Wednesday, February 12, 2014

God is not himself today–come back tomorrow

I'm going to comment on this post, by a Barthian universalist:

In fact we object to violence and to the destruction of our enemies because this is precisely what God does too; this how God manifests himself when he is in us. The virtue lists in the New Testament depict human likeness of God in fundamentally nonviolent, benevolent terms: poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure, peacemakers, persecuted (Mt 5.3-10); lovers of enemies (Mt 5.43-8); loving, joyful, peaceful, forbearing, kind, good, faithful, gentle, self-controlled (Gal 5.22-3); not angry, not malevolent, beneficent in speech and deed, not bitter or rageful, kind and compassionate and forgiving (Eph 4.25-32); pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and goodness, impartial, and sincere (Jas 3.17). Persons who embody and manifest these traits are not violent; they are not descriptions of persons acting violently or malevolently. If this is what it means to have God present in you, then we infer that this is what God is truly like.
i) Nemes is burning a straw man when he equates retributive justice with violence. And the fumes rising from his straw man become even more acrid when he equates retributive justice with rage, bitterness, and malevolence. He isn't even attempting to accurately characterize the opposing position.
ii) Then there's his flawed theological method, where he resorts to non-eschatological, common grace passages to negate passages specific to eschatological justice and judgment. But our primary source of information about eschatology ought to come from passages directly concerned with eschatology. 
“But God is demonstrably violent and malevolent to some.” Yes, but he is not being himself. This is an important insight Jon D. Levenson mentions in his analysis of Torah in Creation and the Persistence of Evil: in his battle against sin and the forces of evil, God is forced to behave himself in a way with which he does not identify, which he does not desire. His ultimate goal is to be the benevolent, sovereign ruler of a freely cooperative world in which all flourish; but when evil threatens to destroy everything, he must cease to be benevolent to work towards preserving his threatened sovereignty.This is why it is important that we do not accept depictions of divine violence, of divine judgment, of damnation, etc., as final and definitive realities: God must be himself, he must be his true self in the end, and his true self is not the damning God but the saving God. Like Levenson says, God may not be proximately good, but he must be ultimately good.
That's an arresting notion of God. It reminds me of movies in which the villain gives the protagonist a choice: he can shoot one of his friends to save the other, or if he refuses to choose, the villain will shoot both of them. 
To judge by this, the God of Barth, Torrance, and Moltmann is a finite deity at the mercy of a rebellious creation; a God who is "forced" to act out of character–forced to commit heinous crimes in the short-term as he struggles to regain control of the situation. 

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