An Account of the Divine Logos

A pretentious title, I know. And a long post to try to do it justice. Fair warning.

For a while now, every time I read someone on the doctrine of the trinity, even Barth, I am bothered. And what bothers me is that we take for granted a very radical statement: the God of the New Testament is the God of the Old Testament. And we take it for granted against its corollary: the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament.

What I'm missing, so often, is the implications of the simple fact that Torah and the prophetic writings were normative scripture for the authors and communities of the New Testament writings. That these people were Judean, and that their trust in God lived in and through Judean stories. And so, before God is incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This same God is authentically and faithfully God to an elect people through an entire history from Abraham, before we goyim steal the spotlight. And this same God, and no other, chooses to become incarnate as the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth, in full faithfulness to the people Israel and the entire history from Abraham. Whether or not the people choose to be faithful!

And here's where I tend to lose my Reformed audience: this vast incarnational expansion of God's history of faithfulness in Jesus is perfectly coherent with the original act in which God chose one man, Abraham, to be the people in whom the whole creation would be redeemed.

(I might also lose my Lutheran audience, but we generally have fewer theological discussions that rely on a direct connection between Adam and Christ. We're also more amenable to universalism. Lowers the risk.)

God does not choose against creation at any point. The logos theou is the consistent rationale of God's acts, from the beginning of history in the act of creation, to the end of every history within its span. That rationale is expressed in saving, redemptive choice for creation, redeeming it from a hell of its own device. And so to speak of the logos asarkos without speaking plainly of the God who faithfully acts in this way is to miss the point. In the process, we split off a skeletal rationale from the God whose eternally consistent reason it is. And then we say that God's true rationale belongs to its incarnate flesh! We read Christ into Genesis because of John -- because we misread John, and we have no idea what the logos, which John redefines in terms of Jesus, is.

Persons of the Trinity

"What was the second person of the Trinity doing before the conception of Jesus?" This is a deeply flawed question that needs to be unasked -- and even while fighting its flaws, Barth failed to unask it. We make of the logos theou an eternal presence with God, who can only be said to be either cooperating with every other act of God in history until the incarnation, or sitting around idly waiting to be born. A difference that makes no difference. But we enforce a difference, because we mistake poetics for ontology. Perhaps we can inquire of the self-subsistent being of God's Wisdom from Proverbs to ask about her brother, Reason.

And yet Arius gives us pause every time we come anywhere near the suggestion that the Son was not, until the Father sired Him in time. And so, at our best, we make the Father sire the Son eternally prior to time -- because eternity is a container perfectly adjacent to time, but outside and a bit longer in the front. In the process, we fail to discard the true error Arius made, which was the monarchy of the Father. Which I suppose is fair -- it matches our other subordinationist error: assuming that the earth-creature in Genesis 2 was male before God divided it into two sides. So God is Father, and the processions and missions describe the ways the Father becomes secondarily Son and Spirit, just as humanity is male, and becomes secondarily female. Would that we could remedy this error in the creation story! Wait, you say Genesis 1 says "male and female He created them"? What a coincidence, we fixed the other problem the same way: make the plurality original.

But importing the trinitarian persons into a pre-temporal eternity, even into the instant of creation, doesn't solve the problem. And importing a Son of God into texts that never knew him belies the genuine surprise of God's new act in Christ. But the monarchy of the Father is ensconced in our creeds, because they disagree with the heretical answer and not its question. The question presumes that the Father is God before the Son and Spirit, and our entire history goes about trying to answer it and still do justice to the being of God. The best we ever do is to make the other two persons equal to the Father after the fact. But they are always therefore at some remove from the Godhead of the Father, however we try to reduce the gap to zero. Even making the plurality original does not properly counter the monarchic heresy.

Negative Analogies

There's a basic problem at work here: analogy. We place God in eternity as an analogy to space and time. But eternity is not timelike, any more than the Creator is creaturely. Eternity and time have no necessary connection at all, just as God has no necessary connection to the creation. And yet God acts in time and space and creation. God's becoming is in direct and voluntary relation to creaturely becoming. Even in response to it! The entirety of salvation history can be described as "unnecessary, but chosen." And we didn't choose it!

But that relationship of divine choice has no ontological implications for either side. The creation, in its space and time and being, can make no claims on its creator -- as though God could be excluded from creation by not being of it. As though creation had to be a certain kind of thing, for God to be in it. As though we had become a new kind of thing, now that God has been a creature. (So much for the extra Calvinisticum!)

So we can't truly oppose the being of God and the being of creation -- and we also can't say that eternity is atemporal. It's the same mistake. Eternity is not time, and it is not not time. But we keep making positive analogies and then negating them, and we think we're getting somewhere. In fact, we like the process so much that we take the negations and make positive claims out of them! Eternity, infinity, immutability, impassivity, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, omnibenevolence -- none of these things are real. For that matter, none of these words are things! They describe a category of other things we might call "God" -- basically, not subject to our limitations, not subject to our failures, and not evil. But that's not a genus derived from the traits of its species -- it's a genus derived from the traits of everything that doesn't belong. Once we have accepted this negative point, we have to leave it behind in search for true descriptions of God.

Giving a Positive Account

How, then, do we describe God? What is God like?

God is as God has revealed Godself to be. Not less, and only consistently more -- though we will inevitably be surprised by what is consistent with the divine rationale. And we pray to be surprised, because who hopes for what we see? We pray for God's apocalyptic self-revelation -- God's salvific activity in, but never of, this morass of failure. We pray for a new action of this same God, for us here and now.

God is as God has revealed Godself to be -- and we have a long inscripturated history of witnesses to that self-revelation, and of theology about it. And most often the witness appears as theology, because we can't tell God's self-revelation without trying to understand it first. Even the speech of the prophets is embedded in theology, because both revelation and witness are inevitably embedded in created situations.

So let me propose an account of God's logos from that history, in trinitarian terms that speak of the God who is One. The active mode of God's presence has always been Spirit -- the ruach from which comes nish'mat chayyim, the breath of life that makes of the earth-creature a nefesh chayyah: a living, breathing thing. If we acknowledge the Spirit of God active in the impregnation of Mary (well before the acknowledged procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father with some reference to the Son), how shall we refuse the Spirit of God active in creation? God has always been Spirit. And yet God has not always been a father -- certainly, God was not the father of Adam and Eve, but their creator. No creature is naturally a child of God.

And yet God became a father -- by adoption. God became a father first in the adoption of a people. In the covenants by which God shaped a chosen people and promised them an inheritance, God became the father of Israel. It should not surprise us that this is a human metaphor, and that God is Spirit -- or have you forgotten just how deeply aniconic Israel is? And yet it is a deep and compelling metaphor for the children of Abraham, who attained a land promised them through Moses. The promise and God's faithfulness are the backbone of the Judean people. God is their God, and they are God's people, of all the peoples of the world. Election is adoption, and it is also creation. And so this people belongs to God, not because they were better than any other people, but simply because God chose to create them in Abraham.

The messianic traditions are deeply indebted to this fictive kinship, to the promise as inheritance. The messiah is the son of God, the means by which the people obtain the promised inheritance. Observe Joshua! The messiah embodies the God-given right of the people to the inheritance, the lawful means by which God delivers the inheritance. The establishment of this people as a people in their own right before God, subordinate to no other, residing within a land of God's provision. Small wonder that the pinnacle of the entire Hellenistic period is the Hasmonean dynasty, with its messianic deliverance of the people from oppression and pagan rule. Small wonder that this Nazarene named Joshua is set up in the mold of Judas Maccabeus, that a man named Judas betrays him when he fails, and that the people prefer the insurgent Joshua bar Abbas -- who looks more like a "deliverer" and a "son of the father" -- to the itinerant rabbi and healer from Nazareth. The messiah, after all is the savior of the people -- not a man who simply goes around saving people.

And yet God became the messianic Son of the Father, and the deliverer -- not according to creaturely expectation, but embodying the divine logic of salvation and deliverance. This Jesus is the true messianic deliverer -- the one who belongs thoroughly to the people, to creation, and yet is thoroughly the Creator God who alone delivers that people. The God who is eternally Spirit and always active in creation became both Father and Son in deep creaturely reality. The logos by which all things came into existence is the same logos that sustains them in existence, and that same divine rationale became embodied in the living, breathing Jesus of Nazareth, son of God by Mary.

Until then, the messiah had been a fictive relationship of kinship, the epitome of the covenant adoption. But now that legal fiction becomes created reality. Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, is a true son of the adopted covenant people; Jesus of Nazareth, son of God, is the true Son of the Father. He is, in his person, the full and rightful heir of both sides of the relationship begun between Abraham and God. He is the epitome of the people created by God for the redemption of the whole creation, and fully one of them. And he is the epitome of God's redemptive will for the whole creation, the full embodiment of that will. God in Christ conserves that history, represents the same will that has been in constant action from the foundation of the world, and engages with creaturely reality in an expansively new way.

And in becoming the true Father of the Son, God remains the father of the people created by adoption so long ago. God in the Father also conserves that history, represents the same will that has been in constant action from the foundation of the world, and engages with creaturely reality in an expansively new way. God fulfills, in time, the meaning of that original adoption in Abraham. What's more, God expands that adoption out to its intended scope, the redemption of the whole creation and its restoration to its Creator. The covenant of adoption has been fulfilled by the Father and the Son, even as it is transcended in the Father's resurrection of the Son.

And the Spirit of this God whom we have come to know as Father and Son continues to be the guarantor of adoption in ever widening circles. As we are delivered from every other service on earth into the obedience of Christ, we become joint heirs with him, inheritors together with every people that has been joined to God's planting in Abraham. But not heirs of a land and a kingdom and an autonomy within and against fellow creation! The true, if counterintuitive, messiah delivers a true, if counterintuitive, inheritance of free and obedient life in the presence of our God. An inheritance that redeems us from being any other people on this earth but God's, and empowers us to be the children of this God in justice and mercy toward every fellow creature of God's creation.

And truly, it was the Spirit who first created this world, and the same Spirit who became the Father of father Abraham, to whom we have been joined in the person of their Son. If we wish a monarchy of any given person, perhaps we should prefer the monarchy of the Spirit -- but that can only serve as a counter-movement of the heretical pendulum, not as its resting point in truth. An account of the divine logos that simply swapped its location would not serve the point. For there is no logos beside God, except that logos by which God is logikos. There is no sophia beside God except that sophia by which God is sophos. We have absorbed the Hellenistic logos concept, but we are not pagan philosophers. We must remember ourselves, and remember God, and realize that to speak of the divine logos is to speak of the rationale by which God is rational, the reason that grounds God's actions. Which is to speak of God by way of metonymy.

Speaking of God in Trinity

What of the trinitarian persons? What sort of heretic have I become instead? I cannot affirm that God has always been Father, Son and Spirit. The canon of scripture and my conscience will not permit me to. I do not, however, affirm any sort of unreality about these personal existences of God. God has been them, and is them, and will never be unfaithful to them because they embody the same logos by which we know who this God is. God certainly is Father, Son and Spirit. We must as Christians understand God through the triplex reality of Father, Son and Spirit, because this is how God has acted in the redemption that defines us as a people before this God. This is how we meet God, the same God whom Abraham met as Spirit, who brooded over the watery chaos and aims to be not merely the creator, but the father by adoption of all creation.

And indeed, this God is eternally Father, Son and Spirit, but that adverb has neither a temporal nor an atemporal referent. This is by no means an equivalent statement to "God has always been Father, Son and Spirit." "Eternity" is the negation of the concept of time, including its opposite. There is no identity between "always" and "eternity," only difference -- just as the sum total of all things is not infinite, but only massively finite. And yet you can fit infinity between zero and one, and eternity into the span of a heartbeat. For God is always available in, with and under the created means, as we Lutherans are fond of saying.

Eternity speaks, if we understand it rightly, of the illimitable fidelity of God, of God's persistent consistency of act -- even as this same God acts in history in ever new ways. This God is also eternally the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for all of them are alive to God. There is no contradiction, only continuity, between the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the God of Peter, James, John and Paul. There is no continuity between Abraham and God, only a relationship of divine choice and fidelity. And certainly there are innumerable contradictions of God by created human beings. But there is no contradiction between Abraham and Jesus, and no contradiction between Father and Son -- for Jesus Christ is the true unity of the divine and human continuities.

And so God is certainly not more Father than Son or Spirit, though we might have some ground to say that God has more often been Spirit. To read the Gospels and Paul rightly, we must say that God is Father, that God is Son, that God is Spirit, that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are God, and that God is all three engaged in act together in that history with no contradiction, only distinction. We know this one God in these acts of being. We cannot therefore be modalists! God is not sometimes one or the other of the three persons -- a sort of Clark Kent/Superman problem that in the comics is resolved by some trick, whether a stand-in or a duplication. The persons are not mutually exclusive, as though God were finite or bound by finite limitations. The fullness of God is all three, and each, at the same time in our story.

Nor can we be tritheists, as there is no division -- God does not become three in nature, as though the divine logos were copied or split, any more than it was parceled out to one of the three. God is not finite, as though one in substance and being. God is not finite, as though capable of multiplying or dividing. And most importantly, God is not finite, as though change should imply negation of the past for the future, or presence should imply absence. We do not say that God is eternal as though God were always -- because God is other and greater than "always." We do not say that God is infinite as though God were everywhere -- because God is other and greater than everywhere. And at this point, we really have strayed into speculative metaphysics and started breaking their toys.

But as we do say, and rightly, that God is these three, Father, Son and Spirit, we cannot permit ourselves to a monarchy of any of the persons. We cannot permit the persons to be asserted as a reality over against the God who is them, the God whom they are. We cannot permit these three persons to be written over every other self-revelation of God, as though God had made history obsolete in Christ. We cannot fail to read God as witnessed, in favor of reading God as doctrinally understood. Christianity has no legitimate exclusivity -- any such claim involves the unfaith of God, and so is false. It is only a supplicant seeking understanding of its trust. We have inherited this God late, and others will inherit this God still later, but time makes no difference to God's faithfulness. We have made mistakes, and will make many more, but our mistakes make no difference to the faithfulness of God.

And so we are right to insist on seeing this God in our stories as all three, and each, though never exclusively as any one person. But we are not right to assert this as a universal and permanent metaphysics of the being of God for all time and beyond it. Our triplex lens belongs to the history after the incarnation, as a view of the expansive scope of God's action and faithfulness to all of history and creation. And it is eternally true in the fidelity of God's consistent logos acting in history. But this truth of God's becoming in time is not a limitation on God's future becoming, nor is it a clarification of God's prior being. We must let God be God as God has been, and as God will be, and as God is. Let it be enough that God is eternal and faithful and constantly acting to save and redeem. This is the God in whom we believe, who has been and become these things and acted in these ways, and who promises and fulfills even to the end of time.

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