Tag Archives: God

Which God?

In working out what I’ve called here a storied or narrative theology, one invitation I issue repeatedly is to discover the identity of God through the things that God does.

When we talk about God in the classical Christian tradition, it is easy to fly off to heaven, to think deep thoughts about the Trinity, or articulate a list of attributes. But attributes alone don’t actually tell us very much (it would be amusing to do an internet search of all the contradictory claims made under the banner, “God is love”).

I prefer more of a Forrest Gump approach: “God is as God does.”

It seems I need to correct myself already. Flying off to heaven isn’t a bad thing, all told.

Psalm 113 is a song of praise, issuing its calls to celebrate God before claiming that this God, YHWH, will be praised across the whole face of the earth and for all time. In summoning people to join the song, it is inviting us to participate in the future toward which the world is heading.

The God whom the world is to praise is the God who reigns on high, whose glory is above the heavens (Ps 113:4).

But what is she doing there, this God of Israel?

The claim that a god, and our god in particular, is in charge of the cosmos can be, has been, and often still is a dangerous claim. It is a seductive claim, one that can lead us to the exercise of coercive or manipulative power on earth with the idea that the great and powerful God stands behind us.

That’s why the attributes should never be separated from the story.

This God who sits enthroned on high is the God who looks down to “raise the poor from the dust, “to lift the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes” (Ps 113:7-8).

This God who sits enthroned on high is the God who “gives the barren woman a home” (Ps 113:9).

How do we know the work of God when we see it? How do we know what it looks like to become like God in our engagements with the world God has made? How do we measure whether or not our actions are rightly signaling to the world the identity of the God in whose name we are acting in the world?

The God who reigns on high is seen in the stooping low to exalt the humble.

The God who reigns on high is seen in bypassing the mechanisms of power that are already in place and exalting the helpless to newness of life and flourishing.

This is the God whom the disciples could not bring themselves to follow. This is the God to whom Jesus entrusted himself.

This God is the one who gives life to the dead and calls into being the things that do not exist.

So where power is exploited, we can question whether this is the hand of God. Where advantage is gained through manipulation, we can doubt whether the hand of God is in play.

Where the instinct of self-preservation propels us forward, we always need to stop and ask, “Is this where I am being asked to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus?”

The only reason to ask that question, the only reason to answer such a summons, is if there is a God who not only reigns on high but also raises the poor from the dust.

We can only follow a crucified messiah if there is a God who raises the dead.

Story of God, God of the Story

The Bible is the story of God at work in the world.

The Bible is the story of people responding to (or ignoring) God at work in the world.

The Bible is particular people wrestling with the particular ways God is at work at their moment in time, telling their part of the story, writing their part of the human response, as people who want to lead their communities into a certain way of response.

The Bible is dynamic in this sense. Not merely breathed by God, but written by prophets who were eagerly searching out the things about which they were writing.

The people had to respond.

God was at work.

God was warning.

God was at work.

God was to be celebrated.

God was at work.

God was to be obeyed.

There is a compulsion to the writing, a compulsion inspired by God. There is a compulsion to the writing drawing people forward: to the coming Christ and then to the Christ who will come again.

This is a story of a God who exalts the humble. This is the story of a God who determined that before a people could have a king who would rule the earth, it must first be a people who were landless, rootless. Slaves.

This is the story of a God who creates out of nothing–a world for life to flourish, the feeding of five thousand off of five meager loaves, the resurrection of the dead.

This is the story of a God who is wise beyond all earthly telling–a God whose wisdom is made manifest in the foolishness of a cross, a God whose great moment of weakness overthrows the power of the cosmos.

So when I say, this week, that I am not interested in clinging to an inerrant Bible, I am sacrificing that claim about the Bible on the altar of this story: that scripture has a role to play, a narrative to tell. It is the story of a God who is at work in a way that surprises us. It is the story of a God who wants us to discover the cross.

Again and again.

It surprises us even though we know what the ending of the story is.

It surprises us because we cannot help ourselves–we construct systems of control, systems of power, philosophies of wisdom.

And so the cross must reappear. It must wrest our systems from our hands. It must grant us fresh forgiveness.

This Bible that I love with all its foibles? It has a purpose: “To give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through the faithfulness which is in Christ Jesus.”

Yes, that’s the part in 2 Timothy that comes before the celebrated, “All scripture is God-breathed.”

God-breathed tells us, not about an abstract property of the words, but about a wind that blows in a certain direction. It tells us that there is profit, that there is instruction–if we will walk in the way of wisdom.

And the way of wisdom is the way of Christ.

And the way of Christ is the way of the cross.

This is the life-giving narrative of the Bible. This is the life-giving God of the Bible: the One who knows that our world is a place of death, the One who conquered it on Easter Sunday, the One who invites us to trust that if we, too, will lay down our life then we, too, will find it.

This Story-Bound God

I know, I know, I’ve fallen way behind on my Barth reading. But travel sometimes has its perks, so I’ve polished off the last 140 pages of 2.1 in the past week. It’s been glorious.

Well, glorious right up until next week when, not having 2.2 and not yet being home, I will once again find myself a week behind. *sigh*

The final, large swath of Barth’s Doctrine of God continues to uncover how the God we worship is the God who is made known within the particular story of Israel, and most pointedly in the story of Jesus Christ.

God is power, but power is not God. Thus, the true God is truly known when that God’s power is made known in a certain way, in a certain story:

He is certainly the Lord, and therefore the substance of all power, but He is not any kind of Lord. He is the Lord who in his speech and action makes Himself our Lord and declares Himself to be such: “I am the Lord and as such thy God.” When God reveals Himself, His omnipotent speech and action are not self-exhausting but point back beyond themselves to the One who speaks and acts.

Barth will not allow Christian confessions about God to be drawn into abstractions about our “highest value” or “the power behind all.”

God is the God who makes Himself known as “our God.”

Barth spills countless ounces of ink on God as one who is “omnipotent,” in a power that is tied to God’s will and knowledge, in order to say, in the end: this must be so if God is to be love.

God’s power must be a power of knowing, of knowing things into being, of willing, of willing the things that happen–and a free willing of those things–in order for God’s reconciliation of humanity to be an act of love (599).

The final section, on God’s eternity and glory, started out a bit creepy for my blood.

Talking about how God is eternally extant, with time a function of creation, and God’s past, present, and future being a true proceeding from, acting, and proceeding to, but not bound by time (rather binding time)–well, that all gets a bit heavenly for my earthly-grounded brain.

But things turned a corner for me when Barth didn’t flinch at the implications of incarnation:

In Jesus Christ it comes about that God takes time to Himself, that He Himself, the eternal One, becomes temporal, that He is present for us in the form of our own existence and our own world, not simply embracing our time and ruling it, but submitting Himself to it and permitting created time to become and be the form of His eternity…. His name [i.e., Jesus Christ's] is the refutation of the idea of a God who is only timeless. (§31.3, p. 616)

Yes! That!

In talking about time, and locating Jesus Christ at the center of it, Barth is able to incorporate NT eschatology as an already and not yet reality: the overlap of the present with the future that ensures the reality of both.

Finally, Barth turns to discuss God’s glory. God is glorious, and God also makes this glory known and fulfills it in the creation-story by people freely responding to this glory with our own glorification of God.

One of the most insightful moments of this chapter comes at the end, as Barth reflects on the Son’s incarnation and humiliation. These make possible the human glorification of God which reflects God’s own glory.

The whole point of creation is that God should have a reflection in which He reflects Himself and in which the image of God as the Creator is revealed, so that through it God is attested and proclaimed. For this reflection is the centre and epitome of creation concretely represented in the existence of man. … It was in order that there should be this reflection that the Son of God became flesh.

Bring on the Adam Christology!

Barth here has laid out some of the most nuanced argumentation about the conjunction of divine, determining foreknowledge, and human freedom. This is setting us up for a lengthy engagement, head-on, with the doctrine of election.

What will that look like in the context of a God who not only loves in freedom but calls on the creature to freely love? We’ll start finding out in a couple of weeks.

Knowledge and Power

“How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

“Why are you wasting your time speculating on a useless question?”–John Calvin

O.k., so that was more paraphrase than direct quotation. But it’s close enough. For all that Calvinism is accused of undue speculation into the secret things of God, the best of Calvin’s own writing was marked by an unwillingness to engage in useless speculations into things sub-divine.

“If God can do anything, can God make a mountain so big that God can’t move it?”

“You wouldn’t ask that question if you realized that you’re talking about the power of God rather than power (full stop).”–Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics §31.2

Ok, I’m paraphrasing again. But in his talk about God, Barth consistently returns to this: we are talking about the God who has revealed himself in Christ, and it is this God who exercises power, this God who knows, that himself determines the definitions of knowledge and of power.

There is no abstract “all-powerfulness” by which God is measured.

We confess the God who has revealed himself as all-powerful, and thus the definition of “omnipotent” is what God can and will do.

God’s power is the real power that God exercises over all things. This includes the bestowal of freedom on people to act in accordance with God’s power and knowledge and love or in attempted rejection of them.

In so connecting God’s power and knowledge with the actuality of God’s acting, Barth is able to hold together certain foreknowledge and predestination with human freedom; he is able to affirm God’s power without entailing God in willing evil.

In other words, Barth operates firmly within the Reformed tradition without so clinging to God’s “absolute” sovereignty as to make God (as God so often appears in more popular and less well-nuanced versions) one who wills evil or fatalistically determines human destinies.

“If a person sins, this is not because God knew, as He certainly did from eternity, that the person would sin. For the object of the divine foreknowledge was not a fatum or fortuna, but the person who sinned of the person’s own will.”

There are times when I read this doctrine of God material and worry that we are still in the land of speculation. However, Barth continues to resonate with me because he is relentlessly building his theology from below: the God who has revealed Godself, and the humanity that knows itself in light of God’s self-revelation, are the determining factors about who God is and how God is at work in the world.

For Barth, the story is the thing. The reality we experience as free agents is part of that story, as is God’s declaration that God is powerful over all things, as is the actual world over which God has (and, seemingly at times, hasn’t fully) displayed God’s power.

These realities, rather than our ideals, are the means by which God is known, even in the midst of an imperfect world.

The God who Moves and Responds and Acts

One of the most significant ramifications of working out one’s theology from the starting point of Jesus Christ is that the actual involvement of God in the world curtails pious-sounding abstractions that, if true, would make God so distant and other as to be of no earthly good.

Because, let’s face it friends, on the day that we learn of the death of the great MCA of the Beastie Boys, we need to know that our God is not a pious abstraction, but a God who can and will and does act. (Can I get an amen?)

God’s constancy is not a constancy of one who is unmoved or unmoving. God’s life is “difference, movement, will, decision, action, degeneration, and rejuvenation” (Barth, Church Dogmatics §31.2).

With this litany of divine attributes, signaling what, exactly, God’s constancy looks like, Barth launches into one of the best discussions of divine identity and attributes I’ve ever read.

Barth's God Immutably Loves Mozart

In the world of theological abstraction, God’s “immutability” becomes “immobility.” But in the theology developed from the self-revelation of God in Christ, “immutability” becomes, instead, God’s constancy of action, as God chooses to act, in accordance with God’s desire to be in relationship with the world God created.

God is life.

We have also to understand it as a proof and a manifestation of God’s constant vitality that God has a real history in and with the world created by Him. This is the history of the reconciliation and revelation accomplished by Him, by which He leads the world to a future redemption.

God has tied himself to a history, bound himself to a story.

We know all this because as Christians we don’t start with abstractions about the identity of God and attempt to figure out how such abstractions make sense within our story. We begin with God’s actual revelation in Jesus and Christ and learn from there who this God is who is at work.

Two highlights from later in the chapter include small print sections on prayer and on the Philippians Christ-hymn.

An immutable God might lead one to believe that prayer can have no effect on the divine. “It’s all about changing us, not getting God to act.”

Wrong.

…the prayers of those who can and will believe are heard; …God is and wills to be known as the One who will and does listen to the prayers of faith… So real is the communication that where it occurs God positively wills that man should call upon Him in this way, in order that He may be his God and Helper.

The living and genuinely immutable God is not an irresistible fate before which man can only keep silence, passively awaiting and accepting the benefits or blows which it ordains. There is no such thing as a Christian resignation in which we either have to submit to a fate of this kind or to come to terms with it.

God acts. God acts in love. This is what we learn of the immutability of God as God is revealed in Jesus Christ. The God of love acts on behalf of God’s people. More specifically:

It is because God was in this way one with the creature in Jesus Christ, that there was and is fellowship between God and the creature.

No, the God of all did not need to bind Himself to humanity. But he did. In God’s freedom, God has bound himself to all humanity in Jesus Christ.

So when God is immutable and constant, that changelessness will be for us an our salvation, for the maintenance of the relationship God has created anew.

The surprise in this is that it is in self-giving, self-humbling love that “Christ is Christ and God is God.”

The upshot for us, of course, is that only in such self-giving, self-humbling love and “In it alone can Christians be Christians” (p. 518).

God is Love?

“God is love.”

This is one of the most important things Christians say about God. And, it is one of the most abused.

The problem with saying “God is love” is twofold. First, we assume that we know what love means already, so the phrase becomes a bit of a mirror rather than an insight into the divine. Secondly, we make the mistake of thinking that because we can say “God is love,” we can flip the subject and the predicate and faithfully say, “Love is God.”

But Barth gets it right on both counts.

As his discussion of the identity of God unfolds in CD 28.2, the “Being of God as the one who Loves” is continually drawn back to the love of God as it is made known in the Father’s giving of the Son for us.

This is the best of Trinitarian theology: cultivating an understanding of what it means to say “God is” that is relentlessly tied to how God is made known in the story. It is a theology from below, a theology that trusts that the way God has revealed Godself in the stories of Israel and Christ is not mere condescension and analogy, but truthfully revelatory of who this God is.

I confess: the sorts of claims Barth makes in this chapter, while I agree, take increasing amounts of faith the more I compare and contrast other people’s ways of talking about God. The idea that we are not projecting into heaven but receiving what heaven has brought down to us requires an assent to this story, and its claims to be the playground of God.

Throughout the section, Barth reminds us not to think that our abstractions are the ideals to which God conforms: not “personhood,” not “the absolute,” not “the infinite,” not “the power,” and not even love–until love is shaped by the story of the self-giving Son, given of the Father.

This is the triune God–the one who is known as the one who gives in love.

Imaging the Biblical God

Rachel Held Evans has drawn attention to John Piper’s recent declarations that Christianity has a masculine feel, and that this is, of course, great news for everyone–even women, whose feminine feel isn’t, apparently, part of what God intended for Christianity.

Piper’s point is that God intentionally depicted Himself in masculine imagery, and that this sets the character for what Christianity is: God is Father and Son, God is King not queen.

In this post I want to outline some ways that scripture leads us to see that Piper’s view is selective to the point of being misleading. Tomorrow I want to tackle a much more serious issue: the way that Piper reads the Gospels as underpinning his theology demonstrates a fundamental failure to understand the stories themselves.

The very first indication we get in scripture of how the nature of God maps onto human gender is Genesis 1. When God creates humanity in God’s own image, we read, “Male and female he created them.”

This is significant for two reasons. First, in what is the clearest connection of God to human gender, perhaps the only clear and intentional such connection in all of scripture, it is both male and female, together, who mirror God to the world.

This means that a “masculine” church or a church with a “masculine feel” is inherently lacking in its ability to reflect the image of God to the world.

But Genesis 1 isn’t simply about “being like” God in some general way.

To bear the image of God is to be the person to whom God has entrusted the rule of the world on God’s behalf. The purpose of humanity, “Let them rule the world on our behalf,” is inseparable from the categorization of these creatures as those made “in the image of God.”

In other words: it is not merely as humans that we reflect God together as male and female, but as those who rule over the world as male and female we bear the image of God. The kind of rule God has in mind is not a “masculine” rule, but a masculine plus feminine, male plus female, rule. Only this kind of shared participation in representing God’s reign to the world is capable of doing justice to the God whose image we bear.

Another dynamic of God, as God is reflected in the story of ancient Israel, is worth considering. As a religion without official goddesses, it falls to the one God to do the typically “feminine” duty of ensuring fertility.

In the ancient world, where being a woman was specially tied to bearing, nurturing, and rearing children, feminine images of God (and, of course, goddesses) were often tied to either literal or figurative bearing and nurturing of a people and/or of children.

This may lend some credibility to the idea that when the OT speaks of God as El-Shaddai. Although this is sometimes translated “God almighty,” other options have been suggested, including “God of the mountain.” But it’s worth noting that El-Shaddai is a term that appears in tandem with the covenant blessing of seed, offspring.

In Gen 17:1, God self-identifies as El-Shaddai and then institutes the covenant of circumcision which is tied to the covenant promise of offspring. Why does Genesis 35:11 say, “I am El-Shaddai, be fruitful and multiply” (cf. Gen 28:3)? Why this title for the God of fruitfulness and multiplication?

It has been argued that El-Shaddai is less a reference to God as all-powerful and more a reference to God as the one who grants fertility.

Genesis 49:25 reads:

by God, your father, who supports you,
by the Almighty (shaddai) who blesses you
with blessings from the skies above
and blessings
from the deep sea below,
blessings from breasts (shadayim) and womb.

It has been argued that Shaddai is related to the Hebrew word for breasts. Although alternative translation of “shaddai” has been “God of the mountains”–as someone who lives in a city with “twin peaks,” it seems to me that the options of “God of the mountains” and “God of the breasts” are not mutually exclusive.

In Gen 49:25 we may very well have an intentional juxtaposition of God as Father and God as nursing mother. The God of Israel is the God of womb and breast as much as this is the God of war and rain.

El Shaddai is the God who makes God’s people fruitful and multiples them. This is the God of fertility.

Good on the bra, but more "mountains" needed...

And so, when we see the Son appear in all His glory in Revelation, we are, perhaps, not entirely surprised to find this:

“His breasts are girt up with a golden girdle” (Revelation 1:13)

Ok, we are surprised to find it. So surprised, in fact, that the translations won’t have it! But mastoi are breasts. (Thanks are due to Jesse Rainbow for his article on the Son of Man’s breasts in JSNT 30 [2007] 249-53.) The great warrior king of Revelation? It’s the Son of Man, prepared to be nursing mother.

So when Paul says that he and his fellow apostles were present among the Thessalonians like a nurse or mother, perhaps we should understand that there is something distinctly “feminine” about leading the church of God. And, that this femininity is part of what it means to bear the image of God and manifest the presence of Christ.

Who is the Father of our Bible? Who is the Son? It is not only the king and conqueror, but the nurturer and nourisher, the one who cares for and holds close. Not only (I should say, stereotypically) “masculine” but also the (stereotypically) feminine.

It is the God who is only rightly and fully imaged as male and female. Together.

Knowing One Particular God

Is there some idea of “knowing” that simply have to fill with the right, God-given content, in order to understand how we know God?

Is there some idea of “being” or essence that we simply have to fill with the right, God-given content, in order to understand the God who is?

Do we begin with knowledge and being to know the God who truly is?

When we think about who God is as Lord, Creator, Redeemer, and Reconciler, do we reason upward from our general ideas to a God who is Lord, Creator, Redeemer, and Reconciler because he is such notions of ours writ large?

No, Barth will argue throughout the first part of his discussion of “The Readiness of God” (Church Dogmatics §26.1). We do not have general categories which God fills in a bigger way, and thereby conforms to humanity’s innate ideas. We know the true God as this God is revealed in Scripture. God is known as all these things: Lord, Creator, Redeemer, and Reconciler altogether–so that knowledge of the true God depends on what I would call here the story to which God has bound Godself as primary actor, not simply human notions of what someone called god should do.

In fact, Barth wants to push it back farther than this and to say that it’s not merely our ideas of Lordship, Creation, and the like that are derivative from God’s revelation of who God truly is.

The very idea, and long-standing philosophical problem, of God’s very knowability, is dependent on a prior action of God as well. We can know God because God is actually known and has actually chosen to make himself known. We can know the truth of who God is because God “is” before we are, and this truth of himself is known: Father to Son and Son to Father by the Spirit.

Knowledge of God is, then, an act of grace in which God makes Himself known. This means that it is not an act of nature, in which people might simply reason their way to true knowledge of the true God.

That last piece, an argument against natural theology, takes up a great deal of Barth’s energies as the chapter moves on.

I confess to finding myself torn here. As someone who deals with the deeply contextualized, historically situated texts of the Bible, I stumble over the idea that our images and metaphors for God are revealed rather than varied human expressions of various people in various times and cultures. Note well! I do believe that God reveals and speaks through the images–but that this revelation is known and understood and used because it carries certain preexisting connotative freight for the first hearers.

But on the other hand, I appreciate Barth’s insistence that we not affirm some “god” in general in vain hopes that someone serving such a being will one day attain to faith in the Christian God in particular. This skepticism of natural theology, not only in its validity but also in its purported pastoral value, is well grounded.

Those were my impressions of these 30ish pages. You?

Hope, Resurrection, Posture

On Sunday, I posted some thoughts about hope–Christian hope as resurrection hope, followed yesterday by some reflections on the significance of Jesus’ full humanity.

Taking hold of the far-reaching implications of Jesus’ restoration project is something I continually harp on because it can play an important role in transforming the posture with which we hold the gospel.

My experience within evangelical Christian circles has often been one in which followers of Jesus envision themselves as the small, minority truth-holders, struggling to cling to what it right, and ever cautious and even fearful about fully engaging in other “worlds” that might be tainted by godlessness, or liberalism, or the like (since those to are “alike,” right?! *ahem*).

Image: markuso / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last night I had the opportunity to participate on a panel that was responding to questions posed by a group of college students. We fielded questions such as, “What are Christians supposed to do about evolution, especially science majors?” “What should Christians think about environmentalism?” “What about people who never hear the message of Jesus?”

The questions are important ones in many respects. But the overall sense I got from the questions was that Christian faith is a small fortress to be guarded carefully. And I wondered if we didn’t need to start reimagining a capacious vision of the reign of God as our gospel.

I think the problem of a small, carefully guarded fortress starts early. In youth group we learn that the gospel means: (1) Jesus died for your sins; (2) you shouldn’t sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend; and (3) drinking is bad.

There’s not much good news in that, except in the hope that if you can control your hormones you get to be with Jesus drinking grape juice one day.

But what if we begin, instead, with, “God was, in Christ Jesus, reconciling all things to himself”?

Then the world of nature and science does not stand as a looming threat to our faith, but as a witness to the breadth of the saving care of God.

Then the preservation of the environment becomes not merely a fleeting liberal hobby-horse, but a crucial pillar in the eternal plan of God. You think you care about the environment? Well, you’ve got nothing on the creator.

Maybe even questions about sex and sexuality can be received, gratefully, as gifts, rather than fearful lands to be trod, if at all, with extreme caution.

Paul talks about the reception of the Spirit as a transforming moment that moves us from slavish fear to the freedom of the glory of the children of God. It moves us into the realm where we know ourselves to be members of God’s family and instruments in the turning of the ages.

Posture, it seems to me, is as important as details. If we cannot posture ourselves with arms wide open to the cosmos that God has reconciled to himself, then we are not so positioned as to come to faithful answers to the questions that plague us. And we might not even be in the position to be plagued by the right questions.

Atonement: I’ve Got a Problem–But So Do You

As I mentioned a couple days ago, I had a chance to listen to the Roger Olson interview on Homebrewed Christianity’s podcast. He articulated something that I’ve heard from quite a number of theologians. It’s a beautiful answer to the problem of God giving God’s Son to die for us, an answer to accusations that the cross is tantamount to divine child abuse.

It goes something like this: the idea that God is abusing his Son misses the point that Jesus is God. This is not God sacrificing some human, but God giving Godself for humanity.

This is a challenge to me on two fronts.

First, as a biblical scholar, this is not the language that the NT uses to describe the relationship between Jesus and God as it comes to describe the cross.

Even the high Christology of John puts it like this: “God so loved the world, that He gave his one and only son.” Indeed, John’s Jesus says that the Father loves him because he does the Father’s will–going to the cross to die for his friends.

Mark is more stark, with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying for deliverance from the cross.

In the “high Christology” passage of Philippians 2 says that Jesus’ exaltation comes because he was obedient to the point of death on the cross. This is the same act of which Paul speaks in Rom 5–the one act of obedience through which the many are made righteous.

Jesus is pleasing to the Father, to God, precisely because as Son he obeys the command of the Other, the Father, to die.

When, for example, feminist critics of atonement complain about the atonement as divine child abuse, they are basing their hermeneutical dissatisfaction on a more accurate exegesis of the New Testament than the theologians who defend the cross by saying that God gave Godself.

It is, in fact, God the Father “who did not spare his own son but delivered him up for us all.” Those are strong and troubling words, and I’m not sure that we can hear them on the basis of the Trinitarian objection. This is not self-giving love in that Trinitarian sense, but the sacrificial love that gives the most dearly loved other for the sake of salvation.

The second reason I am hesitant to jump on board with the Trinitarian answer to the problem of atonement is this: the suffering of Jesus the son is the story of the other sons and daughters of God as well.

It’s all well and good to say that God gave Godself, not another, to suffer on behalf of the world.

But what, then, are we to do with Romans 8? There, the way that we know we are children heading toward eternal inheritance is that we are suffering with the Suffering Child.

The Trinitarian formulation makes this worse, to my mind. God chooses to suffer of God’s own accord. As incarnate God, Jesus executes this divine decision. And then, God calls those who are not God to suffer if they want to be like the God who chose suffering freely. The Messiah suffers of his own decision, but those who would follow him are bound to follow the order that Jesus had from within (not from without): to take up their crosses.

Or, again, if it’s out of character for God to give up another, to not spare this human Messiah, what then are we to make of the God “who did not spare the natural branches” for the sake of the gentiles?

To remove the scandal of the Messiah’s death by pushing the Messiah back into the divine person only takes the problem of the suffering people of God and edges it back one notch. Left behind is still the entire NT ethic that insists that the identity of us–those who are not members of the Eternal Ontological Trinity–is also cross shaped.

If the only answer to the divine child abuse accusation is to appeal to the Trinity, doesn’t that make God a divine child abuser for having us, his earthly children, suffer with Christ if, indeed, we are to be glorified with him?

So yes, my late high Christology causes me a problem. I can’t simply say that when the NT says “the Father gave the son” that this really means “God gave Godself.” But the Trinitarian answer has its problem as well.