Sunday, 21 October 2007

Why is There Anything At All?

One of the great moves forward in my understanding of God as a result of my studies at Moore was grasping that God's works are an expression of who he is. I came to College with a view that I think many Evangelicals have, one where all of God's acts are understood basically just against God's will. God does what he does because he chooses to, and that's really all you can say.

The problem with this is that it makes God's actions very impersonal. God's actions tell you something about his power, because he is able to do what he does. But the actions don't really reveal anything of who God is, they don't express his nature. In a sense God hides behind his actions - we see what he does, we never know how much of him is really in those things he does. And so there's a bit of a gap between who God is and what God does. And I think I've observed a number of places in Christian thought where one can see this gulf lurking.

One of the things that happened at College was the beginning of a process that has continued with my Trinitarian studies where I have begun to see that God does what he does because of who he is. He doesn't make the world and give life to all living just because he is omnipotent and chooses to. He is Life, all life is an overflow, or expression, of his nature as Life. He enlightens every human being, not just because he has power in the abstract, but because he is the Light.

Hence, when we come to God saving us through his Son, it is not just the case that God could and made a choice. (You can see the old problem get raised when people ask the question, but if God can do anything why couldn't he just forgive people without Jesus dying? It is playing God's power off against his nature. He doesn't just do things, he does things in a way that is fitting for his nature. And it is fitting for the Father to forgive through his Son.)

No, God saves because he is, at his heart, Saviour. He is the God who saves. It's not just what he's done, it is who he is. When God saves us, it isn't an act of abstract power by an arbitrary will at arms length from the eternal God's own interior life. God's saving work is grounded in God's very nature.

Now, different theologians have stated these ideas with varying degrees of clarity, qualification, and thoughtfulness. But I think the prize for sheer boldness has to go to Irenaeus. Completely ignoring any issue of imposing necessity upon God, and removing any freedom from God's actions, Irenaeus answers the question as to why God made the world:

For inasmuch as He [Christ Jesus] had a pre-existence as a saving Being, it was necessary that what might be saved should also be called into existence, in order that the Being who saves should not exist in vain. Against Heresies 3.22.3

Why is there anything at all? So there would be something for Christ to save. If there wasn't anything to save he wouldn't have had a reason for his eternal existence. Christ Jesus is that much of a Saviour.

Plus several hundred points for grasping how much the Lord Jesus' salvation is grounded in his nature as the Saviour, Irenaeus.

Minus several thousand for making creation necessary for God.

That's actually not too bad a score for theologians...


Baddelim said...

Apologies to Qraal as his comment got lost when I deleted the original of this post. Unfortunately Vista automatically posted a comment I made on another blog into this blog entry, and it just had to go.


Ben Beilharz said...

When you say God is at his heart a Saviour do you mean that he is love and when something requires saving he will love it by saving it?

How can God be Saviour without something to save?

Have I misunderstood what you're saying?

Baddelim said...

Hi Ben,

Well that's probably the nub of the issue. What does it mean to say that God is a Saviour?

Some would say it doesn't mean anything more than saying that God has saved us. It tells us what God has done, but doesn't tell us anything about God himself.

Some would say that it tells it more than that, and would explain it much the way you just have: God loves what he has made, and so, under the right circumstances, God saves his creation.

But it seems there are some who want to say more than that. In the modern context, there can be an appeal to the a posteori nature of Christian theology to say, "Look, the only God we know through revelation is the God who saves. So you don't have any warrant to know God as anyone other than a Saviour." This would mean that saying, "God is a Saviour" is more than just saying he is love, and when something requires he will love it by saving it. It's saying that, as far as we're concerned, 'Saviour' is just as eternal a truth about God as 'Father, Son, and Spirit' is.

I think that's got problems, although I can see the logic that leads to it. What interests me is that it's that third way of seeing it Irenaeus seems to be going for.

Because Christ is a Saviour therefore something was created in order for him to save it.

For all its problems, such a view at least has the virtue of saying that salvation is really at the heart of who Christ is.

Hope that's clearer...