Passion and Atonement -- Principles of Immanuel

[Note: The contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, Chapter 49, can be found here.]

[This entry constitutes Chapter 50.]

God must come to us, to give us the best possible chance of understanding Him. Not only in the ministry of the Holy Spirit to every person, inspiring and judging us in fair-togetherness, but even more directly than that, more obviously as a Person than that, more able to reveal the truth of His character in action we can see, not merely hear in our hearts.

That doesn't mean we necessarily will understand what is happening; we might still make our own honest mistakes about it, or we might still try to fudge our way around it to protect some inflamed sense of our own self-importance.

But this leads to a number of questions about the act of God I am now considering: what should I mean by God coming to us, each of us, personally, in this manner?

Well, there have been odd tales, throughout history, all over the world, about encounters with Someone. We have dreams. We see things.

But it doesn't take much thought to understand that such appearances, while perhaps important to us individually to one degree or another, aren't enough to accomplish what God wants to do for all of us.

The sceptic will rightly say that these tales, taken altogether (and often even taken individually) are a garbled mess. Almost anything can be made out of them.

I am not saying they don't serve, and haven't served, some good purposes. But the paradoxical truth is that they are too individualistic, even assuming a proper understanding on the part of the recipients (which is assuming a lot!), to be a universal special revelation. They don't have the best sort of trustworthiness.

The sceptic will rightly reply: very well, but He wouldn't need to appear to each of us individually, would He? He could show up right now, ring the end-of-day bell at the New York Stock Exchange, and make a speech from the podium in front of the CNN cameras.

Yes, He could do that. I even expect that to reveal Himself universally to all persons, those living and those who have died, God will do something vastly much more impressive!

But again, would that be the best sort of trustworthiness, the best act of faith on His part, the best way to show Who He is... at least, at the beginning?

A notable show of power, even a monstrous show of power, would show us only: power.

We are already far too ready to worship mere power, whether we are religious or secular. We are already far too ready to idolize the person who can merely do more than we can; and, for that matter, we are already far too ready to jealously despise and envy those people. Even if we use a name for God that means ‘good’ (as ‘God’ in fact does as a word), we are likely to think in terms of meaning only power or authority.

What God wants to do, what we need done for us, isn't simply an announcement or demonstration, as if He was a candidate for President with a platform, or MacArthur returning to the South Pacific, or Elvis opening a new show in Las Vegas after all these years.

Even dropping out of the sky on clouds and rolling up the heavens as a scroll, to sit in judgment upon a Jerusalem throne--or upon a Chinese Mountain of Heaven--isn't all we need, as individual people, because if power is all that is shown by God, then we will worship only power. I do expect an ultimately obvious reign of power to happen someday, too; but because God wants to help us best, He must do something else, too... something else, first.

We need to see the truth that He is a person, first and foremost, for us--for us, and with us.

Okay, so why don't we have a personal manifestation of God wandering around beside all of us, constantly; not showing off His divine niftiness, necessarily, but giving us the personal attention we need?

I think part of the answer is: we do have something of this sort already, in our conscience!--this is a major role of the Holy Spirit, the 3rd Person of God, in relating to God’s creatures. But if we aren't ready to listen to our conscience, and try our best to understand it and work with it--even if we don't recognize it to be the work of the Holy Spirit--then we are only going to be more petulantly annoyed at a personally vouchsafed manifestation of God following us around. Even if we thereby believed God existed, we still in our sins wouldn’t necessarily believe in God.

What if we all receive an experience like this when we die? No doubt that would help, and so I do not doubt it will happen (sooner or later)! But again it wouldn’t by itself help us relate to God beyond what our sin inclines us to think and expect about ultimate power.

There are numerous delicate balances, which are important to God--important enough for Him to have instituted them to begin with, and to keep them going even to this day: the balances of having a real creation, with real people, and real effects from subordinate actions and reactions. God doesn’t in fact hold Himself apart from these situations, dictating them from on high; God rather empowers these situations to exist at all, as He empowers His creations within these situations, allowing His creatures to contribute in various ways to the real story of that Creation.

This is what ultimate power actually does; but this is hard for us to imagine and to keep in mind. We need the Throne of Power to be a throne that reveals the self-sacrificial love and positive justice of ultimate power, the ultimate Truth of God Most High. We need the throne to be a seat of propitiation, not only in the sense that we throw ourselves on the mercy of the throne, but in the sense that the King comes to lead His rebellious subjects out of their rebellion, to lean upon Him, to smile upon Him.

Would multiple manifestations, seven billion God-images wandering the planet along with us, be in themselves demonstrating this truth to us about God, for us to repent as sinners and commit to cooperating with Him instead?

I discount the 'problem' of limited resources; He could miraculously take care of such a trivial problem as extra food. He would want to eat and drink with us, I think. Why? To show us that He cares about His creation.

But showing that He cares about His creation, means showing that He cares about respecting the rules of the Nature He has instituted. He would limit the amount of flashiness. Extra food and drink on special occasions, perhaps; but going hungry with us otherwise. Even depending on the charity of others for food or feasting.

He would especially want to let us see Nature affecting Him--by His voluntary, self-sacrificial choice.

And not only do we need to see His humility with respect to His own natural creation, but we need to see His humility with respect to us: how He lets us do a lot of what we want to do, even when it's bad--for us, for other people... and for Him.

What we do when we sin, hurts God. I suspect the devils know this very well, better even than we can know, though I also expect they ignore or discount the truth of God’s voluntary acceptance of this suffering, preferring instead to believe that they are forcing God to react to their power.

We need to see that we hurt God with our sinning; and we need to see that God voluntarily bears our sins against Himself: suffering along with our victims--suffering for all-mighty love of us, even if we are the chiefs of sinners.

And, while there are numerous other goals that this manifestation of God’s fundamental self-sacrifice would in principle be acting to accomplish, there is also something else that I have asked you, my reader, to keep in mind, on occasion, throughout this book:

God loves sinners--and that means all of us. It at least means me; I think it includes you, too, however much of a sinner you may be. (And however much of a sinner, or not, you think you may be!) He loves us enough, as I have said before, to let us make our own horrid contributions to history, His story. The innocents suffer unjustly, because God loves us. You and I have suffered something we ought not to have suffered, if only by being born like this, because God loved our first rebellious progenitors; and because God still loves the rebel angels, and the rebel humans, who insist on tampering with His creation.

The bill for all this unjustness--not only what happens to you and me, but also what you and I inflict on other people unjustly--ends up eventually with God Himself. It isn't His fault; but He is authoritatively, sovereignly responsible.

So, it is only fair that He should pay for allowing us to be the sinners whom we are. Isn't it?

We need to see that God truly is fair, despite all the injustice around us. And the best way, the only way, to fully demonstrate that to us... for Him to let Himself be condemned unjustly to suffer, as a Person (just as each of us is individually a person), by the enemies He loves.

But He cannot do this in a historical vacuum. There are other goals He will be acting to accomplish, too. And that will be the topic of my next chapter.

[Next: the hope of the people sitting in darkness]


Jason Pratt said…
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Jason Pratt said…
Note: for a more formal version of the argument that the passion of God Incarnate answers the sceptical argument from suffering (much moreso from evil), please refer to this Cadre Journal entry and its subsequent commentary article.


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