Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Resurrection as the Justification of God, Christ & Us

As some drulogion readers may already know, my dissertation research is focused on the relationship of Christ's resurrection to the doctrine of the Trinity in constructive conversation with Karl Barth. One big piece of this doctrinal puzzle is the extent to which the resurrection is a self-referential event for God. Does God act upon himself on Easter morn? I believe that the answer to this question is yes: God raised himself through himself. For such an answer to work, God must be a self-differentiated subject: the Father raised the Son through the Spirit. In other words, a triune grammar is necessary for resurrection proclamation, which in turn suggests that a triune ground is necessary for the resurrection event.

But this whole line of thinking might be taken to mean that the resurrection is some sort of divine self-enclosed event that has nothing to do with us. Nothing could be further from the truth! The point is that divine self-referential activity is good for us. God is good for us by first enacting himself in history. In so doing God actualizes his goodness to us and so assures us. In raising his son from the dead, God the Father confirms himself as the creator and in so doing secures us as his creatures. In being raised from the dead, our Lord Jesus Christ receives grace from God the Father on our behalf, and so comes to us as one of us. The Spirit who testifies with our spirit that we are children of God does not assure by merely speaking as one more voice demanding blind trust, but by pointing us to the living risen Jesus Christ in whom God has acted for us.

All this serves as an introduction to a quote I'd like to place before you for your consideration. It comes from one of Karl Barth's discussions of the resurrection entitled "The Verdict of the Father" (Chuch Dogmatics IV/1, §69.3). In this summative statement, Barth displays the inner connection of God's self-referential and other-referential activity as they find their unity, distiction and order in Jesus Christ. The argument is put in terms of justification (befitting the forensic context of CD IV/1): God's justification of himself, of Jesus Christ, and of us in him. Here you go:
To sum up, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the great verdict of God, the fulfillment and proclamation of God's decision concerning the event of the cross... In this [acceptance of the act of the Son of God] the resurrection is the justification of God himself, of God the Father, creator of heaven and earth, who has willed and planned and ordered this event. It is the justification of Jesus Christ, his son, who willed to suffer this event, and suffered it to the very last. And in his person it is the justification of all sinful humans, whose death was decided in this event, for whose life there is therefore no more place. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ his life and with it their life has in fact become an event beyond death: "Because I live, you shall live also" (Jn. 14:19). (CD IV/1, p. 309, rev.)
Any thoughts?
  • To what extent are we permitted and encouraged to speak of God's self-referential activity? On what basis can we do so? What are the dangers?
  • Does hearing of God's self-referential activity give you a greater sense of assurance? Why or why not?
  • What other pay-offs might there be in rooted God's activity on behalf of us in God's self-referential activity?


Mike Oliver said...

Great post (and quote), especially for me in light of the fact that I'm currently going through I/1 and have come upon Barth's placement and root of the Trinity. Additionally, I just got back from SBL (left early) and attended the KB Society meetings where I heard a great discussion on Barth's relation to what Lewis Ayres refers to as a "Pro-Nicene" Trinitarian theology in his new book.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting on this! Your questions in particular are helpful in unpacking this passage (which, incidentally, we recently read in Joe Mangina & Gill Goulding's seminar on Barth & Balthasar).

Speaking of justification and reconciliation in terms of God's self-referential activity is a good thing in that doing so prevents us from being overly anthropological in understanding these doctrines. "God is for us," yes, but to say that "we are what God is for" strikes me as rather anthropocentric. To claim humanity as the primary object of God's reconciliating grace risks taking such grace for granted. When we do that, antinomian "backsliding" is not far behind!

I wouldn't have thought to put it as you did in your second question but, yes, this does yield a greater sense of assurance. Rooting reconciliation within God's self yields an a priori kind of objective certainty, not one that we can take for granted, but one in which we are damned lucky (or better: "blessed") to be invited to participate!

The danger I foresee in making this move, however, is that one might get accustomed to "rooting" things within God's self and thus be tempted to do so with respect to things that ought not be there, i.e. those predicative attributes or actions that should be attributed to humanity ("sin" comes to mind!).

Again, thanks for your post!