Posted by: Dan | July 24, 2006

Becoming the Father: Part XVII

4. Conclusion: Reflection, Motivation, and Consummation (cont.)

Motivation: Hope, Faith, Love, and Courage

There are four characteristic virtues that motivate the Church as she participates in the missio Dei –- hope, faith, love, and courage. Hope, already addressed in some detail in our discussion of the journey into godforsakenness, is fundamentally a characteristic a people who are shaped by God’s Story. Hope recalls God’s past actions, it remembers the Father’s creative activity, the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus that ended exile, and it remembers the out-pouring of the Spirit that causes the new age to burst into the present. Therefore, the Church hopes that such actions will also define the present experiences of Christians. Furthermore, this hope is strengthened because a hope that is rooted in God’s story also remembers God’s promises. Therefore, hope motivates the Church to move into the missio Dei; indeed, hope makes a movement into the missio Dei seem like the only natural thing to do as Christians.

Faith has also been discussed in some detail in this paper, although those who are accustomed to understanding faith as “believing” certain propositions may not notice this at first. Throughout this paper faith is understood as faithfulness to God’s covenant with us. Therefore, the Church is motivated to participate in God’s missional activity because this is what is required of God’s faith-full covenant partner. Faith here is understood as cruciform obedience, modeled on the cruciform obedience of Jesus. The Church is motivated to engage in God’s mission because God commands us to engage in this mission. The gospel is the revelation of God’s righteousness – of God’s covenant faithfulness. Therefore, the Church that proclaims and embodies the gospel is to be the revelation of God’s faithful covenant partner.

However, the largest motive in all of this is that of love. Underlying Christian hope and Christian covenant faithfulness is a movement into love. Indeed, it is love that underlies the entire missio Dei for it is love that leads the Father to create new life, it is love that leads the Son to embrace godforsakenness, it is love the leads the Father and the Son to send the Spirit into the world, and it is this Spirit of love that empowers the people of God to be a loving and a beloved people. God-With-Us is revealed as the Lover of all creation, and all creation is revealed as God’s Beloved. The story of God, and the story in which we live is, essentially, a love story. As Gorman says: “love is not primarily God’s being but God’s way of being; it is not primarily God’s essence but God’s story. It is as story of self-giving love.” This is the kind of love story that we would be inclined to call a fairy tale. We would be forced to say that such a love story is simply too good to be true… were it not for the cross of Jesus. The cross reveals that this love story is so good that it must be true! Therefore, the Christian mission is simply to participate in the movement of God’s love, and to show that this love is not too good to be true by moving into godforsakenness. As von Balthasar so eloquently says:

There are experiences of absence within this ever-present world of God’s grace, but they are forms and modes of love. Such were the experiences of the prophets of the Old Covenant, of the Son of God on the cross and in the darkness of his descent into hell; such are the experiences of all those who, in their several vocations, follow the Son. These are the redemptive paths of love as it traces the footsteps of sinners in order to catch up with them and bring them home.

Apart from love, the Christian mission is both impossible and nonsensical. Without love, one cannot remain in places of godforsakenness. Without love, moving into places of godforsakenness appears to be utterly foolish. Alas, I can only conclude that the marked absence of Christians in places of godforsakenness and the marked loss of the declaration of the end of exile are simply the symptoms of a Christianity that has been co-opted by the elevation of self-gratification over and above the call to love God and to love one’s neighbor.

Furthermore, it should be the passion of love, and not “apocalyptic” speculation, which gives the missio Christianus its urgency. Contemporary “apocalyptic” speculations urge the Church to engage in missions because the cataclysmic end of the space-end universe is imagined to be imminent. This is problematical for two reasons. First of all, these speculations entirely misunderstand the function of apocalyptic literature within Second Temple Judaism. Apocalyptic literature was not written to describe the end of the world; it was written to reveal the heavenly perspective on contemporary events, and it was a subversive mode of writing favored by oppressed groups. It is unfortunate that a form of literature that should only further the subversive nature of the embodied Christian mission has been misunderstood and co-opted by those who want to use it to enforce a strictly dualistic and apolitical approach to missions. Secondly, such speculations of exactly when Jesus will return are rather detrimental to the Christian mission. They are repeatedly proved wrong and, instead of motivating missional activity, they end up driving Christians away from missions altogether. Indeed, because of such speculations the word “missions” has almost become a dirty and embarrassing word to many Christians under thirty-five. Instead of speculating about when Jesus will return, the love that motivates the missio Christianus should be defined by a longing for Jesus’ imminent return. Because Christian love is suffering love, Christians long for the day when all suffering will cease. Our movement into the groaning places of the world does not lead to speculation about when Jesus will return. Instead, it inevitably leads to the prayer of the Beloved who is separated from the Lover: “Come quickly, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”

Finally, it must also be noted that it is love that provides Christians with the courage to journey into cruciformity and godforsakenness. As 1 Jn notes, “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” The author of 1 Jn is emphasizing the fact that Christians have come to realize that we do not have to fear God’s judgment, but the same point applies to the Christian approach to mission. Because we no longer fear God -– because God is for us –- we no longer fear any places of exile, or any other powers. Therefore, it is all the more significant that the most repeated command in the biblical narrative is this: “Do not be afraid.” Only those who are filled with the courage that love provides will be able to fully participate within the missio Dei. It is those who are not afraid of loneliness or brokenness that can journey into cruciformity and godforsakenness. Indeed, those who are filled with love’s courage are able to see through the virtues of “necessity,” “practicality,” and “responsibility” and realize that too often these virtues are simply justifications used by those who are too afraid and too apathetic to move fully into the missio Dei. Fear, and the “virtues” it inspires, are simply the result of loving one’s self and that which belongs to one’s self (be that possessions or one’s personal family) too much and loving God and one’s neighbor too little. Those who are filled with God’s love will be those who have the courage to be irrelevant, impractical, and irresponsible and, in that way, participate faithfully within God’s mission.
__________
Sources:
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology IV, and Prayer.
Jacques Ellul, Hope in Time of Abandonment.
Michael Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross.
N. T. Wright, Following Jesus, The New Testament and the People of God, and The Letter to the Romans.

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