Posted by: Dan | October 5, 2008

The Parousia Problematised by Divine Cruciformity

The deeper we root Jesus’ actions, and his embrace of powerlessness and suffering, at the heart of God’s character, the harder it becomes to posit a Jesus who returns triumphantly to judge the world and make all things new.

That is to say, if Jesus reveals to us a cruciform God, and if Jesus’ act on the cross are an act of “family resemblance” to a God defined by suffering, humble love (as Michael Gorman argues), then returning to impose the kingdom of God upon the world (rather than inviting others to participate in the kingdom, like Jesus did the first time around) seems somewhat problematical.

After all, it seems to me that this notion of God’s humility and cruciformity has been one of the foundations for our acceptance of this whole terribly messy history of the world.  If God is humble, suffering, and ever inviting — if God is like Jesus — then it makes sense that God hasn’t simply put an end to all of this already.  If God is revealed as a suffering servant, then it makes sense that God hasn’t rushed in to knock some heads together and sort things out.  However, the question then becomes this: if God hasn’t sorted things out by now, if God is committed to inviting us, and working with us, then what is the foundation for God to return to us in order to finally make all things new?  Doesn’t the return of Jesus seem like exactly the type of forceful act that Jesus refused to practice in the first place?

So, I would be curious to hear how others might resolve this apparent contradiction.  How does a triumphant and forceful return fit with a cruciform God?

I mean, maybe this explains the so-called ‘delay of the Parousia’ — maybe Jesus left thinking, ‘I’ll be back soon!’ and then, once he had time to think about things, he realised that returning with force would be to contradict his own character and commitments.  Maybe he’s been sitting in heaven the last two thousand years thinking, ‘hot damn, how do I get out of this one?!’

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Responses

  1. I have struggled with these questions a lot the last years, and my convictions have been slowly changing.

    I know tend to lean towards some kind of partial preterist view of the coming of Jesus and the kingdom of God. I believe most of what Jesus taught about the “end of times” applies to events within the first century.

    At the same time, I also believe that Jesus will rule until all his enemies has been placed under his feet, which I cannot see have happened yet. The “enemies” here are, I suppose, Paul´s “powers”, which would include destructive invisible forces (like death (the last enemy to be defeated), maybe “satan” etc) and political structures like capitalism (as we can see signs of now). God is attacking these powers and unleaching God´s wrath upon them. As the jewish establishment fell, as Rome fell, the other enemies will fall as well. God is withdrawing God´s hand, turning the powers against themselves. This is painful even for people, since we are so connected to the system, but it is the pain (despite appearance) of a medical treatment, it´s the pain of discipline. There´s no other way for us to be saved.

    This will lead to more and more people repenting and entering into the gates of the New Jerusalem, and finally God will be all in all.

    Something like that?

  2. I think in considering this, it is important to remember that powerlessness is not an inherent property of God, but a chosen position he takes. And he is free to take that power up again any time he wishes. In fact, one could argue that he must, at some point, do this. If a God never exercises his power, one would have to question whether he ever had any. Perhaps it is only in the claiming of that power in the future that the giving up of that power in history is finally validated.

  3. Brent. I think the question Dan is posing (if I read him rightly), is if God doesn´t in fact use God´s power in a Christ-like way. Christ was king, but a very different one, ruling through servanthood, love and self-giving, and not by violence and coercive power. The way you put it, it seems that God´s way of excercising power would be extremely different in the cases of on the one hand Jesus, the jewish rabbi (the cross) and the coming kingdom (the parousia)?

  4. Yeah, I got that. My point was that God, who is capable of violent and coercive power, gives up that power in order to approach us in a Christ-like way, indeed even to approach us as Christ. This seems like a very silly thing to do, of course, since it runs the chance of everyone thinking that God is powerless. Some atheists like to point this out about Jesus: if he is God, he is not a very powerful one.

    My suggestion was that God’s taking up his coercive powers at the end could validate his choice to give them up throughout history when relating to the world. It proves that he could have accomplished all he wanted to through coercive, violent power, and therefore proves that service and self-giving love are superior to those things.

  5. Well, I think that Jesus is the true image of God. We see how God is clearest through Jesus. To me, this seems to mean that God in God´s essence is non-violent love (despite contradicting images given at some places in scripture). So, through Jesus we see that God is actually NOT capable of violent and coercive power. God is like Jesus. Not very powerful (seen through the world´s wisdom, 1 Kor 1), but God´s weakness is stronger than the power of the system.

  6. Just so you both know, I’m finding this exchange to be very interesting, and I hope it continues.

  7. Sorry, I didn’t check back on this until now.

    Jonas, I find it hard to believe we disagree much here. Are you really denying God’s power to do whatever the hell he wants?

    We think the same way about Jesus, and in the temptation in the desert, I see Jesus reflecting God’s decision to lay down his absolute power. Jesus is tempted by Satan to take it up again, and even to use it for good (feed the hungry, rule the nations justly, protects others from harm) and yet Jesus refuses. This tells me that it is God’s choice to do things the servant-love way. The cross is significant partially because Jesus really could have called down an army of angels to rescue him and put his enemies to death.

    God chooses not to use coercive, violent power, but he is clearly capable of it as so many of the psalms and the book of job testify. Now, again, my suggestion (and it is only a suggestion, food for thought) was that God’s use of this power at the end of the age might, in a sense, validate his choice to give it up throughout history. By demonstrating for all to see how he could have done things, perhaps his wisdom in not doing things that way could be illuminated. This is not enough to explain away Dan’s problem. Again, just something to mull over.

  8. Well, I think we do disagree. You seem to be saying that God somehow ontologically is or at least has the choice of being powerful in a violent and coercive way. But in Jesus, God has limited God´s option, perhaps temporally. Am I reading you wrong here?

    For me, this makes God fundamentally different that Jesus, the man, who never was powerful in this way, and it allows for a theology were this revengeful God can somehow appear on the stage again.

    To answer your question straight forward. Yes, I am denying this, as the world shows us. The world is not God´s kingdom, and this means that God is not yet ruling the world, although God´s kingdom has broken in, non-violently, through Jesus.

    This of course gives me lots of problems with a bunch of biblical texts. I am not denying this, and I think these texts should be treated honestly. (Greg Boyd has recently tried to take on this challenge on his blogg in a series of posts.) For me, though, to say that God is or could be acting towards us in a way that is very different than what we see in Jesus, especially on the cross, poses an even greater problem. If God is violent and powerful in way of the Kings and Leaders of the present system, I would probably turn my back to this God…

  9. Then, I guess we do disagree. But to be clear I do not mean that God lays down his power only in the person of Jesus. I believe he lays down his power in all aspects of how he relates to the universe he has created. Aside from his initial act of creation (creating something out of nothing is undeniably an act of force), God has allowed the universe to unfold of its own accord, though seeking to influence it by his loving, coercive direction. So some of those OT texts are a problem for me as well, though I think there are promising solutions like the ones Boyd has offered (yeah, I’m a fan – Satan and the Problem of Evil changed my view of quite a few things). However, other OT texts are not a problem for me, like the ones in Job where God describes his own violent, victorious battles with the spiritual forces of chaos and the mighty Leviathan, battles he fought in order to lay down the foundations of the world.

    Since you mention Boyd, I would say that I’m sure this is his position as well – that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, but lays down his power-over strategies in favor of power-under ones. I know he has the view of Jesus’ temptations I described above – that they would be meaningless if Jesus did not really have the power to rule the nations or call down angels at his whim. I guess my question for you would be why those temptation narratives matter if God/Jesus are not all-powerful?

    Regarding the original topic, I have not studied the eschatological texts in-depth, but one way I read the judgment fire that God will bring in the last days is that of a purifying fire, one that will remove all of the impure obstacles that get in the way of our living life in power-under Kingdom ways. This might be a way Jesus could forcefully impose his will at the second coming as scripture suggests, yet keep with the foundational character of the Kingdom that he laid down on his first visit. Again, I don’t know how well scripture might support that view.
    Peace.

  10. Brent. Interesting! A few things;

    -I´m actually not THAT familiar with Boyd´s theology.

    -I think you are interpreting force and violence in a broader way than I would do. I have no problem with God creating ex nihilo, attacking invisible forces and structures or affecting people´s choices (as I said in my first comment). I think we definitely can see Jesus doing those things to in the gospels. For me, this is not to “forcefully impose his will”.

    -I like your (universalist?) cleansing-eschatology.

    -I would interpret Fil 2 and the temptation-narratives in line with Adam-christology (as James Dunn would have it). They speak about a real human being created in the image of God who doesn´t walk the way Adam did, reaching out to become like God. Honestly, I think the NT:s emphasis is upon the humanity of Jesus, and I hesitate before the later creeds.


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