Running Theological Thoughts: Habakkuk 2:2-5

Prophet_Habakkuk_001a

Habakkuk 2:2-5

And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.

“Moreover, wine is a traitor,
an arrogant man who is never at rest.
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations
and collects as his own all peoples.”

 

Observations:

After Habakkuk offers his second complaint to God, he stands on his watch-tower awaiting YHWH’s response, and YHWH answers. He answers Habakkuk by telling him to ‘write the vision’ in big letters on a tablet. YHWH tells Habakkuk that the vision is a future reality and that it will come to pass, though it may seem slow, the reader of the vision must wait for it (vs. 3).

In verse 4, the unrighteous and righteous person are contrasted. The unrighteous man lives in pride, which is cleverly portrayed as a puffed up soul that is crooked. Imagine a huge Thanksgiving Day parade balloon gone all upside down and blown over – that is the prideful person. In contrast, the righteous, who we’ve met twice now (1:4, 13), lives by his faith. In comparison to the prideful person, the righteous await the vision’s fulfillment in humility and trust.

In verse 5,  it seems the vision returns to the prideful person, perhaps as a personification of the Chaldeans who are about to be judged in the following verses. In this verse, the prideful man is portrayed as a ravenous consumer of the whole world, like death and Sheol itself. Unlike the Righteous who waits and trust the prideful consume in greed, frenetic arrogance, and gathers the world like death gathers his victims.

Theological Comments: 

God answers both of Habakkuk’s complaints, showing that all people, both unfaithful Israel, and the violent and arrogant Chaldeans are judged for their sins. God is just in his judgment and does not overlook sin. However, the judgment on the Chaldeans and the whole world will be coming at a future time. God tells Habakkuk to write the vision large, to signify that it will come to pass, but tells Habakkuk that the vision awaits its appointed time; it is coming, but the righteous must await it in faith.

In prophetic literature, there is often a telescoping of events, where the vision refers to something or several somethings in the future. As we read through the Woe’s on the Chaldeans, we will see three levels of telescoping: the judgment of the Chaldeans, the judgment of Sin and death in Christ on the Cross, and the final judgment that all the righteous await in faith.

The vision awaits its appointed time, the appointed time of judgment is the final day, the judgment of the world – the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord is a day of final judgment, which was brought into the present in the crucifixion of Christ. The eschatological judgment of God was transposed into the center of history at the appointed time. It has come in the judgment of the World in the cross of Christ, and yet it still is to come; when the one who took the sins of the world upon himself will judge the world (Matthew 25:31-46).

So the righteous continue to wait; they wait and live by their faith, as the prideful world stumbles on in its consumption and arrogance. The righteous wait and rest in contentment; as the prideful person consumes the world filling up his soul even as he collapses in on himself. What keeps the righteous man buoyant in the midst of the City of Man? What keeps him going as a member of the Pilgrim City of God? The alien righteousness of Christ whose faith the faithful live by.

Paul famously quotes Habakkuk 2:4 in Galatians 3:11, transfiguring the meaning of the text through a Christological reading. Rather than the righteous living by his faith, the righteous now live by faith in Christ. More than that, the righteous have their righteousness not through their works, or their allegiance to God, but through Christ’s righteous life and his faithfulness. The righteous wait in peace, and calm and contentment because they are united to the righteous and faithful one in trusting faith.

Because the righteous receive their righteousness from Christ, the truly righteous one they can rest. Unlike the arrogant, they can be generous and content. The righteous can live righteously because the Righteous One, who is infinite life, was consumed by the greedy jaws of death and Sheol and overcame death with his life. The righteous can rest in contentment and wait as they walk the pilgrim road to the City of God because Righteous one, Jesus Christ lived by faith in God and the righteous who are united to him in faith live in him through the Holy Spirit.

Quote from The Fathers and Mothers of the Church: Aquinas on The love of God and friendship with God

131500-004-4E3E4827

God’s love and Human love

God loves all existing things. For all existing things, in so far as they exist, are good, since the existence of a thing is itself a good; And likewise, whatever perfection it possesses. Now it has been shown above (Q. 19, A. 4) that God’s will is the cause of all things. It must needs be, therefore, that a thing has existence or any kind of good, only inasmuch as it is willed by God. Hence, since to love anything is nothing else than to will good to that thing, it is manifest that God loves everything that exists. Yet, not as we love. Because since our will is not the cause of the goodness of things, but is moved by its object, our love, whereby we will good to anything, is not the cause of its goodness; but conversely its goodness whether real or imaginary, calls forth our love, by which we will that it should preserve the good it has, and receive besides the good it has not, and to this end, we direct our action: whereas the love of God infuses and creates goodness (ST. Ia Q 20.A2

A few things worth noting:

  1. Existence is good, which is caused by God.
  2. God’s perfect and good will is the cause of all things. His will, however, cannot be disconnected from his goodness. The doctrine of divine simplicity preserves this reality; God’s will is identical with his goodness. Thus, God’s willing of creatures is not arbitrary, but benevolent and purposeful in accordance with God’s character.
  3. Aquinas defines love as willing the good of something. God wills everything into existence, and thus everything that exists is good and is from God.
  4. Humans see the created good in something, that is from God and loves the thing because of the good that is from God. Aquinas notes that this good could be real or imaginary because the good that a human loves can actually be a perversion of the good, i.e., an evil, that they perceive as a good. Thus, a lustful person sees their lust as a good; but it is actually a perversion of love.
  5. Aquinas’s brief anthropology points us to the reality that humans desire the good and are moved by it in others and this is love in humans. God’s love causes existence and moves humans to their end goal; love in humans is supposed to draw us towards our end goal: God. Because of sin, we need our loves and desire for the good re-wired; we need the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us (Romans 5:5).

Charity is Friendship with God 

Charity signifies not only the love of God but also a certain friendship with him; which implies besides love, a certain mutual return of love, together with mutual communion… That this belongs to charity is evident from 1 John 4:16: He that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him, and from 1 Cor 1:9, where it is written: God is faithful, by Whom you are called unto the fellowship of his Son. Now this fellowship of man with God, which consists in a certain familiar colloquy with him, is begun here, by grace, but will be perfected in the future life, by glory each of which things we hold by faith and hope. Wherefore, just as friendship with a person would be impossible, in one disbelieved in or despaired of, the possibility of their fellowship or familiar colloquy; so too, friendship with God which is charity, is impossible without faith, so as to believe in this fellowship and colloquy with God and to hope to attain to this fellowship. Therefore charity is quite impossible without faith and hope. (1a.2ae. 65.a2).

A few things to think about:

  1. Aquinas’s understanding of friendship with God should remind us of John Owen and Richard Hooker in this blog post.  Communion with God is a mutual communion between the triune God and the Christian, which is established by God in his love for us through Christ in the Holy Spirit.
  2. To call charity a mutual return of love signifies a relationship that is established in the Holy Spirit when he is poured into our hearts by Christ. When we speak of the love of God, for Aquinas, we speak of this communion and relationship, first in the Trinity, and then between The triune God and redeemed humanity.
  3. Fellowship or friendship with God begins now and is brought to completion in the beatific vision.
  4. Because this friendship is not one of sight, we hold it by faith and with hope. So friendship with God is Charity, and it is believed by faith and longed for in its fullness by hope. There is an already not/yet dimension to friendship with God in Love.

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Church: Aquinas: What makes us Happy?

131500-004-4E3E4827

A few weeks ago my church began running Alpha. In the first session, we ask this question: “If it turned out there was a God after all, and you could ask one question, what would it be?”

As I was listening to other people’s questions and imagining my own question, even though I am a Christian, I was deeply moved by this question: “God, will you, or can you make me happy?”

Now I know that the world “happy’ gets a bad rap. Happy is associated with an emotion, a fleeting feeling. But I think that that desire for happiness or contentment or delight points us to something true real about humanity. It leads us to a fact that whatever way we define happiness, we all know we want it and will do almost anything to strive after it. When we really think about it, happiness strives beyond the feelings towards something deeper, something substantial, something with weight, and value and meaning, something that makes sense of everything else.

Augustine and Aquinas argued that “all men agree in desiring the last end, which is happiness” (Aquinas, 1-2.1a7). Now everyone wants to experience this bliss, this sense of fullness, meaning, purpose or “perfection” as Aquinas calls it. But what will bring about this perfection, this true sense of being who I am supposed to be, that is where it gets all muddled. For Aquinas, the final end of human longing, the end for which we were created, is life in God, communion with God and the vision of God. In fact, the sight of God is called the Beatific Vision which is the same word for happy (Beatitudo).

Now obviously, not many people will agree with either premise of Aquinas’s understanding of happiness: either that we were created for a particular end, and that that particular end is the vision of God. Western culture rejects both of these for a self-made definition of our ends and our beginnings. However, that lingering sense and longing for happiness remain, and Aquinas’s thoughts can help us think through what this longing says about humanity. Aquinas argues that we have this longing because we were created for a particular end, but we are trying to fulfill that end in other things (Aquinas, 1-2.1a7). If we grant that we do long for something beyond ourselves, we can at least listen to what Aquinas says that longing is. Another theologian, Augustine, defined this longing as restlessness and said, “our hearts are restless until they rest in God” (Confessions, 1).

So what of all the things that we think we will find our happiness in? Aquinas goes through a pretty extensive list and tries to demonstrate that no created good will satisfy our longing, will really make us happy. For example, wealth cannot make you happy, because we acquire wealth as a means to a further end, either for the needs of life or to fulfill inordinate desires for other things (Aquinas, 1-2.2a1). Perhaps the most pervasive form of seeking happiness today is physical, either through sex, thrills, or physical exertion. Aquinas basically argues that we are more than physical creatures with physical needs, and thus that ultimate longing will not be fulfilled with physical pleasure. Though, it is understandable that we seek pleasure as our happiness because we are embodied souls (Aquinas, 1-2.2a6). Aquinas covers, wealth, power, fame, glory, intellectual abilities, and shows that all of them will not satisfy our longing for happiness.

In summary, Aquinas argues that no created thing can give us real and true happiness:

It is impossible for a created good to constitute man’s happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e., of man’s appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true. Hence it is evident that naught can lull man’s will, save the universal good. That is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation. wherefore, God alone can satisfy the will of man, according to the words of Ps. 102.5: who satisfieth thy desires with good things. Therefore God alone constitutes man’s happiness (Aquinas, 1-2.2a8).

Here Aquinas is saying that the thing we long for in happiness is being wholly contented with nothing left to be desired. The only thing that can satisfy us is that which is perfectly good, beautiful, and true, and that is actually God, who is both the source and end of human existence and desire.

Aquinas goes on to define happiness in light of the fact that God alone can make humanity happy, and how one can then attain such happiness.

To define happiness Aquinas first shows that happiness is a created reality. Why is the important? Because Aquinas is careful to maintain the infinite distinction between God who is our source of happiness and humanity, who finds their fulfillment in creaturely participation in God. (Aquinas, 1-2.3.a1). Humanity is created to enjoy God as creatures, God himself is happiness in his essence, we enjoy God through his Grace (Aquinas, 1-2.3a1). Aquinas proceeds to show that Happiness is nothing less than this: “final and perfect happiness consists in nothing else than the vision of the divine essence” (Aquinas, 1-2.3a8). Why is this the case? Happiness is being fully content, no longer seeking or desiring, and only God is capable of fulfilling such a longing.

In Question 4 Aquinas ponders what is required for happiness, and distinguishes between imperfect and perfect happiness. In this, he acknowledges that humans experience happiness on earth, but it is only a shadow of true perfect happiness, which will be experienced in the Eschaton.

Finally, in question 5 Aquinas asks how we can attain happiness. He affirms that we can attain it, but then asks how. He argues that humans attain happiness through sanctifying grace that comes from the work of Christ on behalf of humanity in his life, death, and resurrection (Aquinas, 1-2.5.a7). Here, Aquinas does argue that humans attain happiness as a reward for works of virtue. But the principle of these works is Grace, which is given without any merit or work.

In summary, Happiness is found in the Vision of God which can only be attained in Christ through Grace. As an Anglican, I would push Aquinas a bit on the idea that meritorious works of virtue giving us access to the beatific vision. Through an Anglican and reformational lens, I would couch what he says in terms of sanctification. I would say that we are justified by faith, in such a way that we are given access to God in Christ now, even as we grow in our sanctification towards the beatific vision in the age to come. All of this is through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, The path to the beatific vision is grounded in Union with Christ; the objective work of Christ is infused into Christian through the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies us and makes us virtuous. Thus, through Union with Christ, there is a foretaste of the beatific vision enjoyed now, one that is nourished through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, and enjoyed in the Body of Christ the Church, through worship, reception of Grace on Word and Sacrament, and service to others. We begin to rest now even as we walk the pilgrim road to the end of our discontent, to the final joy and delight for which we were created. To know God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, even as we are fully known (1 Cor. 13:12).

 

Running Theological Thoughts: Habakkuk 1:5-11

Prophet_Habakkuk_001a

Introduction: In my first post, I introduced the book of Habakkuk, and meditated on the first four verses.

The Lord’s Answer

5 “Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.
6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
to seize dwellings not their own.
7 They are dreaded and fearsome;
their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.
8 Their horses are swifter than leopards,
more fierce than the evening wolves;
their horsemen press proudly on.
Their horsemen come from afar;
they fly like an eagle swift to devour.
9 They all come for violence,
all their faces forward.
They gather captives like sand.
10 At kings they scoff,
and at rulers they laugh.
They laugh at every fortress,
for they pile up earth and take it.
11 Then they sweep by like the wind and go on,
guilty men, whose own might is their god!”

Observations: In these verses, YHWH responds to Habakkuk’s complaint about Israel’s abnegation of justice and persecution of the righteous with a surprising solution: use a pagan, idolatrous evil nation to judge the righteousness of Judah. YHWH says it himself that this is an extraordinary work, one that is unbelievable. He goes on to describe the kind of nation the Chaldeans are: In summary: hasty, evil, ravenous, violent, and idolatrous. They are a vice-filled nation yet, God raises them up for his purpose of bringing justice on the unjust in Judah.

Theological Comments:

The first thing we must note about this passage is that God is revealing what he is going to do to Judah in response to Habakkuk’s plea for justice. Habakkuk is given a peek into the hidden providence and orchestration of God’s will. God uses nations to bring judgment on other nations. For Israel, this was not for the destruction, but for their discipline. In God’s covenant with Israel, he gave clear direction on what would happen if Israel broke covenant with him (see Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28). To modern eyes, the judgment and the instrument of his judgment may seem harsh, but we must not forget that basically from Israel’s creation out of Egypt they had been in constant rebellion. God graciously forgave them, gave them instructions on how to live with a Holy God and how to live holy with the holy God (the law). Even still, they rebelled and sinned against God. In his response, God shows that he is not looking idly on the sin of Judah, but preparing their judgment.

A question arises in this passage: should we seek to interpret the movement of nations and wars as God’s judgment? I would suggest that the context of this passage leads us to a negative answer. First, we must remember that Habakkuk is a prophet. He has a particular vocation to speak the Word of God to Israel for a specific purpose. Second, God gives Habakkuk insight into his otherwise hidden providential ordering of the world for a specific purpose: to show that God will bring judgment on Israel’s sins. This is a specific revelation of God’s work in the world. In other words, That God uses other nations to judge the sin can be deduced from this passage, how and why and who must be left to God and is not open to human knowledge.

More significant and central to this passage we see that God uses evil and wicked people to bring about his end goal. We can trust God, in the midst of the chaos of the world, that he will bring about his good purposes, and that his purpose is good because he is good. This is not something that is always easy to swallow. As we will see in the rest of the book, the righteous must wait and live by faith.

And yet, there is something deeper revealed here, in light of the whole story of scripture. God uses an unbelievable and indescribable evil to bring about the judgment of evil and the vindication of the righteous, and this signifies the incredible work of Jesus Christ on the cross. God used the epitome and sign of death, torture, and evil: the cross, to accomplish his judgment of sin and the salvation of all those who believe in the one who died.

Yet, unlike the Chaldeans, Jesus is the loving and patient savior, who came to earth in humility and weakness, taking no place for his home. He was mocked and despised and looked to his Father for justice and vindication. He walked in humility, he was slow to anger, and continually had his face turned to his Father. In his death gathered the captives of sin and freed them for true life in the new creation. As the true king of the world, he reigns in justice and humility, with no need to prove himself he does not scoff at rulers but judges in true justice and save. He conquers the fortress of the Evil one not with might or pride but through humility and death. He is the innocent one who dies for the guilty. He is the God-Man who, after his glorious resurrection we call “my Lord and God” (John 20:28). Jesus in his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension brings God’s judgment and healing mercy to the world. Jesus comes most surprisingly and reveals the judgment and mercy of God on the most unlikely of Thrones: the Cross.

Jesus is both the righteous one who is surrounded by the wicked (1:4) and God’s judgment on the wicked and the vindication of the righteous (5-11). Unlike the Chaldeans, he brings justice perfectly and mercy more abundantly for all who put their faith in him.

From this passage, we can see that God really cares about bringing justice to the oppressed and judging evil and sin. We also see that he uses surprising means to bring that judgment about: The most surprising way is Jesus Christ.

Questions from the Parish: Who Created God?

icon-of-creation1

 

Last night I was asked this question: “who created God?” Here are my thoughts towards an answer to this question.

If we assume that there is some higher power in the universe, then we have to think through what that means.

We have two options: either this higher power has always existed alongside, in or as the created universe, or the higher power existed before or outside the universe. If we grant the first one, then this higher power is in some way related to or identical with the universe, and we are merely in an eternal existence of matter, and this is ‘God.’ If we grant the second then this higher power exists outside the universe.

Following the second route, we are confronted with a choice: either this higher power is itself created, and there is a being behind this creating being that created it to create the world; or this higher power is the Creator and first cause of all existence and therefore uncreated, eternal, infinite, etc.

If we follow the first path, then we fall into a kind of infinite regress; always looking for the next higher being who created the previous being. If we follow the second path, we are confronted with the possibility of a being who is the first cause of all other beings, and thus unlike anything we know or can imagine. Why? Because there is nothing in our experience of a being that is entirely self-sustaining and the source of all life and being. (see Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1.1-2).

At this point, if you accept that there must be a first cause, you are left with a few options. Either believe that this God exists as the primary cause and mover of the universe and you leave it at that, or you seek to discern if this first cause has revealed itself as something more than simply a first cause. For Christians, we believe that this first Cause is the Triune God who has revealed himself in Scripture as the infinite-personal Creator God.

Christians believe based on divine revelation and faith that this creator is The Triune God who has revealed himself in Scripture as the creator and sustainer of the world. In Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 the Scriptures say that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created the whole universe out of nothing. In the rest of Genesis 1-2, the author shows that God is the creator of all things by demonstrating that he created everything that people in the Ancient Near East worshipped as gods. Further, the Bible holds that the end goal of creation is life with God in a renewed heavens and earth (Revelations 21-22).

I don’t expect this line of thought to convince someone that God exists and that if God exists this God is the God of Scripture, I find it helpful to see that if we grant the first cause outside of creation, it is possible to  be lead to the God who reveals himself as the creator of the world: The Triune God of Scripture.

 

Quotes from the Fathers and mothers of the Christian Faith: Three Theologians on the Knowledge of God

Pirtle-Crucifixion-crop

Christians live in a strange tension: on the one hand, we know God, and on the other hand, God is beyond all knowledge. We know God because he has revealed himself to us; God is beyond all knowledge because he is the infinite Creator, and we are finite contingent creatures.  Scripture speaks of both experiences of knowledge: the intimate knowledge that comes in relationship with God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 3:14-21), and the sheer limits of humanity’s ability to know God both because we are creatures. We are limited in our capacity as creatures and because we are sinful creatures, whose God-given limited capacity to know and enjoy God is marred and clouded by sin.

In this, we can see two barriers arise. First, the proper barrier between creator and creature. Humanity is a creature of God made for fellowship with God. We are created to know God, but in being creatures, this knowledge will always be a knowledge of fellowship or participation. That is to say, we were created to know God in a creaturely fashion. Throughout Chruch history, the creator/creature distinction has remained central to Christian theology, because it polices the collapse of God into humanity or humanity into God. As the Preacher of Ecclesiastes says: Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few (Eccl. 5:2) (See my reflections on this verse in this post).

This creaturely knowledge, however, is marred by sin and in need of God’s work of revelation and redemption to bring it back into the right order.

Across Christian Traditions, Theologians have sought to articulate the limits and capacities of human knowledge of the Triune God of Scripture. In this post, I examine three theologians who seek to 1) distinguish between God’s knowledge of himself and our knowledge of God and 2) how God invites humans into proper creaturely knowledge of God without overstepping or severing the creator/creature distinction.

In this discussion, several things are at play. How we know God, who is incomprehensible, and then how we order our knowledge of God concerning who God reveals himself to be. In a previous blog post, I considered how Aquinas order his Summa regarding God’s being, while the knowledge of God is through God’s revelation of himself. In the three examples below we see a similar three-step movement: 1) God reveals himself in the missions of the Son and Spirit, 2) humans learn about God through this revelation/salvation. Because of who God is 3) we order our thoughts, not on our experience of God, but by beginning with who God is.

Basil of Caesarea on The incomprehensible God who reveals himself

I think that comprehension of God’s substance transcends not only human beings, but also every rational nature. Now by ‘rational nature’ here, I mean one which belongs to creation. For the Father is known by the Son alone and by the Holy Spirit… (see Mt.11:27; 1 Cor. 2:10-11) It is to be expected that the very substance of God is incomprehensible to everyone except the Only-Begotten and the Holy Spirit. But we are lead up from the activities of God and gain knowledge of the maker through what he has made and so come in this way to an understanding of his goodness and wisdom. For what can be known about God is that which God has manifested (Rom. 1:19) to all human beings. (Against Eunomius, 1.14). 

In this passage, Basil proposes several important points for our conversation. In the first sentence, he establishes the distinction between God and creation: everything that is created cannot comprehend the nature of God. Turning to Scripture, Basil then asserts that only God can know God; only the Son and Spirit know the Father. If that is true, how then can creatures have knowledge of God? God reveals himself through his activities and creation. His activities are primarily the work of salvation wrought in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit; secondary to this is the knowledge of the creator through creation; which basically establishes that there is a first cause to creation.

So, while creatures cannot know God, God through the economy of Salvation and through the creation, brings humans into a proper creaturely knowledge of God. This knowledge, however, is always a knowledge of apprehension from a limited sphere; even in our redemption, we do not gain access to the unmediated essence of God. In other words, we don’t come to know God in the exact same way that the Son knows the Father. Christians are children by adoption and grace not by nature.

Basil posits that we can have some knowledge of God through nature, looking to Romans 1:19; but salvific knowledge can only come through the action and revelation of the Son and Spirit in their work of salvation and the Holy Scriptures.

The Greek Fathers, of whom Basil is one, are famous for the distinction between Theology (God in himself) and economy (God at work in creation). While he doesn’t use these terms in this passage, the ideas are at work here. Only God knows God and God reveals himself through his activities so that we can apprehend an outline of who God is, through participation in God’s saving work in the Son and Spirit. Theology proper is the redeemed human mind seeking to apprehend, in faith, who God is through what he has revealed of himself; it is the ordering of our creaturely thoughts to God’s infinite being. Our next theologian has a similar division between God’s knowledge of himself and human knowledge of God.

Francis Turretin on Archetypal and Ectypal knowledge

True theology is divided into: (1) infinite and uncreated which is God’s essential knowledge of himself (Mt 11:27) in which he alone is at the same time the object known, the knowledge, and the knower, and that which he decreed to reveal to us concerning himself which is commonly called archetypal; and (2) finite and created, which is the image and ectype of the infinite and archetype (viz., the ideas which creatures possess concerning God and divine things… (Institutes, 1.2.6).

Turretin divides theology in two ways: God’s knowledge of himself and our creaturely knowledge of God. All human knowledge, from those who are in heaven beholding the glory of God, to humans on earth is of the second kind of knowledge: ectypal. It is the image of God’s own knowledge, but it is not identical to God’s knowledge. God in his grace does reveal himself to us, he reveals the archetypal knowledge; but the creaturely apprehension of God’s self-knowledge is a mere image of it. Turretin clarifies for us something that might have felt off in Basil: there is only one God and one knowledge of God: archetypal. There isn’t God in himself and God in his outer works. However, because of our creaturely existence, we do not obtain to archetypal knowledge, but we receive it as an image of the archetype. This is true of creaturely knowledge fall or not, and made more real because of the fall. Humans now need their minds to be redeemed renewed so that they can properly apprehend the ecytpal knowledge of God which he graciously gives us as an image of his own knowledge.

Does this division mean that we cannot really know God? No, and yes. No, we cannot know God if by this we mean having the same kind of knowledge that the Triune God has of itself. But yet, we can know God through God’s gracious act of revelation, especially through the Incarnation and Holy Scripture, we obtain true knowledge of God but not comprehensive knowledge, simply because the human mind is finite and God is infinite. Only God can know God, and only God can reveal God, and only God can redeem human minds to their properly creaturely status of knowing God, through redeemed fellowship in Christ through the power of the Spirit.

In our final theologian, we turn to Webster who adroitly summarizes what we have considered in Basil and Turretin.

John Webster on Theology and Economy.

Systematic Theology has a single but not simple object: God and all things relative to God…The one complex matter may therefore be divided into (1) God absolutely considered, that is, considered in himself in his inner life as Father, Son, and Spirit (theology), and (2) God relatively considered, that is, considered in his outer works and in relation to his creatures (economy) (God without Measure, I.45-46).

It is important to note that Webster considers both aspects of systematic theology to fall under the domain of ectypal theology (God without Measure, I.85). This means that two things; Theology is always a work of progress; we’ve never arrived because we are always seeking the one who is beyond our comprehension. Secondly, Theology proper must be studied under the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit because it is only in fellowship with God that ectypal theology can seek to apprehend either God absolutely considered and God considered in his outer works.

When we consider these three theologians together; we can see some common themes that are significant for everyone in the church:

  1. God in his Goodness and infinite life reveals himself to his creation in a way that we can apprehend him.
  2. Even when humans sinned, God provided a way to reestablish the relationship with him, and provide an even deeper communion with God than before the fall; those who are saved are in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Christians are made participants in God through grace and adoption.
  3. Knowledge of God is possible, but only on a creaturely register, even after the Eschaton, our knowledge of God will be only ectypal.
  4. Knowing God now requires the work of God to redeem and sanctify our minds and hearts. As God does this and we pursue him, we should order our thoughts towards God first and consider everything else in light of his being and his work.

 

Nature, Grace, and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

 

Pentecost__40348.1388274739.1000.1200_large

In a previous post, I argued that if we want to see the renewal of the church, it must be a renewal that takes the triune nature of God seriously. I quote at length Gordon Fee to that end. Fee argued that the Charismatic gifts are for the building up fo the church, and should not take pride of place or seen as the absolute end of the Christian life. The Holy Spirit makes us into the image of Jesus Christ to the Glory of the Father (as I said in this post).

One concern about the Spiritual gifts that I continually struggle with is the relation of humanity’s natural capacities, our ability to think, feel, reason, etc. and the gifts of the Spirit, especially the gifts of tounges and words of knowledge. When I’ve heard the gifts of prophecy taught, it is said that we need to discern the difference between our thoughts, the devil’s intrusions, and God’s words. The thing that bothers me about this is that it can end up neglecting or denigrating the goodness of human nature; as if the Holy Spirit fills us not to make us human, but to transcend our humanity.

To approach this question properly, we need to ask what humanity is, what we were created for and how we attain that end? In short, humanity is created by God out of his goodness as the image of God composed of both soul and body, we were created for life with God, and we attain that end through God’s grace and the economy of salvation (see Aquinas, Summa, 1.93, 103).

Two things are important to note here: 1) God’s goodness is the grounds of his grace; to say that God creates out of his goodness is to say that he creates freely and graciously (see Aquinas, Summa, 1.6). Therefore, 2) from the beginning, human nature is created by the free grace and goodness of God. This means that we are both natural creatures with specific aptitudes etc. and beings created for God. We were created with the need for God; a necessary openness to God’s work of creating and sustaining us towards being made into fullness of the image of God (Sin complicates things, because both the capacity for God and the natural gifts of human nature are both marred, but they are redeemed and renewed in Jesus Christ). Thus, while Aquinas affirms that grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it (Summa, 1.1.a8), this perfecting of nature is established in the reality that creation is already God’s goodness poured out as grace.  God created humanity for himself, which means we need him to achieve our end goal – life with God. The path to that end goal is Christ, and according to Scripture, it is the Holy Spirit and his manifold gifts that build us up to that end goal (see. 1 Cor. 12, Eph 4). To sum up, Humanity is created as a creature made for the creator and on their way to the creator (see Summa, 1.93; 1e11ae.1-5; and this post).

If this is true, then charismatic gifts could fall within the realm of grace perfecting nature. But what of our original concern: the overriding of natural capacities? While grace does not destroy nature, nature being what it is, a graced contingent reality opened to God, is dependent on the creator. Could it be that the gifts of tounges and prophecy are not a negation of nature, but God using our nature and infusing it with his grace to build the body of Christ up out of God’s goodness, and freedom? Is it possible that our minds and language are sanctified for use beyond our understanding or capacity, to God’s glory and praise? I propose that we can answer both of these questions on the affirmative.

If these thoughts are tenable for the Christian life, there is room for God to both use one’s ‘natural’ talents in a ‘supernatural’ way and to infuse us with his grace in a way that is beyond our apprehension. For example, God could direct one’s reason, submitted to God to draw a conclusion about another person’s life that is, in fact, a word of knowledge; or God could simply infuse into one’s mind a thought or word that is  ‘from the outside.’ Both of these are acts of God sanctifying human nature, the first within our capacity for a particular end and the other beyond our capacity and understanding.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit, come from the outside and can seem to overwhelm our human nature; but the truth of the matter is that they are simply making us capable of what we were created for: communion with God. The gift of tounges draws our mouths, hearts, and mind into a space where we trust that God is at work in a way that we cannot understand (by the way, it is still your lips and mouth and tongue that move!). In the gift of prophesy we are encouraging and building the body of Christ up towards our mutual end goal: Life in God. Both of these gifts, along with the rest of them orient us towards becoming the unified body of Christ,  as we journey towards our end goal: fellowship and friendship with the triune God in Glory.

 

John Owen and Richard Hooker on Union with Christ and Communion with God

Justification and sanctification are the double grace of union with Christ, as I’ve discussed in a previous post, on John Calvin. One question that arises for me when I think about union with Christ is how we grow in something which is already objectively true. I am united to Christ in his death and Resurrection, so how do I grow more in this union? John Owen suggests that our union with Christ is the objective reality of the whole scope of salvation – justification to glorification, but we can grow in greater, or lesser, communion with each of the persons of the Trinity (he defends this idea via the doctrine of appropriation, see, Communion with God, 95ff).
John Owen says this about Union with Christ:
[Union with Christ] is the cause of all other graces that we are made partakers of; they are all communicated unto us by virtue of our union with Christ. Hence is our adoption, our justification, our sanctification, our fruitfulness, our perseverance, our resurrection, our glory.
Owen makes a distinction between union with Christ and communion with God. He defines communion with God as follows:
Our communion, then, with God consists in his communication of himself unto us, with our return unto him of that which he requires and accepts flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have in him. And it is twofold: (1) perfect and complete, in the full fruition of his glory and total giving up of ourselves to him, resting in him as our utmost end; which we shall enjoy when we see him as he is; and (2) initial and incomplete, in the firstfruits and dawnings of that perfection which we have here in grace (Communion with the Triune God, 94).
Grounded in our Union with Christ, God communicates himself to us, and through the redemption of Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit we delight in God, obey God, and live for God. For Owen, this will be most true when we are with God in Christ in the Eschaton; in the beatific vision, while, in the present, we grow in communion with God through grace.
This idea of being firmly grounded in union with Christ, while at the same time growing in communion with God sounds similar to Richard Hooker’s understanding of participation in Christ and correlates to something I’ve quoted from Richard Hooker in another blog post. 
First, participation in Christ, for Hooker is defined as follows:
Participation is that mutual inward hold which Christ hath of us and we of him, in such sort that each possesseth other by way of special interest, property, and inherent copulation. V.56.1.
Hooker explains that this mutual inward hold is grounded in the life of the Trinity, and the particular reality of the hypostatic union of Christ. Further, Hooker delineates two kinds of participation: the participation of creatures who are sustained by God’s creative work, and the participation of those who are saved by God (see V.56.1). The second kind of participation is defined as follows:
Thus we participate Christ partly by imputation, as when those things which he did and suffered for us are impulsed unto us for righteousness; partly by habitual and real infusion, as when grace is inwardly bestowed while we are on earth, and afterwards more fully both our souls and bodies made like unto his in glory. The first thing of his so infused into our hearts in this life is the Spirit of Christ… V.56.11.
For Hooker, we are united to Christ, and imputed his righteousness and given his grace (read justified and sanctified). Yet we can grow or decrease in our participation in and reception of God’s grace. Hooker continues by noting that while all who are partakers of Christ by imputation are equally in Christ, there is variety in those who grow in grace. This helps Hooker recognize the objective reality of those who are in Christ through Baptism, while there is a variety of spiritual growth and vitality amongst individuals. For Hooker, the location of this growth in sanctification is through the means of grace, i.e., the Sacrament of Holy Communion (V.56.11-13), worship, and scripture.
I don’t know enough about either John Owen or Richard Hooker to say if they agree on this idea of union/communion with God. However, I find both of their approaches helpful in articulating objective union with Christ and ongoing growth in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Holy Scripture: What is it and what is it for?

 

6a00d8341c464853ef016768c694f5970b-800wi

Introduction:

In the life of a Christian, there is an expectation that one read, study, and inwardly digest Holy Scripture. This is integral to the Christian life, as we can see in the collect for the Second Sunday in Advent:

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

When we read Scripture, a question arises, that is not so easily answered: what is Holy Scripture?

A few quick answers come to mind:

  1. 2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. This verse names what Scripture is, “God-breathed” and communicates the purpose of Scripture, i.e., to complete and form the Christian into the likeness of Jesus. 
  2. Hebrews 4:12-13  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. This verse is complex and significant because it seems to correlate the written word of God with Jesus Christ himself. It, like 2 Timothy 3 directs our attention to the formative and active nature of God’s Word. 
  3. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. Here Paul notes that he received what was delivered; that Christ died and rose again which was in accordance with Scripture, i.e., the Old Testament. Here we see Christ and his work as the content and goal of the Scripture (see my blog entry on the Gospel). 

From these verses, many of the shorthand answers of what Scripture are presented: it is God-breathed, it the Word of God written. And while these answers are well and good, more needs to be said. Why? Because these answers seem to separate what Scripture holds together: what Scripture is and what it is for. Any doctrine of Scripture must hold together these two questions, and the answer for the second must be derivative from the first. Further, these answers often seem to side-step critical scholarship and function in a rhetorical posture of defensiveness.

The answer to critical scholarship cannot be a blind turn to non-rational belief – “The Bible says it, I believe it.” At the same time, I do not think we need to concede grounds to scholars who read Holy Scripture like another book. Thus, we need a way to articulate what Scripture is and what it is for, in the context of faith seeking understanding.

What we are dealing with when we try to understand the nature of Scripture is how a human text can communicate who God is and what God does. Often, people fall on one of two sides: either emphasizing its supernatural revelation and downplaying the creaturely aspects of it, or emphasizing the creaturely elements of it and ignoring the possibility of divine revelation.

Many analogies are used for the relationship between the human and divine aspects of Holy Scripture, the Incarnation of Jesus is perhaps the most popular one these days. Jesus is fully God and fully human, but one person; similarly, Scripture is fully divine and fully human. The problem with this analogy is that it abstracts the utterly unique work of God in the incarnation into a principle. Further, the analogy falls apart because the two natures of Jesus are held together in the One person of the Son, there is no correlate point of union for the Scriptures. Where do we go for a better understanding of what Holy Scripture is and what it is for?

Let’s begin by considering Article 6 of the 39 Articles of Religion:

HOLY Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

Here we see the content and purpose of Scripture defined. the material is the Old and New Testament; the purpose is “Salvation.” Further, the article describes the Holy Scripture as authoritative for salvation. That said, the article leaves off specifying the way that Scripture is capable of containing all things necessary for salvation. In other words, how human written words are considered Holy. How can human words communicate all that is necessary for salvation? To answer this question, we need to consider how Scripture is situated in God’s work of salvation for humanity and the world, what is often called the economy of salvation.

In considering What Scripture is, I will turn to John Webster, who has written profoundly and extensively on the nature of Scripture. His reflection on the doctrine of Scripture began in earnest in 2003 when he published Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch. While I have not studied his writing in depth, there seems to have been some development and refinement between then and more recent essays. Thus, I am drawing on a later essay where he articulates the ontology of Scripture as a part of the economy of God’s outer works.

The Triune God’s Divine Economy

To articulate a theology of Scripture, we must start with the triune God, and see how Scripture relates to God. In Theology, we distinguish between God in himself (Theology proper), and the divine economy, God’s work in the world (from creation to consummation).  Webster distinguishes between these two aspects of theology in the following.

Systematic Theology has a single but not simple object: God and all things relative to God…The one complex matter may therefore be divided into (1) God absolutely considered, that is, considered in himself in his inner life as Father, Son, and Spirit (theology), and (2) God relatively considered, that is, considered in his outer works and in relation to his creatures (economy) (God without Measure, I.45-46).

Webster describes in more detail what the divine economy is in four points: 1) The divine economy is grounded in the immanent perfection of the Holy Trinity. 2) The divine economy unfolds as the history of fellowship in which creatures are summoned to know and love God.  3) The divine economy includes the history of redemption. 4) In all this, the divine economy is revelatory (The Dominion of the Word, 117-118). This final point grounds Webster’s next move: The divine economy, the mission of the Son and Spirit reveal God, and this revelation is mediated in a particular form:

The work of Word and Spirit, through which God gives creatures a share in his knowledge of himself, is mediated through creaturely auxiliaries. of these, Holy Scripture is the chief; through its ministry of the divine Word in the Spirit’s power, God makes himself known and loved (ibid., 120).

Webster started with God’s infinite being, which is the source and end of the God’s outer works of creation and redemption, which reveal who God is. This economic work is the mission of the Son and Spirit. The Son and Spirit make God known through the creaturely auxiliaries of the Scriptures. What is the nature of these Scriptures?

Scripture

Webster describes Scripture “as prophetic and apostolic testimony” (ibid., 120). It functions as “a unified set of creaturely communicative acts having their origin in God’s calling and authorizing certain persons in the communion of the saints” (ibid., 120). In other words, God calls, forms and sends  prophets and apostles (the Old and New Testament writers) as special ambassadors of God’s own Word. So we have specific people who God chooses as creaturely instruments to communicate God’s self-revelation. How do these writing become Holy Scripture?

“Holy Scripture is the textual settlement of this embassy. In it, prophetic and apostolic speech is extended to into the church’s present… Scripture is a creaturely reality ordered to divine communication” (ibid., 120).  So God providentially commisions, forms, and orders the life and writings of the prophets and apostles to communicate who God is and what God is doing. Thus the Scriptures are a human text, but human texts ordered by God with the distinct purpose of communicating and revealing God.

In his book, Holy Scripture,  Webster describes this reality in terms of the creaturely text being ‘sanctified’ by which he means: “the biblical texts are creaturely realities set apart by the triune God to serve his self-presence” (21).

To expand on this notion of creaturely realities being used by God to communicate himself, Webster offers the Lord’s Supper as a parallel example:

Bread and wine are signs in the economy of salvation; by them, the ascended Christ distributes the benefits of his saving achievement, comforting, and nourishing his people by his presence. These functions do not detract from the created materiality of the elements, but indicate, rather, that such created realities are taken up into the divine service. So also Holy Scripture: prophetic and apostolic words are no less creaturely for being servants of the divine Word; indeed, their creaturely nature is therein fulfilled. (The Dominion of the Word, 121).

This analogy is stronger than the Analogy of the incarnation because it simultaneously holds the creaturely reality of the writings of the Old and New Testament, while confessing that through God’s providential and sanctifying work, i.e., the mission of the Son and Spirit these words are ordered and used to communicate divine revelation.

How, precisely, do these prophetic and apostolic words in the Scripture exist as creaturely servants to the divine Word? Webster responds: “Scripture is ‘inspired’ in the sense that its entire course (from pretextual tradition to canonization, including supremely the work of textual production) is superintended by the Spirit” (Ibid., 121).

This is profoundly significant for dismantling the dualism we talked about earlier: either fully divine texts (humans merely writing what they hear from God verbally) or fully human texts. The Holy Scriptures are human texts written by divinely commission Prophets and Apostles, which communicate the Divine Revelation of the Triune God while remaining creaturely in nature. The whole process of the writing of these texts is understood to be inspired by the Holy Spirit who is the proper author of the texts; though he never supersedes or overrides the creature in the inspiring process. The Holy Spirit’s work of superintending the creation and writing of Scripture is what it means for Scripture to be inspired.

Conclusion

Scripture is God-breathed, it is the Word of God written, but it is this by means of God’s providentially ordering, sanctifying and inspiring commissioned prophets and apostles by the Holy Spirit to communicate the Word of God through in and with the words of Scripture.

When we see how Scripture fits into the greater economy of God’s work, the purpose of Scripture is made more explicit by its nature. God uses human creaturely realities to bring about his purpose and will; just as the Lord’s Supper communicate grace and life to Christians, so the Holy Scriptures communicate to believers the truth of who God is, who we are and what God has done and is doing to save us.

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Cyril of Alexandria

SOD-0627-SaintCyrilofAlexandria-790x480

“God in his love for humankind provided for us a way of salvation and of life. For in believing in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and making this confession before many witnesses [at baptism], we wash away all the filth of sin, and are enriched by the communication of the Holy Spirit, and ‘are made partakers of the divine nature’ and gain the grace of adoption. It was necessary, therefore, that the Word of the Father when he humbled himself to emptiness and deigned to assume our likeness, should be for our sake the pattern and way of every good work. For it follows that ‘he who in everything is first’ must in this also set the example.” Cyril of Alexandria (ACD, 2.147).

A few observations:

  1. God not only provides a way of salvation but a way of life as well. Jesus’s life is both an example and the path of the good life. Put another way, Jesus is the Means and the end of true human life. Jesus saved us for eternal life with the Triune God, and this life begins now.
  2.  Cyril narrates the order of salvation in relation to baptism: belief, confess, baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit, “made partakers of the divine nature” and given adoption. This path of salvation is grounded in believing and encountering the Triune God who loves humanity, it is enacted through the sacrament of baptism and sealed with the Holy Spirit who testifies to us that we are adopted children of God.
  3. “Partaking of the divine nature” is a quote from 2. Peter 1:4: “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” What it means to partake of the divine nature, without transgressing the creator/creature divide has been greatly debated. From this quote, we can say that it means, at the very least, being filled with the Spirit, united to Christ and given the grace of adoption. In other words, partaking of the divine nature is being brought in to a relationship with the triune God for our salvation, and it is grounded in the triune God’s work of salvation. 
  4. Salvation, life, baptism, adoption, being filled with the Holy Spirit, all happens because the eternal Word of the Father, the equal Son of God, became human for our sake so that we can have life in him. The Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the means and path by which we are united to God, receive forgiveness, are justified, sanctified and filled with the Spirit.  Thus, partaking of the divine nature is grounded in and located in Jesus Christ, who is the mediator between God and humanity.