THE GOSPEL AS PROMISE

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OR THE STORY OF JESUS AS THE PRESENCE OF THE FUTURE

Theses  (inspired by Robert Jenson, Irenaeus, et al.)

Piotr J. Małysz

 

 

1. As human beings, we are oriented to the future.

a) The future is constantly posed and modified through our interaction with each other. Those interactions most often have the character of a demand, though they may also be promises.

  • “Hi!” (good news at a party, perhaps not so good news when your boss says it)
  • “The trashcan is full.”
  • “With my body I thee worship, with all my worldly goods I thee endow.”
  • “ISIS has blown up the nearly 2000-year-old Temple of Baalshamin in the historic ruins of Palmyra in Syria, an antiquities official said.” (What’s next? What does it mean for me? Should it mean anything for me?)

b) Solitary confinement or a solitary life on a desert island, as such, offer no future. Both are inhuman.

2. Our response to the future is hope. To be human is to hope.

a) We ordinarily have a vision of the future in its totality (the way we believe things/the world ought to be). Within this eschatological vision and connected to this larger hope, we harbor a host of smaller, changeable everyday hopes.

  • “I hope s/he says hi to me at the party.”
  • “I hope this car will last me another year.”
  • “I surely hope X wins the presidential election next year.”

b) We put our hopes in things and people. When they acquire an eschatological dimension – when one of them becomes the hope for all our hopes – they become idols. “Who can save all my hopes?!”  We are led to realize:

  • things do not endure
  • ideologies only turn us into cogwheels in the ideological machine

“The enterprise of setting up the ‘No-God’ is avenged by its success. Deified nature and deified spirits of men are, in truth, very gods; like Jupiter and Mars, Isis and Osiris, Cybele and Attis, they come to be the very breath of our life. Our conduct becomes governed precisely by what we desire. … And now men really become slaves and puppets of things, of ‘Nature’ and of ‘Civilization’… And now there is no higher power to protect them from what they have set on high” (Barth, Romans).

  • people, even if they are extremely reliable and trustworthy, can promise to be our hope only “till death do us part” (see 3 below).
  • In sum: “The gods cannot take away fear from human beings, the petrified cries of whom they bear as their names” (Horkheimer/Adorno).

c) When we realize the fragility of our hope – that even we ourselves cannot be the hope for all our hopes let alone other people or objects – we settle on hoping for nothing in particular, just hoping. This is the condition of the modern West, where hope has become indistinguishable from anxiety about the future.

“Americans trained to hope but no longer convinced of what to hope for are finding this out” (Jenson, Story and Promise, 57).

3. Hope, in the face of unconditional acceptance (love), is transformative. It opens up a new way of life. (Or does it?)

  • “Only persons can free one another in mutual challenge, only in love and its freedom does structured mutuality fulfill itself” (Jenson, 72)
  • “By loving me, you make me a better person. You make me a different person. With you, I let go of my former self, I let go of my idols, my self-securing, the need to get ahead, to gain the upper hand. In your love, I can finally rest …”
  • To be loved is not only to be in a transformative relationship with the lover, but also, to experience the transformation of all of one’s relationships on account of that relationship. Love creates a (new) world.

“love means that I emerge from the security of what I am in myself, and risk myself out there in the world that is neither my inner world nor your inner world, but precisely the world between us in which we can be together” (Jenson, 56)

  • “… But if I let go of myself and find myself in you, what will happen when you’re there no more, when death parts us? I’ll be devastated, I’ll be shattered. Perhaps I’ll become despondent and bitter. Perhaps I’ll only be able to wish for death myself. … Perhaps I should be on my guard against totally letting go of myself!”
  • By ourselves, we cannot be truly human. Death stands in our way and blocks a complete transformation and overcoming of our alienation from each other. We are sinners, precisely as those who are unable to love the neighbor as ourselves.
  • Ultimately, we are sinners because we do not acknowledge (and love) God as our hope. (We do not take God at his word but instead wonder, “Did God really say…?” But God still speaks to us, even now in these last days… through his Son… [Heb 1:1-2]).

4. Jesus’ life of love.

a) Jesus lived the life of togetherness that Israel repeatedly failed to live and which could not be brought about by even the best of laws (e.g., Jer 7:5-8). Rather than excluding and exploiting the poor person, the widow, or the orphan, Jesus welcomed sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. He did so with justice and mercy and faithfulness (Mt 23:23), having compassion on the crowds for they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36).

b) Jesus lived a truly human life: a man for all humans, the new Adam.

“at the last it was not by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of a man, but by the decree of the Father that his hands perfected a living man, so that there might be a [second] Adam after the image and likeness of God… [T]he Lord … declares himself to be the Son of Man, so renewing in himself that primal man from whom the formation [of man] by woman began” (Irenaeus)

c) Jesus’ life was transformative for those it touched… Yet during his Passion, his disciples scattered and Peter denied him.

5. Jesus lives as a man no longer bounded by death.

a) If Jesus were dead, and we told his story today, we would tell it as one among many stories of human self-sacrifice on behalf of others.

In Jesus’ story, we would find inspiration for being better and trying harder in a world of irredeemable self-seeking. The story would inspire us to self-improvement and encourage us to make a difference. As such, the message of Jesus would serve only as an example (“of no more help to you than some other saint,” Luther).

b) But Jesus is risen! He is risen and lives as the one who he was.

  • Jesus’ life is, therefore, not an example of how we can make this hell of a world into a bit of a better place if only we are ready to suffer inevitable death at the hands of sinful humans. Because he is risen, Jesus’ life is, first and foremost, a promise. It is a promise because the life he once lived he still lives, and so lives it now also for us. We, too, are welcomed by him, given a place at his table, justified.
  • Jesus’ present life of love is what transforms us. Because he is the Living One; because he was dead, and now look, he is alive for ever and ever, he holds the keys of death and Hades (Rev 1:18). He is thus the hope for our hopes without conditions or restrictions, without fear – the one true hope. The hope that transforms all of our hopes, big or small, and in this transforms our actions, and so truly transforms us. Jesus’ life is our portion, our future, our destiny – even now!

“We are called to live a life whose fundamental temporal structure is a great ‘in spite of…’ Or rather, we are not ‘called,’ we are permitted so to live” (Jenson, 52; cf. 82).

  • The story of Jesus is an unconditional promise. It is the Gospel: a gift, the only saving and transforming story, the only cheering message and truly good news.

c) Jesus Christ opens up the future. If Jesus’ life is unrestrictedly available, now and forever, if it is the only imperishable thing in the world where all things perish – it is the future of all creation.

“if the gospel is true, it is a word in which past and future rhyme dependably and finally. Were the gospel fully spoken, it would be a word about every item of reality that already is: every person, every atomic particle, every galaxy, every animal. And it would be an evocation of futurity, a creation of new language, infinite in its openness” (Jenson, 76-77).

The perishable can now be called for what it is; hopes can now be fully articulated and promises made; and God can be praised in all.

“[T]he gospel not only makes truth-speaking a possibility; it also allows me to do the truth-speaking as a loving act” (Jenson, 82).

A new song! (Ps 96:1; Rev 5:9). “Behold, I am making all things new!” (Rev 21:5)

6. Jesus is and remains both a man and God himself in the same person.

a) Jesus is God, for only God could be this human. Only God can be the image of himself unreservedly. We are unable to be genuinely human without God, to pursue our destiny in separation from God.

b) Jesus is a man, for in order to be who he is he must be who he was.

7. Jesus is the consummation of our hope.

a) In Jesus, we have found the hope for all our hopes, that is, the hope which transforms us together with our hopes. This hope will be perfected and consummated in the future which Jesus is, when all spurious futures fall away and “God is all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

b) Yes, even when the hope is consummated, we will be able unreservedly to hope for more. Because Jesus’ life, the life he lived and lives, now embraces also us and is our future – life with Jesus will prove an inexhaustible source of delight. This is what it means to be in a personal relationship.

“when love has come there is nothing left imperfect or unfinished.” And yet “[t]o love is to open my future to the surprises of another” (Jenson, 59).

This is what love is: satisfaction without routine and newness in the midst of stability. The inexhaustible reality of partaking in the divine nature (1 Pt 1:4).

2 thoughts on “THE GOSPEL AS PROMISE

  1. The article reminds me of thoughts expressed by Pastor don Matzat in his book Christ Esteem. Here are a couple of excerpts that mean something to me.

    Pastor Don Matzat, Christ Esteem (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1990). Chapter 7.

    “When you search the pages of the New Testament in seeking to answer the question; what is our God-given personal identity, you discover that God has not given to us an identity on this earth. We are strangers, foreigners and pilgrims. Our real personal identity is in the heavenly places since God has also identified us with the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. …

    “The truth that God has identified us with the ascension of Jesus Christ is a very exciting truth which can literally lift our hearts out of the conflicts of this present life and into the heavenly places. It is not surprising that people have so much difficulty trying to find themselves in this world. They are looking in the wrong place. They are not looking up. In Ephesians 1:4‐6 the Apostle writes: “But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we 42were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

    “The truth is, God put us to death with Christ, made us alive in the resurrection, and raised us up with Christ in the ascension. Our personal identity is in the heavenly realms. While the death of Jesus frees us from the “negative self,” His ascension frees us from trying to find a “new spiritual self,” which can be just as big a problem. It is no fun trying to act “spiritual” in the company of other people who are trying to act “spiritual.” They may see through your act. By identifying us with the ascension of Jesus, God took us out of the picture completely. Having been identified with Christ, WE ARE WHERE HE IS! Our citizenship is in heaven. Our real life is hidden with Christ in God.”

    jim macgregor

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