Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Theology for beginners (22): Glorification

This is the final part of the series: the whole series is here.

Summary: At the End, God deifies all creatures by raising them up to participate in the movement of his own life; thus we are summoned to join with all creatures in the harmonious symphony of God’s triune love.

The goal that awaits us all is participation in God. Our stories are lifted up and integrated into the story of God’s own identity. This is precisely what “salvation” means. Our little stories are broken and fragmented, but God heals them and makes them whole. Our stories are without meaning, without narrative closure, but God completes them, so that our lives are flooded with the radiance of his own truth, his own meaning, his own reality.

The integration of our stories in the story of God may thus be described as our “deification.” In Jesus, God becomes one with us so that we can be one with him. This does not mean, of course, that God erases the distinction between himself and his creatures. It does not mean that God eliminates our finitude or our temporality. Rather, it means that God elevates his creatures to participate in the inexhaustible riches of his own life as it has unfolded in the history of Jesus. God raises us up to enter into the movement of his own divine identity as Father, Son and Spirit.

We might speak, therefore, of a narrative deification of all created reality. The stories of all creatures are made to participate in God’s story – each particular fragmented and finite narrative is woven into the perfect and infinitely detailed fabric of God’s own identity. All that we are is gathered up into the vibrant and differentiated interplay of the life of God.

Thus our creatureliness, our temporality, our embodiedness are elevated and preserved. We don’t enter into some sort of timeless existence, some disembodied afterlife: on the contrary, it is precisely this life, this embodied existence, this temporal history that God raises up and deifies. All our particular life-histories – just as they are! – are taken up into the divine dance of God’s eternity.

Far from erasing the distinction between creator and creatures, therefore, God deifies his creatures by bringing them together and weaving them into the living event of his own deity. The same Spirit who creates difference now preserves and upholds our otherness and our finitude – but he transforms all this into something wholly new. Through the Spirit, God glorifies all his creatures in the light of his own glory. He raises us up in the radiance of his presence. He transforms all his creatures – just as they are! – into a “new creation,” just as through the Spirit he also transformed the dead body of Jesus into the new body of resurrected life.

As God’s creatures, we therefore remain what we really are – but we are transposed into a different key. We retain all our difference and all our particularity vis-à-vis God – but we are now woven into the fabric of God’s identity. We are no longer separate from God. As different creatures with different stories, we continue to speak with our own unique voices – but the Spirit now brings all our voices together into a single harmony of praise and delight. The Spirit integrates all our life-movements into the single dance of the divine life – a dance in which the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father through the communion-giving presence of the Spirit.

This triune harmony is the fitting goal of all creation. To be a creature is to be summoned to participate in this harmonious celebration of the love of God’s triunity. In the End, when all creation is raised up before God, when all that exists joins together in this single harmony, we will hear this sound as the sound of God’s own life, the sound of Father, Son and Spirit who dwell together in a symphony of joy and delight that is always new. In the End, we will hear this sound as the sound of love, the love that is God’s own deity. The end of all our ways is to find our place within this song of love, to find ourselves lifted up into the movement of God’s music, in harmony at last with God and with all things.

Or to put it another way: the end of all our ways is the vision of God, the sight of God’s own radiant beauty and piercing clarity, the sight of all things flooded with the light of this beauty. The end of all our ways is to see this glory – the glory of the Father who loves the Son, and of the Son who gives himself to the Father, and of the Spirit who opens Father and Son to one another and to us in the joy of love.

The end of all our ways is this joyous completion, this glorification, this “new creation” of harmony and delight. At the End, there is only music – the music of the triune God who loves all his creatures and with love gathers them into the life of his kingdom.

Further reading

  • Balthasar, Hans Urs von. Theo-Drama, Vol. 5 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998).
  • Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics III/2, § 47; IV/3, §73.
  • Fergusson, David and Marcel Sarot, eds. The Future as God’s Gift (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000).
  • Hart, David Bentley. The Beauty of the Infinite (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), pp. 395-411.
  • Jenson, Robert W. Systematic Theology, Vol. 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 309-69.
  • Jones, Joe R. A Grammar of Christian Faith, Vol. 2 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), pp. 689-748.
  • Moltmann, Jürgen. The Coming of God (London: SCM, 1996).
  • Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), pp. 527-646.
  • Smith, Byron. “Heaven: Not the End of the World” (2006).

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