We run our website the way we wished the whole internet worked: we provide high quality original content with no ads. We are funded by your direct support for ReKnew and our vision. Please consider supporting this project.

cross

Cross-Shaped Transcendence

Hellenistic philosophers traditionally embrace a conception of God as the simple, necessary, and immutable One. They do this in order to try to explain the “unmoved mover” who is absolutely distinct from the ever-changing, composite, contingent world. However, we must be clear that it is misguided for Christian theology to follow this path. If we define God’s essence over-and-against creation, we are defining God’s essence over-and-against Christ, the very one who is supposed to be the definitive revelation of God’s essence.

If theologians are concerned with preserving the absolute distinction between God and creation, this is certainly laudable and necessary, but this is not the way to do it. For preserving this distinction is without value unless we are at the same time remaining faithful to the revelation of God in Christ by placing our complete trust in it.

Hence, rather than starting with a concept of God that moves away from becoming, contingency, dependency and suffering, I submit that all theological reflection must start, and remain oriented around, the contingent fact that God became a human and suffered at the hands of wicked humans and fallen angels as he suffered a God-forsaken death for us on the cross. From this cross-centered perspective, any who feel the need to construe God’s transcendent essence as excluding contingency, becoming, dependency, and suffering can only be understood as trying to protect God’s transcendent essence from his own self-revelation—as if they knew God’s transcendent essence better than God!

I rather believe that what it means to affirm Christ as the Incarnation of God is that we consider the experiences of the man Jesus to also be experiences of the divine Jesus. This means that the suffering of the man Jesus on the cross must be accepted as the suffering of God on the cross. Indeed, it is precisely God’s self-sacrificial suffering at this juncture that most unambiguously reveals his eternal essence. To insert any wedge between the divinity and humanity of Christ at this point is simultaneously to undermine the revelation of God in the crucified Christ and to derive a concept of divine transcendence that is sourced outside the crucified Christ.

The only way to remain faithful to the revelation of God in the crucified Christ as we reflect on God’s “wholly other” transcendence is to refuse to speculate about a hypothetical transcendence over-and-against this revelation. Instead we must seek to discern God’s transcendence in the “wholly other” quality of this revelation. As I interpret him, this is close to what Luther was getting at with his conception of God’s hiddenness. He was noting that the utter incomprehensibility of God is most clearly unveiled precisely when God is most unambiguously revealed. God’s unfathomable distance from us is most profoundly revealed precisely when God stoops an infinite distance to come nearest to us, diving not only into our humanity, but also into our sin and our curse. Hence, the definitive disclosure of God’s “wholly other” transcendence takes place when God enters into our limitations and sin on Calvary.

God isn’t transcendent because he’s “above” becoming and suffering; he’s rather transcendent in the utterly unfathomable loving quality of his supreme becoming and supreme suffering.

While the cross is the quintessential revelation of God’s transcendence, we can also discern the cruciform transcendence of God reflected in every aspect of Jesus’ life, ministry and teachings. For example, we see God’s beautiful cruciform transcendence reflected in the shocking way the all-holy God accepted and befriended prostitutes and others who were judged to be the worst of sinners in first century Jewish culture. His incomprehensible otherness is revealed as well in the shocking way he searches for the one lost sheep, accepting and ministering to the poor, the maimed, the oppressed, the diseased and other lost sheep who were ignored or despised in first century culture. Indeed, every counter-cultural aspect of Jesus’ life revealed God’s transcendence and thereby pushed back every aspect of society and creation that is not in line with God’s cross-shaped beauty.

Photo credit: hepp via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

Related Reading

The Perfect Love of God

The Father, Son and Spirit exist as the infinite intensity and unsurpassable perfection of eternal love. We know this about the triune God not by speculation but because Jesus demonstrated that love (Rom 5:8) in his willingness to go to the furthest extreme possible to save us. When the all-holy God stooped to become our…

Violent Parables?

Some try to argue that Jesus did not make loving enemies and refraining from violence an absolute mandate. They make their case on the basis of several passages from the Gospels. The first concerns the cleansing of the temple which we addressed here, while the second is about how Jesus spoke harsh words to the…

Does God Intervene?

The Open View of the future recognizes the vast influence of all the angelic and human wills God created, which, in turn, influences the various outcomes and circumstances in life. Therefore life is arbitrary because of the way the decisions made by an unfathomably vast multitude of free agents intersect with each other. How life…

Topics:

Nothing but Christ Crucified

One of the most remarkable expressions of the all-encompassing nature of the cross is reflected in an incidental, but extremely important, comment that Paul made in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He noted that when he brought “the testimony of God” to Corinth, he hadn’t come “with eloquence or human wisdom”. He instead “resolved…

Transported

What did Jesus do on the cross that we couldn’t do for ourselves? Jesus stood in our place. God stepped in to bear the consequences of our sin. And in doing so, Christ defeated the powers, in principle, ending the cosmic war. If we will yield to God, he transports us from the kingdom of darkness into the…

A Cruciform Dialectic

One of the most important aspects of God’s action on Calvary, I believe, is this: God revealed himself not just by acting toward humans, but by allowing himself to be acted on by humans as well as the fallen Powers. God certainly took the initiative in devising the plan of salvation that included the Son…