Thursday, October 05, 2006

Four Experiences of the Plurality of God...

In the most recent issue of Pro Ecclesia, a lecture from Oswald Bayer is re-printed, "The Plurality of the One God, and the Plurality of the Gods." In section four ("The Plurality of the One God"), Bayer writes,
If one is to appreciate the irreducibility of these distinctions (note: from preceding paragraphs--distinctions that remain in eternity, e.g. distinction between Creator and creatures, distinctions among the three persons of the Trinity and distinctions meant for the interim, e.g. law and gospel, the hidden and revealed God, faith and sight), one must take into the account the intersection of times in which we live. On the one hand, the Word of the Cross and the salvation it communicates to us in the present age is a guarantee of the future consummation of the world; on the other hand, we still experience the painful contradiction between the suffering and groaning of the creature of the old world and the promised creation in the new world. In accordance with this intersection of times, which is experienced as a rupture of times, we encounter God in four different ways. We encounter him in his wrath in that he convicts us of sin; we encounter him in another way in his forgiving love; we encounter him yet another way in his long-suffering, whereby he sustains the old world into its future through the institution of natural and political laws; and, above all, we encounter him in another way in his terrifying hiddenness, in which he works all in all --life and death--in a way that we cannot possibly unravel.
To be sure, in the interest of constructing an agreeable and integrated system, many a theologian has tried to construe God's wrath, long-suffering and, above all, his terrifying hiddenness as aspects of his love. To do so, however, is to succumb to impatience, indeed, to a kind of enthusiasm. From our perspective (i.e., for us as long as we are wayfarers), the unity of God qua love and, with it, the unity of time qua eternity (i.e., an eternity that would bring unity and healing to this rupture of times) are not matters of demonstration; were it otherwise, lamentations and supplication would be superfluous. The unity of God qua love can be perceived only in a doxological context; it is the ground and object of confessing faith--which speaks assertologically--and of the hope that this implies.
Bayer loses me in his last sentence, but the point of these paragraphs is that we should not rush to condense all four experiences into one, a forced and dissatisfying unity. In this intersection of times, the interim, we are forced to hold these things in tension and he urges us not to relax them.
As pastors, we are called to relax these tensions all the time. Is Aunt Mathilda going to hell? Why did this happen to me (or more precisely, why did God cause this to happen to me)? Why doesn't God tell me what I should do? We collapse the aspects of the tensions to make people feel comfortable. In this interim time, there will be great discomfort as the old is abraded by the new. The old adam dies after all, but it doesn't die easily. The old life dies kicking and screaming the whole way. We, who preach the gospel, in the midst of the struggle of death and new life, must not rush to release the tension. We must continue to point as Bayer noted at the opening of that first paragraph, the Word of the Cross. The Cross communicates a word of salvation to us. In this tension, here there is located a guarantee of what the world will become. We will die, but be raised. We will see, but now it is unclear. But we cling to the hope that God is at work healing and restoring creation, transforming our lives even in the midst of this rupture in time, and for that we praise God.


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