Wednesday 20 September 2006

Theology for beginners (14): Descent

Summary: God’s deity in Jesus is the event of salvation, in which God descends into the depths of our existence in order to make us his friends.

Jesus is our salvation: that is the whole message of the gospel. But what does this mean?

In the first place, Jesus does not merely bring salvation – rather, he himself is the event of salvation. Salvation is the reconciliation between God and humanity. It is the event in which God and humanity come together in perfect fellowship. While we had been estranged from God, we now become his friends once more. While we had been bent away from God – like nocturnal animals that cringe from the light – we are now healed and restored, so that we can delight in God’s nearness and God’s friendship.

All this becomes a reality in Jesus. For Jesus is, as we have seen, both the “true human” and “true God.” He is himself the union between God and humanity. He is himself the reconciliation between the estranged creatures and their creator. He is himself the healing of the relationship between God and humans.

In short, Jesus is the event of salvation. Salvation happens in him, once and for all. And this event of salvation is precisely the event of God’s deity. God’s deity is an event of healing and reconciling love. God’s deity is an event in which we humans are gathered together into fellowship with God.

This means, then, that God’s deity descends to us in Jesus. God goes out of himself towards us. God has decided not to be without us, but to be with us and for us. God has decided that his deity will travel the path of our lowly human existence. God has decided that his deity will be carried out and expressed in this human way.

Thus, in Jesus, God humbles himself in the most astonishing way. God lowers himself to the level of his creatures – to the level of estranged human beings! God is not self-serving, he does not merely draw all things into himself, but he moves out of himself in an act of incomparable self-emptying. God empties himself into the most abject depths of our human existence, into the depths of our sadness and alienation. Just as someone might pour a cup of water out on the ground, so God pours himself out into our humanness. He willingly degrades himself, descending to the lowest depths of our existence. God becomes all that we are, so that all our suffering and estrangement and alienation are taken into his own heart.

Thus God descends to us to become our “substitute,” the one who takes our place. This substitution is not something external to God, like a sacrifice or a financial transaction. Rather, this substitution takes place within God’s own deity: for our benefit, God becomes all that we are. We were subject to darkness and rejection – but now God enters our darkness and becomes the rejected one. We were broken and fragmented – but now God allows himself to be shattered, like a fragile piece of pottery thrown against a wall. We were wounded and lost – but now God becomes wounded for us, God loses himself in the bewildering darkness of our despair. God takes our place. God steps into our world and identifies himself with our plight. God is our substitute. God’s deity is an event of deepest solidarity with us humans.

In other words, God’s deity saves us by becoming what we are. God in the depths! – that is the meaning of the humble life, obedience and death of Jesus. God in our place! – that is the meaning of Jesus’ rejection and abandonment on the cross. God for us! – that is the meaning of the whole story of Jesus, a story that finds its bitter climax in a death of darkness and brokenness and humiliation.

This means that we humans – all of us – have been reconciled to God. God has taken our place in order to make things right. God has become what we are in order to heal and restore us. The event of God’s deity in Jesus is an event of forgiveness and reconciliation.

God meets us face to face in our deepest darkness – and in this meeting, we discover that all is forgiven, everything is dealt with, no obstacle remains that could ever separate us from fellowship with God. God draws near to us in order to draw us near to him. God identifies himself with us in our estrangement in order to forgive us and to make us his friends.

This is the path of God’s deity – a path of lowly humiliation and degradation, all for our benefit, all so that we can be friends with God. In Jesus, God’s descent is our salvation. In Jesus, God is truly “Immanuel”: God with us!

Further reading

  • Balthasar, Hans Urs von. The Glory of the Lord, Vol. 7 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989), pp. 202-35.
  • Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics IV/1 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1956).
  • Bauckham, Richard. God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998), pp. 56-69.
  • Brunner, Emil. The Mediator (London: Lutterworth, 1934), pp. 285-315.
  • Frei, Hans W. The Identity of Jesus Christ (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), pp. 102-115.
  • Kasper, Walter. Jesus the Christ (London: Burns & Oates, 1976), pp. 163-92.
  • Torrance, T. F. The Mediation of Christ (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992).

1 Comment:

byron smith said...

God poured out - like Paul, like David. A futile gesture; yet one oriented to the future, because there may be seeds to grow...

I really enjoyed this post.

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