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Archive for December, 2010

Moses has greeted the Son in the divine Empyrean prior to the incarnation.  The prophet has suggested a review of future ‘possibilities’ – since the Father has not yet unequivocally revealed whether Israel shall accept or reject his Anointed.

The Son:  It’s just as you say, Moses – our Father’s counsel of mystery with regard to Israel’s reception of my mission extends even to myself.

Moses:  Many of the saints marvel, Sire, that you are no less ‘in the dark’ than the rest of us on this issue which seems so central to your success.

The Son:  I hope it will not offend the saints to learn that our ‘success’ is not dependent upon either acceptance or rejection by the Jews.

Moses:  Right.  On the other hand, many of us take the view that Father’s decision reflects material conditions perfectly.

The Son:  Well it would be disingenuous of me to offer peace to the world through Israel without my sincere hope of her acceptance of Father’s actual terms.

Moses:  Exactly.  In view of the ambiguity of Israel’s prophetic record regarding his Anointed, the feeling is that – depending on how they read it – the Jews could go either way.

The Son:  But these unfortunate ambiguities mean we can only hope that Israel will find and choose the thin but golden thread revealing Father’s true will.

Moses:  Don’t look at me, Sire.  You know I have not vouched for the clarity of their sacred history for over 400 years – not since the Priestly re-write during the exile.

The Son:  And it is not my intention to sort that problem out for them, Moses.  Father and I are going with the current textus receptus.

Moses:  So you must fearlessly feature the new over the top of the old, and desire their complete acceptance of your mission. 

The Son:  There you have both sides of the issue in a nutshell.

Moses:  It always comes down to human free will, doesn’t it Sire?

The Son:  That, and the authority of Scripture.    But I will not see my mission descend to acrimonious debate over the twin unfathomables of written history and editorial fictions.

Moses:  Verily.  I agree that literary criticism of their scriptures would be a fool’s game at this point.

The Son:  On that – and the rest – I am completely one with Father.

Moses:  How did I know? – – But speaking of unfathomables, Sire, things have been recently complicated by a kind of pre-millennial, futurist thing that has been ‘in the wind’ down there at least since Daniel.

The Son:  Actually since Malachi

Moses:  All those guys.  We’re seeing a lot of ‘end-time’ writers lately featuring rather violent scenarios about the Day of the Lord.

The Son:  There has been a certain amount of informed and disinformed anticipation of my coming.  It seems it couldn’t be helped.

Moses:  Well the more recent apocalypses have hooked up with certain miscues in the canonical texts to create a frothy boil in the minds of many of your people.

The Son:  We’ve seen it, and heard it in their prayers.

Moses:  I trust, Sire, that in holy prayer Father will steer your human mind clear of these vain eschatological desires.  But I worry that the Forerunner may not be spared from entertaining such thoughts.  Can we talk a little about that?

[to be continued]

Empyrean Dialogues – 1

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Found this from Karl Barth in a quote from a book entitled Christmas posted by blogger ajmoyse :

“The man who is God’s own Word, does not send forth His radiant light from afar, encountering the “darkness” of other men as a king, hero or sage; but the Light that “shines in the darkness” is an ordinary man and gives light to ordinary people. This is incomprehensible, and yet because of it revelation is real and the Christmas gospel is quite different from both the sweet sadness and the false optimism of mere reverie. The Word of God is where we ourselves are, not where we should perhaps like to be, on one of those heights to which by some luck and strong effort we might attain; He is where we really are, whether we are king or beggar, in our torn condition in which we who face death appear–in the “flesh” …

 (Karl Barth. “The Word Made Flesh,” In Christmas. Translated by Bernard Citron. [Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1959], pp. 12-13.)

I was gratified that so high an authority has understood the ‘Christmas’ side of divine Incarnation as I tried to articulate it in my last post.

More Barth:

“Therefore the Word can give power to real people in the world, to become the sons of God. Therefore real people can accept Him and believe in Him… He does not appear in the form of an angel nor of an ideal man (how can anyone who is not as real as we are, address us?) but as Paul writes, in “the form of a servant” ( Phil. II.7), so that we who ourselves exist in this form, are able to hear Him. He encounters the riddle of our “darkness” on its own ground.” (Ibid)

However, Professor Dr. Barth, in his usual way, cannot go very long before attempting to move his theology along purely by means of a rhetorical flourish – and I find my agreement mixed with disagreement.   By a very strange leap of thought Barth attempts to force Golgotha into the Nativity picture as if the two were inextricably joined:

“We can sum up these comments in this way: Revelation
remains revelation by which the veil of divine mystery is
rent. In other words, except we see the Cross of Golgatha,
we cannot hear the Gospel at the crib of Bethlehem.” (Ibid)

I reject this little tour-de-force (one which I hear all the time from evangelicals at Christmas time).  I do see the similarities between the humility of the nativity and the humility of the cross.  But this kind of similarity is only the stuff of good homiletics and cannot support valid theological inferences.

I think the ‘wish’ to see Golgotha at Bethlehem is  incompatible with a full acceptance of the pre-baptism life and the pre-Calvary Gospel of Jesus.   Barth obviously doesn’t agree.  So I’ve got some explaining to do (later).

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What I like to see in the Christmas story is a divine lord who has donned our own messy and precarious humanity in the trauma of childbirth and family.  Here at the beginning he embarks upon the trial of a full humanity – what I am here calling the test of the ten-thousand days* – a test which he meets in full before his baptism at Jordan.

I think at Christmas Jesus invites us to celebrate with him and in him the obscure but vital humanity he enjoyed with mother and family and friends before he felt called to go out to meet the son of Zechariah.  Does it really matter that our scriptures are almost blank in its regard?  Do we really have no clue as to what an obscure childhood, youth and adulthood might look like?

If at Christmas we contemplate the fullness of Christ’s humanity, maybe we will find that this young lord accomplished, in the daily course of life while he was yet this side of Jordan, a work in which he did not leave our lives wholly unredeemed.

It is on this human side of the incarnation history that we may allow Jesus more fully to meet us as one who knows the potentiality of an obscure setting in life.  I think anyone who will let him live with them for any single part of a year or week or hour may see that he knows well the ins and outs from childhood to adulthood.  And it is neither smart nor even permissible to believe he was without sin if we do not accept his nearness to the temptations and inspirations of our quotidian struggles.  I say this Christmas give him a chance to show his power in the inevitable crises of an uncelebrated human life.

* 10,000 days equals 27 years, 19 weeks, and a day.  If we figure Jesus to be not facing any of the large or small frustrations of life without Mary’s constant assistance until at least age 3, the Ten-thousand day trial puts him on the banks of Jordan with John at “about his 30th year.”

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The scene is the Empyrean just prior to the divine Son’s incarnation.  His servant Moses enters.

Son:  “I can see you have good news.”

Moses:  “Everything’s at the cusp, Sire.  Mary will hear your new name by announcement of our messenger as soon as she’s with child.  You’re to be ready at a moment’s notice.”

Son:  “Then call me Je’shua – ‘God is salvation.’”

Moses:  “The name, Sire, is supposed to help you remember it’s not about you.”

Son:  “We both know that a true Son of Man cannot forget God and neighbor.”

Moses:  “First order of business will be son of Mary and Joseph.”

Son:  “My immersion in the flesh.  Dear Moses, it’s a mystery even to me how I shall ever, in the fullness of my humanity, recall my divinity.”

Moses:  “Trust in God.  His will for you now is that you be made man.  And the child is always father to the man.  You have a nice family there, I’m sure eventually you will find him who sent you.  But you find him best by seeking him first with all your human mind and heart and strength, as the God of your fathers.”

Son:  “I know it must be first things first, if one day the last shall be first, and the first last.”

Moses:  “May those words come to mean more to them than directions for leaving synagogue after Sabbath service!”

Son:  “I so look forward to childhood, youth, and manhood – to know and suffer them as you did.”

Moses:  “Aye, in family and in tribe and temple, for duty and country.”

Son:  “Day in, and day out – until I find him who sent me.”

Moses:  “And remember how you shall seek him.”

Son:  “Neither here, nor there…”

Moses:  “Perfect.  And when he reveals himself within you, you will preach this inner reign of God so that all might hope that a saving measure of what is yours by divine nature may be theirs by divine grace.

Son:  “I’m solid, Mo.  And so is Father.  If I can learn to get some private prayer time down there we’ll be on the same page by the time the forerunner finishes his course.”

Moses:  “Well enough, Sire.  And since you mention your later career – you know Father hasn’t revealed to us whether your person and teaching will be accepted or rejected by the rulers in Israel.  I think we both see the wisdom of that, but it wouldn’t hurt to run down the possibilities one more time before you’re off …”

[to be continued]

Note:  the Empyrean Dialogues is a recent experiment of mine to see if I can manage a piece of didactic fiction which both entertains a little and presents interpretations of the Bible I believe to be worthy of reflection and discussion from the standpoint of incarnation and divine pre-existence.

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I hope it is not controversial to say that Saul of Tarsus before his conversion must have shared what was probably the majority view in Israel – that Jesus of Nazareth was an offender against the Torah and a misleader of the people, who had rightly suffered the death of one accursed.

Even our first record of Jesus’ early career (Mark) moves immediately from a 16-verse introduction to a string of 88 verses in which ten out of twelve stories portray Jesus transgressing the literal sense of seven different points of the Law:

1. Sabbath-breaking (Mk 2:24 & 3:6)

2. Neglect of fasting (2:18)

3. Neglect of family (3:33)

4. Contact with lepers (1:41)

5. Eating with sinners (2:16)

6. Blasphemy i.e. Authority to forgive sin (2:7)

7. Alliance with Satan (3:22) i.e. authority over demons (1:27, 34, 39, 3:11)

Mark’s source for the early career of Jesus clearly relies heavily on stories of apparent law-breaking, most of which are accompanied by Jesus’ own prophetic rationale for setting aside the Law.  Can it be doubted that many reports of the deeds of Jesus were circulating without benefit of the sayings attached by Mark?  I think Mark’s emphasis suggests that lawbreaking was an issue for Jews who criticized the mission of Jesus in his lifetime and after the crucifixion.

To an unsympathetic ear it would make no difference if these stories circulated with or without Jesus’ rationale attached.  Because it was I think a matter of common knowledge – also confirmed by Mark (8:11-12) – that Jesus had refused to provide the test-sign demanded by the religious authorities in proof of his authority.  This constituted for them a warrant of the Law itself for disregarding Jesus’ prophetic claims.

I think this is the perspective of the old Saul – knowing that Jesus, despite his alleged works, had after all refused to authorize his mission by the sign required by Moses, Saul had judged that the Law justly regarded his sin as worthy of condemnation and death.

The perspective of the new Saul is best seen from the standpoint of his brief and electrifying encounter on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:2-9).  I trust this report to represent not a dream or myth but a genuine revelation event.  Saul sees and hears for himself what the martyr Stephen had claimed to see – that this Jesus who for all appearances had set the law aside – who under the Law of God was made to be sin and was crucified – is now in the power of the spirit alive.

Saul’s revelation doesn’t give him faith in the fact of the resurrection (one doesn’t ‘have faith’ in experienced facts).  The true object of Saul’s faith is his rapidly-developing view of the meaning and value of the resurrection.  This view was illuminated by Saul’s faith in God, which was never in question.  In its light he comprehends that it is the God of Israel who has raised Jesus from the dead.  A corollary to this faith is the belief that the risen one is God’s anointed, the hope of Israel.

All of which will be quite formative and quite problematic for the future of Christianity.

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In his letter to the Galatians Paul claims an apostolate not through man but ‘through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead’ (1:1).  He further says he ‘did not confer with flesh and blood’ regarding the Gospel he preached until three years after his conversion (1:16-19).  How is such independence possible?  Where did his Gospel come from?

I think the ‘miracle’ of Paul’s independent acquisition of a gospel and an apostolate has only one supernatural element: his very brief encounter with the spirit of Jesus Christ on the Damascus road (Acts 9:3-6).  Because once he has accepted the spiritual reality of that encounter, I think he might easily have inferred from it the truth of all four pillars of what he calls his gospel.

Inference 1 – The Resurrection:  If Jesus, who was crucified and buried at Jerusalem, has appeared to him in the spirit near Damascus, Saul could with great confidence infer the truth of the resurrection – that God himself must have raised this Jesus from the dead.

Inference 2 – The Christ:  If this Jesus whom the God of Israel raised from the dead identifies himself with those whom Saul is persecuting – who proclaim him messiah – then it must be inferred that Jesus is in fact he whom Saul had been so furiously denying – the Christ, God’s anointed.

Inference 3 – The Cross:  If it is manifest from 1 & 2 that the mortal destruction of God’s anointed was accomplished on the cross in the process of punishing one who was judged worthy of death in accordance with the law, the need of a rationale for preaching ‘Christ crucified’ becomes apparent.  We should also expect to see a development of a theology of sacrifice which combines the idea of a divinely sponsored Law which had ‘made him to be sin’ with the idea of a divinely willed death of one ‘who was without sin.’  This gets complicated, but for Paul creates the possibility of reconciliation and peace between man and God.

Inference 4 – Grace, the free gift:  If God’s anointed was crucified under the Law, then the effect of its paradoxical result (reconciliation of God and man) must be intended by God to take the place of the Law.  The inference from this is the end of the Law with respect to justification, and a new dispensation of grace in which all who otherwise were destined to condemnation either under the law or outside the law now have justification by faith in the free gift of the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

I do not mean that Paul perceived all the details of his gospel in the twinkling of an eye.  I only argue that there is no reason to doubt that he apprehended it in its broad outlines immediately and independently of Ananias or Cephas or any other evangelist – in that moment of truth in which he recognized and accepted the identity of the one who came to him so suddenly on the way to Damascus.

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