, O Lord.

Let us be one, Jesus Christ,
as you are one with the Father,
remaining in you always,
today and in eternity.
Have mercy, O Lord.

Power, praise, honour and glory
Are yours Most High always
As Most High is three in one,
Let us be one in him.
Have mercy, O Lord

[Source: Christ im dialog; HT: Marc Batko, via Jürgen Moltmann group]

The grace of judgement and the judgement of grace


Rembrandt van Rijn, 'Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves' (1653), drypoint and burin, National Gallery of Art, Washington

‘If a message of grace tell us there was and is no judgment any more, and that God has simply put judgment on one side and has not exercised it, that cannot be the true grace of God. Surely the grace of God cannot stultify our human conscience like that! So we are haunted by mistrust, unless conscience be drowned in a haze of heart. We have always the feeling and fear that there is judgment to follow. How may I be sure that I may take the grace of God seriously and finally, how be sure that I have complete salvation, that I may entirely trust it through the worst my conscience may say? Only thus, that God is the Reconciler, that He reconciles in Christ’s Cross that the judgment of sin was there for good and all’. – Peter T. Forsyth, The Work of Christ (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1910), 167–8.

Christmas as judgement

adventAs part of my advent journey this year I’ve been reading Schleiermacher’s 1806 novella Christmas Eve: A Dialogue on the Celebration of Christmas (trans. W. Hastie; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1890). It’s a beautiful read, not least because undergirded by Schleiermacher’s enormous respect for childhood as childhood. Like Rahner, Schleiermacher believes that children teach adults, that children – as children – are full human beings and so worthy of all the respect and dignity due to creaturely personhood.

For example, one of the characters in the story (Agnes) poses a series of important questions:

Is it then the case that the first childish objects of enjoyment must, in fact, be lost that the higher may be gained? May there not be a way of obtaining the latter without letting the former go? Does life then begin with a pure illusion in which there is no truth at all, and nothing enduring? How am I rightly to comprehend this? In the case of the man who has come to reflect upon himself and the world, and who has found God, seeing that this process is not gone through without conflict and warfare, do his joys rest upon the eradication, not merely of what is evil, but of what is blameless? For it is thus we always indicate the childlike, or even the childish, if you will rather so have it. (p. 33)

The book is a revelation into Schleiermacher’s – and Barth’s – theology (on many levels) and not least Schleiermacher’s (overly)-optimistic view of human personhood. It was this that Barth, in his 1923/24 Göttingen lectures on the theology of Schleiermacher, rightly picked up on, criticising Schleiermacher for positing an anthropology too without regard for an adequate account of the realities of sin, conversion and the in-breaking of the Word of God.

In those lectures, Barth’s reading of Schleiermacher’s ‘Christological Festival Sermons’ (as Barth calls them) spans some 50 pages wherein Barth expresses his usual mixture of appreciation and criticism for the Silesian-born theologian. One place where Barth’s praise for Schleiermacher’s Christmas sermons is noted concerns Schleiermacher’s sermon on Acts 17:30-31 [‘In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead’]. On this, ‘the most powerful and impressive Christmas sermon that Schleiermacher preached’, Barth comments:

Let us look beyond the narrow sphere of individual life, Schleiermacher asks in the introduction, to the large and universal sphere. It is the Savior of the world whose coming we celebrate. A new world has dawned since the Word became flesh. His appearing was the great turning-point in the whole history of the human race. What is the change whereby the old age and the new may be distinguished? The fact that ignorance of God is no longer overlooked and tolerated by God. Christ’s life was from beginning to end an increasing revelation. The world’s childhood ended with it. Sin is now known and the image of God is evident. Hence judgement passes on all human action, and we ought to rejoice at this. We are now told that he commands everyone everywhere to repent. [Karl Barth, The Theology of Schleiermacher: Lectures at Göttingen, Winter Semester of 1923/24 (ed. Dietrich Ritschl; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982), 72.]

For the world to have been judged so graciously is indeed the good news that advent dare not dream to hope for.

Still … Maranatha.

Who am I to judge?

‘There exists in our society a widespread fear of judging … [B]ehind the unwillingness to judge lurks the suspicion that no one is a free agent, and hence the doubt that anyone is responsible or could be expected to answer for what he has done … Who am I to judge? actually means We’re all alike, equally bad, and those who try, or pretend that they try, to remain halfway decent are either saints or hypocrites, and in either case should leave us alone. Hence the huge outcry the moment anyone fixes specific blame on some particular person’. – Hannah Arendt, Responsibility and Judgment, 2003.

Mercy comes to us through judgement

Just spent a long weekend up in the Scottish Highlands salmon fishing, watching my 2-year-old daughter ceaselessly enjoy herself, reading Denney’s brilliant commentary on 2 Corinthians, drinking great whisky, and enjoying the rich company of some special friends. Does it get any better than that! Anyway, in the spirit of sharing all good things, here’s just one (long) paragraph of Denney’s extended discussion on 5:18–21 that was too good not to share:

No one who has felt the power of this appeal will be very anxious to defend the Apostolic Gospel from the charges which are sometimes made against it. When he is told that it is impossible for the doom of sin to fall on the Sinless One, and that even if it were conceivable it would be frightfully immoral, he is not disquieted. He recognises in the moral contradictions of this text the surest sign that the secret of the Atonement is revealed in it: he feels that God’s work of reconciliation necessarily involves such an identification of sinlessness and sin. He knows that there is an appalling side to sin, and he is ready to believe that there is an appalling side to redemption also a side the most distant sight of which makes the proudest heart quail, and stops every mouth before God. He knows that the salvation which he needs must be one in which God’s mercy comes through, and not over. His judgment; and this is the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. But without becoming controversial on a subject on which more than on any other the temper of controversy is unseemly, reference may be made to the commonest form of objection to the apostolic doctrine, in the sincere hope that some one who has stumbled at that doctrine may see it more truly. The objection I refer to discredits propitiation in the alleged interest of the love of God. “We do not need,” the objectors say, “to propitiate an angry God. This is a piece of heathenism, of which a Christian ought to be ashamed. It is a libel on the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose name is love, and who waits to be gracious.” What are we to say to such words, which are uttered as boldly as if there were no possible reply, or rather as if the Apostles had never written, or had been narrow-minded unreceptive souls, who had not only failed to understand their Master, but had taught with amazing perversity the very opposite of what He taught on the most essential of all points the nature of God and His relation to sinful men? We must say this. It is quite true that we have not to propitiate an offended God: the very fact upon which the Gospel proceeds is that we cannot do any such thing. But it is not true that no propitiation is needed. As truly as guilt is a real thing, as truly as God’s condemnation of sin is a real thing, a propitiation is needed. And it is here, I think, that those who make the objection referred to part company, not only with St. Paul, but with all the Apostles. God is love, they say, and therefore He does not require a propitiation. God is love, say the Apostles, and therefore He provides a propitiation. Which of these doctrines appeals best to the conscience? Which of them gives reality, and contents, and substance, to the love of God? Is it not the apostolic doctrine? Does not the other cut out and cast away that very thing which made the soul of God s love to Paul and John? “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us … Him that knew no sin He made to be sin on our behalf” That is how they spoke in the beginning of the Gospel, and so let us speak. Nobody has any right to borrow the words “God is love” from an apostle, and then to put them in circulation after carefully emptying them of their apostolic import. Still less has any one a right to use them as an argument against the very thing in which the Apostles placed their meaning. But this is what they do who appeal to love against propitiation. To take the condemnation out of the Cross is to take the nerve out of the Gospel; it will cease to hold men s hearts with its original power when the reconciliation which is preached through it contains the mercy, but not the judgment of God. Its whole virtue, its consistency with God’s character, its aptness to man’s need, its real dimensions as a revelation of love, depend ultimately on this, that mercy comes to us in it through judgment’. (pp. 200-2)

Theodicy: The Justification Of God – 9


Study 9

A guest post by Trevor Faggotter

As we pursue the study of P.T. Forsyth’s book, The Justification of God, we look at the matter of salvation – and the apostolic desire for all people, including the kings of the world, to come into the Kingdom of God, and be saved. As Forsyth says: The more we believe in the Kingdom of God the more we must believe in judgment.[1]

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all – this was attested at the right time (1 Timothy 2:1-6)

God our Saviour desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  God saves his people. The Israelites groaned under their slavery in Egypt, and cried out to God (Exodus 2:23). They were rescued – or saved by passing through the red sea. Salvation involves coming out into a large place – a place of freedom and space. Salvation involves the joy of daily life within creation. Salvation involves liberty and the joy of community life; salvation involves the future glorious freedom, which is given from sin and death. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). Salvation extends to the future of creation, set free from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21). Salvation is eternal life in Christ Jesus.


Many people think that the cross of Christ is a sort of legal device designed for avoiding judgment. This is not so. Rather, salvation comes, not in bypassing judgment, but takes place by passing through judgment. The judgment of the cross cuts right through us, and we, by faith, pass through it, in Christ. I have been crucified with Christ is our true claim. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

P.T. Forsyth says:

What is judgment but the setting out in true and full light (i.e. in just relation to the whole) of the actual state of things between the soul’s case and the ruling power of the world? Unless Christ be a dream or a dreamer, that power is God’s grace. That is our final judge. To it we stand or fall. The gospel of grace, in the Cross and its preaching, is the real ultimate judgment of the world, the real and final power at work now.[2]

Our salvation cost the Father his own Son. We may think this was but for a moment. That view would be a misreading of the gospel message. That Christ was utterly forsaken – is a fracture, or deep break, within the love-unity of the Triune God himself, and is of immense importance. Paul sees this action as a totally gracious giving to the human race.

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

Forsyth presses us in the opposite direction in order that we might grasp something of the judgment process both in the cross, and in the course of human history. God who is prepared to forsake his Son, for the sake of humanity’s future, is also prepared to us the most dreadful of circumstances, to further his good purpose for creation. Forsyth is referring particularly to the tragic world war he was experiencing in 1917.

If God spared not His own Son He can bear to see, and rise to use, the most dreadful things that civilisation can produce. History is a long judgment process; but it is not in the course of history with its debacles that we find the last judgment of God, and fix our faith in it, but at a point of history, in the Cross of Christ. It is there that we find the justification of God at first hand, and His own theodicy.[3]


Hearing the gospel message is not a neutral exercise. It is a crisis, a moment of decision. It has consequences. The disciples understood their actions were not neutral, and learned this from their Lord, when Jesus said: ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah (Matthew 16:19). In John we read: ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’. (John 20:23)

Their power to forgive is of course ministerial only, and not magisterial. The disciples are heralds of the gospel, servants and agents of Christ. But only God, in Christ, as King has the right to forgive, and pardon. God acts in love, in sending Christ, to reveal this love:

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10).

The great Christian message to the world is not simply love. That is too general, not to say vague. Christianity does not produce only love to God, but also hate.[4]

Our message is never neutral. Forsyth said of gracious loving, direct preaching:

It not only produces faith but it also deepens unfaith, and hardens impenitence. If it loose it also binds; and it can do the one only if it do the other – action and reaction being equal. If it draw some near to God, it repels others into distance and estrangement. There is such a thing as the repulsive power of a great affection.[5]

Perfect grace was and is final judgment. It is condemnation to ignore salvation. Full and final judgment is not something super-added to the Gospel. It is no corollary, no by-product. It is intrinsic to it. It is an element of Fatherhood, and not a device.[6]

John’s Gospel warns people not to ignore this salvation. Following on from the most used evangelical appeal from Scripture, is the warning sound as well. We should weigh it carefully in our minds and hearts.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; (John 3:16-18a)

but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’ (John 3:18b-21)

Forsyth writes:

The same Church that evangelises the world in the very act judges it. It not only divides each soul, but all society, electing and rejecting.[7]

The Cross did not, indeed, come directly and expressly to judge (John viii. 15-16, xii. 47-48). It did so only in the course of exerting … God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. But judge it certainly did. It brought to a head for the world the sin of an elect nation – a nation whose sense of privilege and merit repudiated moral for national interests, scouted Christ’s word of mercy and His call to repent, and found no public meaning in His Word of love and humility. It thus became, more than Rome, incarnate Antichrist. It sinned against pure light.[8]

The Cross, which that nation inflicted filled up the measure of its guilt and brought it death. And this was not against Christ’s will but with it. He knew He was Israel’s doom. The Holy One knew that the soul of man or nation that chose to sin must go on to die, and that every word of greater love might become a word of more wrath. But He never judged them in the sense of avenging, far less of revenging. Their judgment was the reaction on them, from God’s holiness… [9]


Sin is deceitful, as are the works of the evil One, which Christ came to destroy. Indeed, the powers of Satan and his minions are poorly considered, by our humanistic culture. As Geoffrey Bingham has pointed out: There is quite a bit of shoulder-shrugging in regard to this subject.[10] Forsyth describes deficient teaching in his day as:

‘… defective insight into the final nature and victory of the Cross over the diabolism and perdition in the world’.

It reflects a certain moral amateurism due to the abeyance of a theology of the Cross. Such religion, certainly, loves the person of Christ. It is in love with His love, and with His Cross as the summit of that love in self-sacrifice. But it has no room nor need for judgment there. It does not feel there God’s judgment on sin, and the crisis of the moral world and of a holy eternity. It needs moralising from a deeper experience of life – an experience older, more secular, more tragic. For want of a theology of conscience such souls do not know the world nor gauge its redemption. Their belief in Christ is impaired for want of a belief in the Satan that Christ felt it His supreme conflict to counter-work and destroy.[11]

The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8b). And that he did by bearing our sins, dealing with our guilt, pronouncing God’s word of forgiveness and peace, thus saving humanity from Satan’s deadly accusations.

The grace of God is the greatest judgment ever passed on the world. That is the nature of the Cross – God’s grace (and not God’s law), in moral, saving judgment on man. When we have entered the kingdom through the great judgment in the Cross, we do not escape all judgment; we escape into a new kind of judgment, from that of law to that of grace. We escape condemnation, for we are new creatures, but chastisement we do not escape. Our work may be burned, to our grief, that we may be saved (I Cor. xi. 32). We are judged or chastened with the Church to escape condemnation with the world. And at the last must there not be some great crisis of self-judgment, when we all see Him as He is, and see ourselves as His grace sees us?[12]

We are afraid that if we find that moral ground and destiny of the world in the historic Christ and His Cross, and if we say ‘we see not yet all things put under righteousness, but we see Jesus,’ and rest, we shall be called Biblicists instead of historians, more theological than ethical. Well, we must take the risk. The judgment of the world accordingly is not the history of the world, but its Saviour.[13]

[1] P.T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, NCPI, 1988, p. 170.

[2] P.T. Forsyth, p. 184-185.

[3] P.T. Forsyth, p. 170.

[4] P.T. Forsyth, p. 170.

[5] P.T. Forsyth, p. 170.

[6] P.T. Forsyth, p. 171.

[7] P.T. Forsyth, p. 171.

[8] P.T. Forsyth, p. 171.

[9] P.T. Forsyth, p. 172.

[10] G.C. Bingham, The Clash of the Kingdoms, NCPI, 1989, p. 10.

[11] P.T. Forsyth, p. 175.

[12] P.T. Forsyth, p. 181.

[13] P.T. Forsyth, p. 186.

Theodicy: The Justification Of God – 2



Study 2

A guest post by Trevor Faggotter


Analysis and commentary upon the major problems in the world, nation, city, family or environment, can be heard daily on radio talkback segments across the globe. The blame, for our current or impending woes almost always rests with someone else. Cynicism abounds. Theology within the Christian church can all too easily become more a reflection of the popular, or dominant culture of the day, than a proclamation of the mind, and action of God – as revealed in Scripture. Only a thoroughly biblical theodicy can meet the world with the Word of grace, amidst dire judgments, as the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness (Romans 1:18).

From Genesis 3 we hear that ever since the entrance of sin into the world, human beings have sought to place the blame for their circumstances upon someone else – mostly God, but also other people and other creatures. Guilt is deeply at work in every human heart, provoking a skewed view of the truth, globally. This is especially so, as God draws near:

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:8-11)

The reflex response to God’s simple, but probing, existential question ‘Where are you?’ finds expression in the deflecting the blame onto another. The man quickly pointed to the woman as the leading cause of his present fear. He also blamed God – who gave the woman to be with him. The woman in turn, blamed the ancient serpent, the devil:

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12-13)[1]

Human beings will view God very differently, depending upon whether they have a pure or an impure heart. Where a person has a pure heart, or cleansed heart, God reveals himself to be pure. Where genuine faith is not present, God’s wrath acts against the conscience of the guilty person, so that God appears to be unjust, unkind and wrong.

…with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse (Psalm 18:26).

Sinful human beings frequently view the world by placing God in the Dock[2] in order that he may give account of himself. In our humanly devised, God-blaming kangaroo court, we human beings exercise the self-appointed role of prosecutor, and judge. If God is creator, we reason, then he must answer for the state of the world he has created! However, the Lord sits in the heavens and laughs (Psalm 2:4).

In his Foreword to our text, The Justification of God, Dean Carter exposes the heart of sinful humanity in asking erroneous questions. Dean writes – in brackets:

(after all, theodicy is only an issue where there is a rejection of the light).[3]

This comment reflects the teaching of Jesus, in John’s gospel, who said:

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed (John 3:19-20).

Facing the plain truth concerning God, humanity and the world is terribly confronting, if ultimately gloriously liberating. In the day that you eat of it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall die. Yet, everyone who lives and believes in Jesus will never die.


Man-centred cultures and religions, rather than God-centred faith in Christ, seeking his Coming Kingdom, are at the heart of all human evil and mayhem. A world that ignores the redemptive gift and gracious will of the Living Father soon becomes addicted to the narcotic agendas of progress, technology, escalating wealth, cultural mysticism, religious escapism, substance and environmental abuse and a yearning desire for more power.

Everything has come to turn on man’s welfare instead of God’s worship, on man with God to help him and not on God with man to wait upon Him. The fundamental heresy of the day, now deep in Christian belief itself, is humanist.[4]

Humanism had a bitter outcome for those who had embraced it, in the years prior to and during World War 1, as Forsyth points out:

I say it is inevitable that world calamities should encourage the denials of those who denied before. Their shock also makes sceptics of many, whose belief had arisen and gone on only under conditions of fine weather, happy piety, humming progress…[5]

Elated by our modern mastery of nature and cult of genius, and ridden by the superstition of progress (now unseated), we came to start with that excellent creature, man, his wonderful resources, his broadening freedom, his widening heart, his conquest of creation, and his expanding career. And, as with man we begin, with man we really end. God is there but to promote and crown this development of man, if there be a God at all…. The Father is the banker of a spendthrift race. He is there to draw upon, to save man’s career at the points where it is most threatened.

He is Father in a sense that leaves no room for love’s severity, its searching judgment … He is Father only so long as He meets the instincts and aspirations of man’s heart.[6]



It takes enormous discomfort in order for humanity to come to grips with the necessity of the cross of Christ, and with the seriousness of the evil in our own human hearts, and the evil endemic among every nation. The sheer kindness and mercy of God, we so badly underestimate. Forsyth recounts something of the type of public conversation that took place prior to World War One. It sounds all too familiar. He says:

World calamity bears home to us the light way in which, through a long peace and insulation, we were coming to take the problem of the world, and especially its moral problem. ‘We do not now bother about sin’ was said with some satisfaction. The preachers protested in vain against that terrible statement – those of them that had not lost their Gospel in their culture. But they were damned with the charge of theology.[7]

He then goes on to include the war itself, as God’s way of dealing with the human race; it is the disaster that ends dainty and dreamy religion:

And now God enters the pulpit, and preaches in His own way by deeds. And His sermons are long and taxing, and they spoil dinner. Clearly God’s problem with the world is much more serious than we dreamed. We are having a revelation of the awful and desperate nature of evil.[8]

The task which the Cross has to meet is something much greater than a pacific, domestic, fraternal type of religion allows us to face. Disaster should end dainty and dreamy religion, and give some rest to the winsome Christ and the wooing note…. It is a much wickeder world than our good nature had come to imagine, or our prompt piety to fathom.[9]

We, who have known much of the grace of God in our personal lives, know that God has both spoken and enacted a great word of hope, for the nations of the world in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a great victory. It is a very great victory. It is The Victory. A godless world needs yet to hear this word, and respond. The church needs to rediscover not only the God of order, which Christendom has enjoyed, but also the God of crisis, who is God most chiefly in the chief tragedy of things.[10] He alone is the One who from the nettle of perdition plucks the flower of salvation.[11]


It was World War One, which drew from Forsyth the rich insights he imparts. We too are faced with many a crisis, on a global scale. We are equipped with the same cross, and the same Christ, and the same gospel, to which we must make recourse. The gospel has always been of global proportions. We need a theodicy, which is adequate to the task. Let’s take Forsyth words slowly, again and tease out each of these important points:

We begin and end with a faith, not in Jesus simply but in His world work…[12]

We begin with the faith in which our own soul calls Him its Saviour from what seems an infinite and hopeless evil. He delivers us from a sin whose guilt lies on our small soul with a pressure from the reservoir of all the high wickedness of the world.[13]

It is not from our moral lapses nor from our individual taint that we are delivered, but from world sin, sin in dominion, sin solidary if not hereditary, yea, from sin which integrates us into a Satanic Kingdom … An event like war at least aids God’s purpose in this, that it shocks and rouses us into some due sense of what evil is, and what a Saviour’s task with it is.

While the Church cannot begin to measure the problem of evil, we need the assurance of its defeat in the cross. For evil affects and invades every area of human life, and the theology of the cross always applies as God’s Victory, and the only true victory:

Is the principle of the war very different from that of a general strike, which would bring society to its knees by sheer impatient force, and which so many avoid only as impolitic and not as immoral?[14] … It is impossible even to discuss the theodicy all pine for without the theology so many deride.[15]

[1] Rev. 12:9 … that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world…

[2] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, Eerdmans, 1970, is a book, which contains a series of short articles.

[3] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, NCPI, 1988, p. 4.

[4] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 24.

[5] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 24.

[6] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 25.

[7] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 28.

[8] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 28.

[9] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 28-29.

[10] Ibid. p. 30.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid. p. 30-31.

[14] Ibid. p. 34.

[15] Ibid. p. 37.

The Justifying Judgement of God: A Reaction

Over at Theology Forum, James has posted the first of what will be a series of reflections on Justyn Terry’s book, The Justifying Judgement of God. I plan to engage a fair bit in my thesis with Terry’s book so I’ll leave much of what I have to say about it to there. But I would like to say a few things about this book all the same; though more as a brief reaction than a review. Terry’s thesis is well written, and any study that takes on both Forsyth (even though I found his reading of Forsyth unconvincing and distorting at some junctures) and Barth (he does a much fairer job with KB) in the one book is going to be worth reading. Moreover, he is undoubtedly saying some very important things that are – in light of many contemporary attitudes towards God’s judicial work – things that the Church certainly needs to hear and, in some circles, recover as part of its witness to the cross. For this, we are in his debt. But his conviction that judgement is ‘the paradigmatic metaphor’ of the atonement is problematic. Here he trods very close (perhaps too close at points) to the same trap as those who are trying to suggest that penal substitution is the totus of the atonement. (I have posted on this here, here, here and here). He is careful, however, to maintain an important – crucial in fact! – distinction between ‘metaphors’ and ‘theories’, and does so while arguing that judgement is the co-ordinating metaphor.

One of the unfortunate aspects of Terry’s thesis is that such a move threatens to undermine the forward-looking elements of the atonement in favour of predominantly backward-looking ones. By making judgement the key metaphor, Terry then has to proceed to find a way of accounting for the human response to Christ’s saving work, an account which is then fundamentally a separate work. Forsyth, on the other hand (and we could add Calvin, Mozley, Barth, TF Torrance, JB Torrance, Tom Smail, and others), by interpreting the proper human response to have already been offered by Christ in the two-fold movement of his cross – a response in which we participate – keeps the unique act of the atonement and its subsequent action in the life of God’s people grounded firmly in the one person and action of Jesus Christ and so bears witness that from first to last grace is grace and that grace’s name in Jesus Christ.

With that whinge off my hairy chest, let me affirm that the book is certainly worth reading, and there is not a little therein to serve as the basis for some very worthwhile discussion.

‘Will the Love of God Finally Triumph?’: A response to David Fergusson

Professor David Fergusson is one of the ablest theologians teaching and writing in Britain today. A few weeks ago, I heard him give a delightful paper on providence, a mere entrée to a larger project that he’s currently working on. Everything I’ve read of his I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, especially his Scottish Philosophical Theology, The Cosmos and the Creator, and Christ Church and Society: Essays on John Baillie and D. Donald Baillie (which he edited). And so it was that I approached his essay ‘Will the Love of God Finally Triumph?’ with the certain sense of excitement, never dreaming that I might be disappointed with its contents. The essay, which was originally presented at the Sixth Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference, appears in a collection from that conference entitled, Nothing Greater, Nothing Better: Theological Essays on the Love of God, edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (pp. 186–202).

Fergusson properly begins his essay by reminding us that ‘the love of God demands an eschatology’ (p. 186) before proceeding to rehearse the three possible ways in which his title question can be answered. In the first section, he outlines the Augustinian and Reformed traditions in which the love of God triumphs only through the limiting of its scope, i.e. towards the elect. This, Fergusson suggests, is ‘unacceptable’ (p. 188).

In the next section, ‘Universalizing the Scope’, Fergusson turns to Karl Barth, and to what he considers to be an inconsistency between Barth’s doctrine of the election of humanity in Jesus Christ and his denial of an apokatastasis. After fairly outlining Barth’s position and properly emphasising the Swiss theologian’s fall-back position in the divine freedom, Fergusson elicits Berkouwer’s criticism of Barth in support:

‘In view of Barth’s emphasis on the factuality of Christ’s rejection, it is not possible to close the door to the apokatastasis doctrine by pointing to the fact that the Bible speaks of rejection as well as election and then entrust everything eschatologically to the hand of God. Did not the hand of God become visible in His works, and specifically in the one central “modus” of his work in Jesus Christ, in election as the decretum concretum, in the triumph of grace?’ (p. 192)

The third, and final, section is entitled ‘Against Universalism’. It is in this section that Fergusson outlines his own proposal for answering the question he began with. He begins this section, by asking ‘what is wrong with universalism in any case’? (p. 196). After noting the ‘burgeoning literature on this subject’ (p. 196) he proceeds to note that ‘one of the more perplexing aspects of the current controversy is the way in which critics of the universalist case concede that it would be nice if it were true’ (p. 196-7). He cites Stephen Davis and William Lane Craig as examples of those who would like to believe that ‘universalism were true, but it is not’ (p. 197). He then comments: ‘Such remarks are puzzling. Are we saying that God’s final scheme is undesirable? Are we even suggesting that our own moral preferences are somehow better than God’s. Can we claim to be evangelical if we hold that it would be good if universalism were true while also lamenting wistfully that it is not what God has on offer? There is a good dominical response to this: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:11)’ (p. 197). I believe that we ought to hear these questions with their full force, regardless of where we end up on this vexed question.

Fergusson proceeds to note that universalism’s attraction is its ‘ability to present a vision of cosmic fulfillment in which God executes justice, not only for human beings whose lives have been maimed by nature or society, but also for the whole creation … Universalism should not be tempered therefore until its profound attractions are understood. We might try to avoid it by proposing that the grace of God is offered to all in Christ but, for those who reject it, God’s scheme of justice demands eternal punishment or at least annihilation’ (p. 197).

Fergusson rehearses the well-worn argument that any certainty in an apokatastasis, while a theoretical possibility, is ultimately ‘as deterministic and destructive of human freedom as the doctrine of double predestination in hyper-Calvinism’ (p. 199). The theoretical possibility Fergusson entertains is entirely dependent on an advance in human free will. He employs the usual rhetoric of love needing to be a free human response, an ontological reality that makes the possibility of rejecting God a final possibility. One of the problems with this common argument is that Jesus potentially died for no-one. And so parroting Davis’ and Craig’s response to universalism, I confess that it would be nice if the free will argument was true, but it’s not. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the only two tenable (i.e. biblically and theologically defensible) positions available for this soteriological question are either (i) a robust reaffirmation of limited atonement (the negative side of which includes the possibility of annihilation), or (ii) some form of christological universalism (as opposed to the Hickian vision).

Fergusson’s final answer to the question that he started off with, that is, ‘Will the Love of God Finally Triumph?’, seems to be answered by, ‘Only with our help’! He concludes: ‘An eschatology needs to express the ways in which our lives are bound up with those of our neighbors and with creation as a whole and involve decisions and projects of eternal significance. By so doing the eschatological vision of the kingdom of God can furnish us with a sense of the permanence and grandeur of God’s love. The possibility that we may inexplicably exclude ourselves from this ultimate community is a condition of the significance , of our God-given freedom’ (p. 202).

My question is this: In the light of God’s action in Christ, is Fergusson’s vision all that we can reasonably hope for? I hope not, and Barth’s witness in 4/1 reminds me why I have good reason to hope not:

The ordaining of salvation for man and of man for salvation is the original and basic will of God, the ground and purpose of His will as Creator. It is not that He first wills and works the being of the world and man, and then ordains it to salvation But God creates, preserves and over-rules man for this prior end and with this prior purpose, that there may be a being distinct from Himself ordained for salvation, for perfect being, for participation in His own being, because as the One who loves in freedom He has determined to exercise redemptive grace – and that there may be an object of this His redemptive grace, a partner to receive it … The “God with us” has nothing to do with chance. As a redemptive happening it means the revelation and confirmation of the most primitive relationship between God and man, that which was freely determined in eternity by God Himself before there was any created being. In the very fact that man is, and that he is man, he is as such chosen by God for salvation; that eschaton is given him by God. Not because God owes it to him. Not in virtue of any quality or capacity of his own being. Completely without claim. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.1 (ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance; trans. G. W. Bromiley; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1961), 9–10.

Ratzinger on Salvation and Hope

Within the past week, on the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle and on the eve of Advent, Pope Benedict XVI released an encyclical letter, Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope). In his introduction he writes, ‘Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey’.

Even if not convincing at all points, it is a rich document that deserves close reading and reflection. Here’s a particularly rich taster:

47. Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning-it is the heart’s time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ. The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice-the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together-judgement and grace-that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).

Forsyth and Barth on Judgement

In the current of my work on my ‘christology chapter’ for my thesis, I have been struck afresh just how much Forsyth anticipates some of Barth’s best moments, and how both of them have an important word to speak into the renewed debate on penal substitution. Of course, many of Barth’s greatest words are in the small print. This, of course, ought be no suprise: it is the small print that makes up the bulk of his Dogmatics it seems. (On that, is someone able to confirm, or otherwise, for me that Barth once said that the reason that he wrote so much was in order to ‘get the Enlightenent out of my system’?).

One thing (among many) that I love in both Forsyth and Barth is their relentless insistence that neither the divine-human reconciliation, nor its attendent judgement is the work of a third party. The issue here is the primacy and triumph of God’s grace – God’s grace. All satisfaction of the Father flows from God’s grace and love; it does not procure it. As Forsyth insisted, ‘Procured grace is a contradiction in terms. The atonement did not procure grace, it flowed from grace’. Forsyth contends that the judgement work of the Cross is not the work of a ‘pardon-broker’ – God does not hire someone else to do his dirty work! – but is the summit work of the gracious God whose grace is ‘unbought and unpurchaseable’. Here’s the same tune in Barth’s wee print. It just grips my heart and sends me a singing:

Jesus Christ, in His solidarity with “human nature which has sinned could pay the penalty of sin” (Heid. Catech. Qu. 16), and at the same time, in the power of His divinity, could “bear the burden of the wrath of God in His humanity” (17). Without any diminution of His divine majesty, in the exercise of the divine majesty of His love He could enter into this “likeness of sinful flesh” to bear, in the same majesty, the judgment of divine wrath without annihilation, to be and to reveal Himself supremely as divine majesty even in His humiliation, to rise from the dead as conqueror of the judgment to which He had subjected Himself, the first fruits of all who were to follow in His steps. He could drink the cup which had to be drunk. Because He was God Himself, He could subject Himself to the severity of God. And because He was God Himself He did not have to succumb to the severity of God. God had to be severe to be true to Himself in His encounter with man, and thus to be true also to man. God’s wrath had to be revealed against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. But only God could carry through this necessary revelation of His righteousness without involving an end of all things. Only God Himself could bear the wrath of God. Only God’s mercy was capable of bearing the pain to which the creature existing in opposition to Him is subject. Only God’s mercy could so feel this pain as to take it into the very heart of His being. And only God’s mercy was strong enough not to be annihilated by this pain. And this that could happen only by the divine mercy is just what did happen on the cross of Golgotha: that double proof of omnipotence in which God did not abate the demands of His righteousness but showed Himself equal to His own wrath; on the one hand by submitting to it and on the other by not being consumed by it. In virtue of this omnipotence God’s mercy could be at one and the same time the deepest and sincerest pity and inflexible and impassible divine strength. He could yield to His own inexorable righteousness and by this very surrender maintain Himself as God. He could reveal Himself at once as the One who as the servant of all bore the punishment of death which we had deserved, and the One who as the Lord of all took from death its power and for ever vanquished and destroyed it. In this twofold sense God’s righteousness triumphed in the death of Jesus Christ. (Church Dogmatics II/1, 400)

Forsyth on the gift of Jesus Christ

It’s been a while since I posted a quotation from Forsyth and this one reminds me again why his voice is both so unique and needed today to combat the heresy of (merely) incarnational theology:

‘… all Christ’s teachings about the Kingdom were only facets of His act of the Cross, which founded it where nothing can be shaken—on the holiness of God and what that holiness both required and gave. Roused, melted, or crushed by His words, we need more than a present God for a help in time of trouble; we need a God doing eternal and historic justice to what is the most perfect and real thing in the universe, and our own last interest there—to the holiness of His own love, which we have so deeply wronged. The effect on us of the mere spectacle of Christ carries us beyond spectacle. We need there an act of judgement and not merely of exhibition, of reparation and not mere confession. We need a confession so full and perfect as to be reparation—the full confession of the Holy by the Holy amid the conditions of universal sin. For the purposes of the Kingdom Christ preached. We need more than a God made mortal flesh; and what we are offered in Christ is God made sin for us’. – PT Forsyth, The Preaching of Jesus and the Gospel of Christ, 88.

Moberly on the Atonement

Of late, I’ve been reading Moberly’s Atonement and Personality. For all the mileage that has been made in trying to identify the differences between Moberly and Forsyth – mainly on the issue of vicarious repentance – the fact is that they have much more in common than has been given credit. Here’s a taste:

He condemned sin – that is, there is an aspect of the Atonement according to which it can be summed up as a pronouncing, by Jesus Christ, of the judgement and sentence of eternal Righteousness against all human sin. It is He who is the judging and condemning Righteousness. He was made sin – that is, He the eternal Righteousness, in judging sin, judged it not in another, but judged it rather, as a penitent judges it, within Himself; He surrendered Himself for the judgement that He pronounced; He took, in His own Person, the whole responsibility and burthen of its penance; He stood, that is, in the place, not of a judge simply, nor of a mere victim, but of a voluntary penitent wholly one with the righteousness of God in the sacrifice of Himself’. – Robert Campbell Moberly, Atonement and Personality (London: John Murray, 1901), 110.

‘East Coker’, Part IV – T. S. Eliot

I’ve been thinking (and writing) of late about Forsyth’s contention concerning the ongoing judgement of the cross in history – a judgement borne out of the very tetelestai of this supreme act of God’s grace and which finds ongoing reverberation in the human experience. Thus I was excited when I came across this poem by T. S. Eliot from his Four Quartets from the East Coker series. It just had to be blogged.

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good