quarta-feira, junho 28, 2006

The Optimistic Theology of a College Idealist

So I was browsing to see what I had and what I didn't have on here, and I realized that you had not had the priviledge of the option to read the notorious or famous (whichever you choose to call it) 10-page (but really... it's double spaced and notations and such so is that really all that much?) theological statement I wrote to finish out the year in Theology class. So.... for you loyal and interested readers, without further adew, here it is-- The Optimistic Theology of a College Idealist:

When one talks about a Christian doctrine of love, of a loving God, there comes with the concept the idea of relation. And when the Bible says, “God is love,” the meaning of this relation is that of a relationship with love itself—as if we were not just eating the Little Debbie cookies bought in the store but instead had the source and creator and, in some sense, the definition of love in the midst of us, truly as our father, brother, lover and friend. If this is then the basis, if God is the definition of that which is love, and if we indeed do live with love, then this is where the basis authority begins—with God himself, the source.This revelation comes to us through the person of Jesus Christ, who is revealed to us in nature, history, tradition, scripture, and experience by the power of the Holy Spirit. If one were to view any of the above listed aspects without first the love of God revealed directly through Christ Jesus, there would be missing entirely the concept of a God who will relate directly and who loves entirely. Jesus is as thus the starting point of all things, revealed to us through the Word of God, which is scripture. The Word is, in itself, a deep revelation given to man so that man might hear it and show it’s life—it’s effect and action, thus carrying it to others. The word is therefore continued and confirmed through tradition under the guidance of the Holy Spirit who guided its collection and formation and therefore maintains the consistency of scripture. However, when one views scripture as living and working through this influence of the Holy Spirit, the tradition cannot be reduced to a simple act of repetition, but then becomes meaningful repetition—looking at scriptures, the fathers in scripture and the early church, and repeating their “creative work of discernment.” Tradition is thus a moving concept that brings effects to the church while at the same time maintaining the constants and the intents or meanings of the actions that remain. Tradition is also, in this sense, learning for and from the experience of others. Reason, tradition and experience, in fact, interact on very much this level. It is reasonable to follow a certain path, at times, because that path has been taken before and it works. It is, however, not as reasonable to tread those paths that have not worked. This is not to say that one should follow the paths that are heavy-trodden, but simply that God has a way of revealing Himself consistently and has given us a variety of means by which He indirectly reveals himself—in sense, a system of checks and balances with scripture as a general set of rules by which one is lead and kept consistent. Moreover, experience is the source of knowledge, a personal assurance of God’s love, and that love proved true. Reason in balance and cooperation with experience, is the processor of this experience or knowledge. Many times this reason takes the form of a balance. The best example in this case would be Wesley who “rejected both anti rational Christian enthusiasm,” perhaps viewed as experience without reason, “and anti-supernatural Enlightenment rationalism,” viewed as reason without experience. As to the role of the Holy Spirit, he is at work throughout the process. In fact, John talks of Him as “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” Speaking of the Holy Spirit in this context, Christ is stating once again his love for each person in saying that he will not “orphan” his people, will not leave them to figure out the truth on their own alone, but will lovingly guide them and be with them every step of the learning process.From this process then comes a realization of the problem of sin because, quite frankly, there would be no separation without it. God is in all ways perfect and, as was stated previously, the perfect definition of love. And in love, there can be no hate. Love, in fact, by its most common definition “keeps no records of wrongs.” Therefore the problem cannot be a problem that is intuitive to God, but instead must be one that only God can solve. An example of this can be found in Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. The sin of man is, in fact, an initial rejection of God’s love. “I have fled the hands of blessing,” Nouwen says in a powerful self-statement, “and run off to faraway places searching for love.” And thus there is found in sin, an element of searching for something, and in our separation from God we are in fact making the claim that His love is not enough for us and that we can indeed make it on our own. However, in God’s love, he has given us a choice as to whether or not we would, in turn, love Him. In this sense, God can and will work in his love when man is willing and wanting to allow Him to work. In this sense, man may be falling, and may be, in fact, dying. However, unless he were to accept the hand that stretches out to him, to take the medicine that could save his life, he will continue to fall of his own choosing, to die of his own free will. For God has showed us that to love is not to force—that true love may, at times, mean relinquishing one’s own power to the choice of one’s other. God, in His great love for us, will not even take our will unless we were to ourselves, in love for him, give it up. The saving power behind this choice, however, is much more than what man could accomplish through his own participation. Indeed, man’s participation must be more in response to the saving action of Christ and love for the one to whom we owe so much, as opposed to a necessary response to save ourselves. For we were sick with sin-- caught in disease, and Christ has healed our broken and wounded hearts that we might necessarily stretch it to the likeness of his own heart. We were imprisoned by our sins, and Christ has set us free that our record might be pure. In the practical sense of this realization, one must turn to the model of the cross. The cross is, in fact, both changing and constant, actively real and symbolic. The death of Christ itself is not just a symbol, but an actual defeat of defeat—the death of death—death and destruction conquered in all aspects. This not only changes in the moment, nor defeats in a single victory, but carries over that “Narcissus,” as the imprisoned human, the sick and deformed, is now given power over his captivity, triumph over his sickness. The problem of sin, in such an illustration, is not only that humanity is condemned to death without salvation, but that humanity, without this salvation is a deformed human. The cross brings not only liberation of the self to love God but, in loving God, man is restored to the humanity that now has the ability to love someone else. Moltmann, in fact, makes the claim that Christ came to re-instate what it means to be human. Christ was fully human and thus there is, in a godly human being, not a quest for power and the self—“self-deification,” but there is instead a freedom from the hopeless oppression that can be found in attempting to be a god and earning one’s way to heaven and. In its place, there is a “[restored humanity] of dehumanized man.” Christ, therefore, was both an active saving power as well as a demonstration of the supreme love of God which restores all relations—even those active between our peers. This saving love, should we choose to accept it, frees us from slavery and binds us to freedom “in order that we might do all things out of love rather than out of fear—love for him who has shown us such grace that no greater can be found.” The atoning work of Christ has, to a great extent, been alluded to already in addressing the problem of sin. If the problem is our distance or our search, then the solution is restored relationship. If the problem is the permeation of sickness in the sinful life, the solution is a healing power. If the problem is the imprisonment of sin’s results, the solution is liberation. In reality, all of the above is represented in Christ’s restoring power on the cross.When the sinner is lost and distanced from God, there comes in the cross the idea of “kenosis (God pours himself out),” which involves God taking an active and relational role in the lives of his creation. There exists here a power in the suffering and the death of Christ which showed God’s “potentiality”—the extent to which God can and will go into the depths to save so that we may have hope in and perhaps because of suffering. Christian theology is, therefore, an experience—“the revelation of God in his self-emptying in the crucified Christ which opens up God’s sphere of life to the development of man in him.” It is, once again, through the suffering of God in all senses of relation that the character of God is revealed. God is now suffering the pain of those lost in sin, taking their sins and punishment on his back. He is suffering the loss of relation as God Himself gives up his son and his very human life. Yet there on the cross, amidst the great suffering, there is more to be found. In the death on the cross, God is not simply in participation with the lives of his people, but also becomes their source of hope. God, in this sense, becomes more than any created being could ever be to another—He is not an incomplete example of love, but is love itself in which faith can be placed and hope is indeed possible. Christ has, in this sense, grabbed the sinner’s hand and saved him from his fall into the depth of the ravine. Yet salvation is not the entirety of the miracle of Christ. Closest to this example is to say, in a sense, that the sinner is in a state of suicidal depression, committed indefinitely to sin without a definite idea as to why. The soul remains in this slow rot with the sickness of sin—the habit of walking in sin and putting one’s self in the shoes of death. The action of Christ to save implies the beginning of the process, but his love offers also a remedy to that habit that comes in the acceptance of that love. This healing will indeed require change or it would not indeed be healing and therefore, God being love as he is, is always offering healing. The failure of healing to result in the change that comes with it would imply initial non-acceptance of the offer first given. The restoration of the soul therefore enables the next miracle of the cross to occur, this being the liberation. The healed may yet revert occasionally to the habit which came before—may revert to the negativity of depression and the hopelessness of the situation even after the sickness is healed. Liberation, however, means that one is free of these shackles of the past—free of the prison bars of guilt which held up the walls of the prison of sin. The walls are broken. Remember? Sin has been defeated! The bars no longer exist—they have vanished! And the shackles are as if they never were. The atonement of Christ now leaves only one last thing to be done—that we would, in our rejuvenated and free bodies, step out of our prisons and run to our Father who has given us our inheritance. Love thus inspires us to beg to serve him who first served and us so deeply in love, offering to us life completely and love entirely as we turned from him, convinced that our sickness, our shackles, and our life could be taken into our own hands and that the love we searched for was yet to be found.The way of salvation stems integrally from this view of the atonement. Many times, like the prodigal son, we start off with a “God give me” and at times this becomes a test of God’s reality to those who use it in such a manner. There must come a point, however, where the sinner moves from “God give me” to “God use me,” moving from a lack of relationship to God, to God as provider, to God as Father. That point of mutual love then brings forth the functional and fulfilling relation that was always intended. This point of love, in fact, is when one both knows God at his best and knows that God’s best is indeed humanity’s best. The steps start with this loving God who pursues humanity—who reaches out like a father to demonstrate his love. God has nothing to prove and yet, despite and because of our imperfection and ignorance, while we are still in ignorance of Him, He continually proves again his love when he gives us this prevenient grace. The sinner is, at this point, falling and the prevenient grace is God, reaching out his hand to catch him, calling out his name to awaken his senses to the help which is available. When the sinner then responds to God’s grace, when he grabs hold of God’s hand, he has reached that point of salvation and is now necessarily turned and directed on the path of life. However, the natural tendency would be to turn and look back and, in looking back, to begin to fall again into this suicidal pattern. However, God has called us to his side and when we have come to respond to his voice, our lack in strength is supplemented with his indulgence. It is this point, after the provision of prevenient grace and human response thereto, that God begins his work as the Divine Physician. The initial patient will come to him with needs great and small, and He will provide, nurturing his child back to the joy that comes in being the child of God. However, the sinner may not yet have reached this point of acknowledging this relationship. At this point the patient cannot yet acknowledge his own sonship, and does not yet even claim service to Him who is now serving him. The world has told him that he was not even human—that he, like the prodigal son, did not deserve to eat even the food of the pigs. And in this world he has become dysfunctional—barely able to care for himself and therefore not even coming close to knowing how to love or approach his own father. When the father has then nursed him to health, the son is now, in his own mind, indebted to the father. The father has awakened the sensitivity of the heart so that the son is moving back on the road to full relationship with him, but the son will only first acknowledge himself as no more than an unworthy slave. There is still the temptation to “wallow in [his] own lostness and lose touch with [his] original goodness, [his] basic blessedness, and thus allow the powers of death to take charge.” The son is now working for himself to please God, but is still in chains to his past. He has not yet realized the full relationship to which He is called and thus God will, in response to the son’s willingness and cry, liberate the son entirely from the past. The inward change which had happened should then creep to the external, a move indefinitely towards recognizing one’s own sonship and the full satisfaction of God’s love. This is when the son is free to respond and should, out of love for his savior, healer and liberator, respond and begin to move to resemble his true father, just as the human son often (when in relationship with his father) resembles his human father.This final move in relationship serves as both the motivation and the goal to something greater-- something that reaches to your neighbor. When the son reaches this point, Christ likeness becomes his goal and motivation and, if Christ likeness is our goal, would we not begin to see as Christ sees, and thus love as He loved? If we were to acknowledge God as our father and if God acknowledges those around us as His sons and daughters, are we not also to acknowledge those around us necessarily as our brothers and sisters? “Authentic Christian life flows out of love, and that genuine human love can only exist in response to an awareness of God’s pardoning love to us.” Christ has, in this process, moved in response to the son, taking him from barely human, to truly human and finally to fully human. This move to be fully human then translates into the continuous authentic love which flows from God and effects not only the individual, but now the individual moves to effect others and this is where the church becomes a moving force.“The kingdom of God will not ‘come with observation,’ but will silently increase, wherever it is set up, and spread from heart to heart, from house to house, from town to town, from one kingdom to another,” says the Wesleyan Theological Journal. Therefore, the church is first a body of active believers—those who have experience the fully personal love of God and live in constant response to it. In this initial view of the church, the church’s first and foremost importance is in embodying Christ, giving dignity to the downtrodden and building relationships with family in much the way God has indeed built a relationship with us. The people to whom we reach are, after all, pursuing the same relationship and on the same road to death that we once ran ourselves. The church then has the obligation to others and a responsibility as a change-agent. Moltmann brings to theology something that is based on balancing biblical contemplation and action as well as applicability to culture. He seems to look around him and see a need to see God and to feel, to know and just overall to sense the presence of God and the fact that He is indeed present, near and ready to work. In fact, it is hard to say that Moltmann really is attempting to balance the two rather than to unite them. For him, there need not be the separation between contemplation and action and this, in itself, is biblical. It is likely that I am shadowed by this optimistic attitude—that I may not focus, as many would on the negativity of the current church, because I believe there can be found in each of us a changing agent for both our community and our world. I no longer feel that I need to be “realistic” in the sense that many would turn toward this negativity, but that I can look at the world which is torn by war or plague or famine and I can see hope there. It’s a matter of action and allowing God to work his way through who he has made us to be—reaching out to and caring for his people and his creation. The sense of hope that he brings to a “be realistic” world is very applicable in the theology of Juergen Moltmann. It is neither the over-optimistic view that one will never, as a Christian experience suffering, nor is it the overly negative view that to follow Christ is to suffer continually. There is joy in following Christ and, though suffering is inevitable, there is hope to be found in suffering.Baptism begins this process as the individual takes their first stand in claiming themselves as part of the family who is joined to God, the loving Father. Baptism is the public declaration of the via salutis, the admission of the problems of sin, and the proclamation that Christ has atoned and we have indeed responded. Clement of Alexandria demonstrates this idea in following the steps of baptism as one rejects Satan and is washed, or cleansed from all impurities. The gift of grace is then given as a statement of penalties cancelled and one then acknowledges the sensitivity to the Holy Spirit which has healed and freed and thus, from that point on, lacks nothing because the son has returned and God has publicly claimed him as his own. Furthermore, through the baptism the church together confesses the truth of the Word sent through Peter which says, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Furthermore the church (both locally and globally) is like a Eucharist table around which the nations gather, on which lies the body of Christ and his saving blood, bringing us all together in a common life, however different. It is at this table that the church is brought home to its most basic element, and it is at this table of the greater global church that we learn to learn—to learn from each other. It is in this unity that the church will find the saving power of Christ. Many seekers are just like the prodigal son, who have left the church or never come to the church because they think that love is to be found elsewhere. The church must join together, despite differences, and show to the world the attitude of love interdenominationally, reaching out as a body to love in the most functionally perfect way that love can be demonstrated here on earth—and that is through unconditional and boundless love or, as Nouwen describes it, “Having ‘received without charge,’ I can ‘give without charge.’” The Eucharist, in fact, is just as has previously been stated. It is, in this sense, humanity which has been broken, yet who now gives thanks for the grace of the loving Father who would not have his children die, but who would raise them, would save them from death itself. The Eucharist then is not entirely for the individual, but is a group testimony and thanks stating that “what he took from us he has now given to us (Condidus of Fulda).” For as we give him our lives, we become sons to him and, in accepting the Eucharist, admit the brotherhood, joining ourselves to one another as the full body of Christ (Condidus of Fulda).The most important thing to realize in this context is that God would not only create us to be a plain clay pot, but that he would make these plain clay pots as a gift of beauty—that he would create us uniquely and take time to care for each beautiful person (Romans 9:21). If we are, however, talking about acting upon this concept, should we not love and find the beauty that is in each person? “For sinners are beautiful because they are loved; they are not loved because they are beautiful.” In this sense, the church is very much the responsibility of the individual. How the church operates is determined by whether or not the individual will operate out of self or out of the love of God. There will indeed be some times which are harder than others as there are often pains that come in growing. However, it is important for the individual to recognize his role in modeling and forming the church so that when a man is needed he should then step up. For, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “When pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”

Um comentário:

Ryan Miller disse...

I move for paragraphing! I'm sure you had paragraphs in the original, and I think that would make it a lot easier to read. At any rate, interestingly said. Your beginning struck me as strongly reminiscient of Benedict's Deus Caritas Est--have you read it?