3. Living Within God's Story: The Missio Christianus (cont.)
Movement 4. Becoming the Father
However, the conclusion that Christians become the godforsaken in order to become the image of the Father, does not state our case quite strongly enough. As the godforsaken, Christians already are the revelation of the Father. This is so because the humble, crucified, dead, and then resurrected Jesus is the fullest revelation not only of the Son, but also of the Father. Thus, Moltmann argues, the crucifixion requires a “revolution in the concept of God.” Jesus’ choice to die in a place of complete abandonment is performed, as Gorman says, as an act of “family resemblance” and this means that “Cruciformity is the character of God.”
The corollary of this is that we must engage in an equally radical revolution in the concept of the imago Dei. Just as God and the cross are “inextricably interrelated” so now the imago Dei and the cross must always go hand-in-hand. Because Jesus is the imago Dei, Christians, by becoming the imago Christi, thereby become the revelation of the gloria Dei. By becoming the Son, in all of his godforsakenness, Christians become the presence of the Father in the godless places of the world. For as long as creation is broken those who are a part of God’s new and true humanity will be revealed as those who embrace godforsakenness.
Therefore, the Christian process of discipleship must not stop at emulating the Son –- is if such emulation is possible in isolation from emulation of the Father. Henri Nouwen insists that the ultimate question is that of becoming the Father. The Father cannot remain “the Other” as we move into our Christian identity. “My final vocation,” Nouwen writes, “is indeed to become like the Father… what greater joy can there be for me than to stretch out my tired arms and let my hands rest in a blessing on the shoulders of my home-coming children?”
Becoming the Father means that Christian share in the Father’s mission of reigning by creating life and goodness. Participating in the mission of the Father as Creator -– whose original act of creation was already an act of new creation, and whose act of creating goodness added new goodness to a state that was already good –- means that Christians cannot settle for simply sustaining goodness as it exists right now. The act of sustaining the status quo belongs more to the movement of exile and not to the movement of overlap within which the new creation is already breaking in. Christians will always be actively bringing forth new life and moving ever deeper into the processing of giving birth to that which is good. Therefore, becoming the Father means participating in a movement of ongoing transformation. In bringing forth life and goodness, Christians fulfill the mandate of God’s vice-regents and reveal the way in which the Father rules. As John Goldingay says: “As the exercise of God’s authority is designed to free human beings to be themselves, so the exercise of human authority is designed to free nature to be itself.” This is why the reign of God’s vice-regents is also marked by the humility of the Father, Son, and Spirit. God’s delegates affirm life to such a degree that they are never willing to take life – even if that means they must lose their own lives. God’s vice-regents affirm goodness to such an extent that they are never willing to settle for “the least of the evils” –- even if that means that they must suffer the consequences of evil themselves. Once again we discover a reign that contradicts, and stands in subversive opposition to, all other powers. Over against all the powers that argue that they are “Sons of God,” that they are the image of God, and that they share in the authority of God, Christians argue that God’s Sons, God’s image, and God’s authority is revealed in the form of humility that embraces abandonment. In this way, Christians become the revelation of God-With-Us. Christians, by becoming the Father, become the presence of God with creation!
Finally, becoming the Father means participating in God’s rest, pleasure and celebration in and with creation. Becoming the Father means becoming God’s festive Sabbath-people. Indeed, as Moltmann notes, the movement of the Sabbath is the necessary corollary to the movement out of exile, and they cannot be separated from each other –- no movement out of exile really brings liberation unless it results in Sabbath, and there is no real Sabbath without freedom from exile. Just as the creation narrative of Gen 1/2 culminates in God’s day of rest, so the missio Christianus will culminate in a time of universal shalom, and this is precisely what is anticipated when the people of God rest, play, and feast together and with the world. Such rest is possible, even within the hells of godforsakenness, because Christians realize that God is not only in the process of saving the world, God already has saved the world. God is not simply bringing us out of exile, he has already defeated exile once and for all. Rest is not an act of surrender or resignation – rest is a proclamation of victory! Therefore, even as we root ourselves within the last strongholds of death we can live there as a peaceful and joyful people that “only has to wait” for God to return and make all things new. Indeed, even this playful resting is subversive to all other powers that either do not allow rest, or use games to further their domination. In opposition to these games Christians play with the freedom of beloved innocence, and in this way becomes possible to anticipate liberation in playing and, as Moltmann says, “with laughing rid ourselves of the bonds which alienate us.”
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer.
Walter Brueggemann, Old Testiment Theology: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy.
Michael Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross.
Jurgen Moltmann, God in Creation, The Way of Jesus Christ, Theology and Joy, and The Crucified God.
Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son.
Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire.