adam and god

Crucified Transcendence

If our thinking about God is to be faithful to the New Testament, then all of our thinking about God must, from beginning to end, be centered on Christ. I’m persuaded that even our thinking about God in his transcendent, eternal state should begin and proceed with the Pauline conviction that we know nothing “except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (2 Cor. 2:2).

If no one knows the Father except the Son, whose identity and mission is thematically centered on the cross (Mt 11:27), and if the crucified Son is the one and only exact representation of God’s essence (Heb 1:3) and the one and only Word and image of God who has “made God known” by revealing “truth and grace” (Jn 1:14), then doesn’t it make sense to bracket out, as far as possible, our preconceived, a priori assumptions about what we think God’s transcendence ought to look like and to then reflect on God’s transcendence with our eyes firmly fixed on him? More specifically ought we not look to the cross to understand who God is in his eternal transcendent nature?

Of course, the identity and meaning of the crucified Christ is not self-contained or self-interpreting. It’s not as though the Incarnation and Crucifixion would have meant the same thing if they had taken place in (say) ancient Babylon, Egypt or India. Rather, the meaning of the Incarnation, Crucifixion and every other aspect of Jesus’ identity and mission are inextricably wrapped up with the OT narrative. As contemporary biblical scholarship has increasingly affirmed, the meaning of everything Jesus was about is thoroughly anchored in his Jewishness.

When I claim that we should adopt the conviction that we in principle know nothing “except Christ crucified” as we reflect on God’s transcendence, therefore, it should be understood that I am presupposing rather than eliminating the biblical history and covenantal framework that infuses “Christ crucified” with the particular, very Jewish, meaning it has. Indeed, this is precisely why the revelation of God is a distinctly Trinitarian event, involving the transcendent Father who is revealed in the incarnate Son through the illumination of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

By suggesting that we should in principle know nothing “except Christ crucified” as we reflect on God’s transcendence, I am contending that we should allow no other source to inform our understanding of the nature and character of God’s transcendence. It is true that because God is triune, there is more to be said about God than what has been revealed by the crucified Christ, but even this “more,” I contend, is known only through the crucified Christ.

Those from a more commonly held view of God—one that is shaped by the classical theological perspective—may argue that we can’t anchor an understanding of God’s transcendence in the incarnate and crucified Christ, since the incarnate and crucified Christ reflects God accommodating himself to human limitations and sin. But this is precisely the problem with the classical theological perspective. Because it operates with a concept of transcendence that is derived from outside God’s revelation in Christ, it can never fully embrace that God’s accommodation in Christ is actually the quintessential revelation of God. In other words, the revelation of Christ crucified reveals God’s transcendent essence. The only way to bridge God’s transcendence and God’s accommodation in Christ is to never allow for a separation in the first place. Hence the incarnate and crucified Christ is at one and the same time the quintessential source for our understanding of God’s accommodation as well as of God’s transcendence.

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