God’s Eternal Purpose1
Many sense that we have entered a time of profound world crisis. It is a crisis marking the death of an old world order and the imminent birth of a new world order as yet unknown. At such a time we can be consoled by the truth of the incarnation, for that timeless truth “characterize[s] every moment of the history of the universe.”2 The incarnation of Jesus Christ is the bridge that spans all eternity. It spans all times, circumstances, contingencies and world orders. That incarnational truth is simply this: From eternity the invisible God purposed in himself to become human. As Jesus Christ, God acted in history at the incarnation to irrevocably adopt humanity as his own eternal reality. He acted to become a human person, a human individual, a human self. By becoming a human self, he excluded all identity with anything that would compromise or destroy selfhood. The existent self cannot co-exist with any autonomous entity that might control, compromise or override selfhood. The self is not possessive nor can it be possessed. The self is. The self alone responsibly decides. The self alone is free — free from all command, domination, control and submission. In the self alone is meaning, value and destiny. The self alone is the precondition for objective reality. The self alone is ultimately relational being and becoming.
For these reasons we can affirm that Jesus Christ was not a humanized God or a divinized human. He did not possess God, nor did God possess him. In the natural world, when an egg becomes a caterpillar, it is no longer an egg. The caterpillar does not possess the egg it was, nor is it possessed by the egg it was. When the caterpillar becomes a pupa, the pupa is no longer a caterpillar, and the pupa is not yet a butterfly. When the pupa finally becomes a butterfly, we do not define it as a “butterflied” egg, a “butterflied” caterpillar or a ”butterflied” pupa. The butterfly is a new and irrevocably transformed entity. It has left behind the egg, caterpillar and pupa to be and to become a new reality. So also with God and the self. In the ultimate metamorphosis, God has become a uniquely and ultimately existent self. This is a great mystery and reflects Viktor Frankl’s acknowledgment that the self remains an “unanalyzable, irreducible phenomenon.”3
Jesus and the Nature of the Self
While the self cannot be observed in itself and therefore is not self-evident, the self can be known in action in history. “All knowledge is historically implicated.”4 Again, “the world does not have a history, but is history.”5 This is why it is the history of Jesus that is “authoritative” for all mankind (male and female). Let us then retrace this authoritative history for evidence of the nature of the self:
1. The Self as Being and Becoming.
The historical Jesus did not “have” a self; he did not “possess” a self. He was and is a self. He did not claim to “have”; he claimed to “be” — “I am.”6 Jesus is a human Being. Jesus also is a human Becoming. There is an element of Jesus’ self that is “not yet,” a “yet to be,” since his creative revelational and relational development is not yet complete.
2. The Self as Historical.
In the historical Jesus the self is disclosed as a total bodily, psychological and spiritual entity. The self in Jesus is further disclosed at the conscious and unconscious levels.
3. The Self as Identity.
The self is the seat of Christ’s final identity. It is the seat of his ultimate mission and meaning, his true responsibility (his decisional being), his freedom, and his final destiny. Christ identified himself as the human “Son of Man.” 7,8 He lived as the Son of Man, he conquered death as the Son of Man, and he returns as the Son of Man. Because he lives, the fully relational self cannot die.
4. The Self as Non-Commandable.
In Jesus the self is seen as a reality that cannot be commanded. Matter and energy are commandable. The elements, such as winds and waves, are commandable. Plants and animals are commandable. Sickness and even death are commandable. But the human self is not commandable. The self and all that it embraces — in life, meaning, values, responsible deciding, freedom, faith, hope, love, and even tears and laughter — cannot be commanded. The self only responds to action, relationships, history and story. “Narrative alone is capable of fundamentally describing the embodied contradictions that are persons.”9 Jesus’ ministry was largely story and beneficent actions. “He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed” (Acts 10:38).
5. The Self as Transcendent.
The self in Jesus is transcendent. The self does not exist in “self-isolation.” The self always goes outside itself for meaning and fulfillment. Furthermore, the self in Jesus is transcendent because that self is the necessary precondition for all other reality in the universe.10 All the reality of the universe is conditioned by the human reality of Jesus. It therefore is not surprising that many scientists and philosophers, after long and agonizing reflection, now recognize that the universe exists only because humanity observes it.
6. The Self as Relational.
The self in Jesus is relational. By his very nature Jesus is “kenotic” (from Greek, kenosis = “self-limiting”)11 — that is, he makes room for the “other.” This is why philosophers today increasingly recognize that the self cannot exist without an “other.” For example, “existence is fully relative, meaning nothing exists in and of itself; ‘To be is to be related . . . ’”12 The self is a profoundly relational reality that is reflected in the essential giving, sharing, receiving and interactive nature of human freedom.
We can illustrate relational reality from the world of subatomic physics. We now know, for example, that “actual” subatomic particles such as protons and electrons only exist relationally because they constantly exchange what are called “virtual” particles. It is the same as if the existence of two tennis players were ultimately dependent upon their constant exchange of tennis balls. If the exchange were to cease, at that moment the players also would cease to exist. This is the nature of relational reality.
7. The Self and “Otherness.”
The self in Jesus has been engaged in an age-long process of creating his “other.” His own self also requires an “other.”
Kenosis,13 Creation and the Self
Kenosis and the Implicate Order.
In eternity past, as the invisible deity, God acted “kenotically” (making room for the “other”) to go outside of himself to create the implicate order — the invisible, undisclosable, timeless/spaceless ground or potential of all other existence and being.
Kenosis and the Explicate Order.
Then God acted kenotically, and thus creatively, to call the explicate order — the universe of time, space, matter and energy — into existence from the implicate order. At this juncture he then decided that the universe should be responsive by expanding and consolidating to form the cosmic bodies under his command. Through the created process of combustion of stars, the primordial elements of hydrogen and helium burn to become the heavier elements. With the explosion of stars as supernova, these heavier elements are released so that over eons of time they might collide, coalesce and condense to form planets like our own.
Kenosis and Life Forms.
When the planets were formed, God again acted kenotically to create living cellular forms — microbes, plants and animals. Again God allowed these forms to respond through a process of emergent evolution and thus to advance and develop under his divine command. Finally, the higher animals emerged, and with them the genus Homo. Unlike his actions with other animals, God intervened at this point by placing in man a “god-consciousness,” which supplemented and superseded animal instincts and drives, and served as the locus of command for man.14 This god-consciousness now has generally been lost and can only be elicited by electrical stimulation of the temporal cortex of the brain.15 It remains as a vestigial reminder of man’s preeminent animal origin.
Kenosis and Selfhood.
At some point several thousand years before his incarnation, God acted to anticipate the process of selfhood for man. This was a crucial step in God’s design to create his “other.” This step did not constitute man’s “Fall.” It was man’s true beginning. Man became self-conscious. Thus, “Adam” and “Eve” saw that they were naked (Genesis 3:7). Man acquired metaphorical communication through words, language and writing. And man gradually came to the freedom of decisional faith, hope and love. Thus, Abraham was the father of those who had faith — and therefore the father of those who had a “self” (see Romans 4:16-18). Man gradually realized that, unlike the animals, he had a destiny that lay beyond death. Man gradually realized that there was something transcendent about himself, and this led to the development of philosophy and religion. Man gradually realized that his destiny, ultimate transcendence and freedom somehow depended upon his own responsible decision.
The Self and the Fear of Life
It was profoundly frightening for man to realize that, because of the self, he was largely cast adrift from animal instincts and drives as well as from the preexistent “god consciousness,”16 and his destiny now rested upon his own responsibility and freedom. Man’s self therefore became the source of terror — the terror of living. This was a terror greater than the fear of death. In effect mankind began to say, “Better to accept the death I know — that I have — than the life I do not know — that I do not have.”
A Deceptive Self.
Not surprisingly, there consequently has been an almost universal tendency in history to emasculate the self by masking its decisional responsibility, by denying the ultimate necessity of the relational “other,” and by avoiding the frightening possibility of a living culture of freedom — freedom from dependence, domination and submission, and freedom to live, love, work and play in human community.17 For ages man has persistently tried to perpetuate a death culture, which is so agreeable to man’s animal instincts and drives. The result has been age-long self-deceptions designed to redefine the self as an isolated, autonomous, self-contained, self-evident entity that does not require an “other,” decisional freedom, or the uncertainty of an open future. Self-deception has found that the most “authoritative” way to emasculate the self — to “de-selvify” the self — is to sacralize this process by inventing a god to do it for us.
A Demonized Self.
Thus, the god of orthodox Creationism — the god of Adam’s “Fall,” of Adam and Eve’s “original sin,” the god of the possessive “has,” the god of the worthless “I,” the sadomasochistic god who has predetermined all mankind to heaven or hell — has “de-selvified” the self by demonizing the self and therefore demonizing identity, meaning, responsibility, freedom and destiny. In this worldview man’s self is so utterly corrupt that it must die, it must burn, it must be annihilated. Fortunately, history is rapidly exposing this god. The demonized self is dead, for the demonized self only finds its identity, meaning and destiny in death.
An Animalized Self.
In revulsion against such a demonic god, secular humanism, communism and like-minded ideologies have invented another way to emasculate or “de-selvify” the self. They have animalized the self and thus animalized personal identity, meaning, responsibility, freedom and destiny. To this ideology the self is another possessive “has,” another instinct or drive. In such thinking the self is simply the Freudian libido, the drive to create and work, or a drive for pleasure, power, control or mastery. History has already shown that the animal god — the animalized self — is dead, for the animalized self also finds its ultimate identity, meaning and destiny in death.
A Divinized Self and Cosmic Oneness
More recently, a new god is attempting to gain the mastery; a new way of emasculating or “de-selvifying” the self is attempting to exert itself. The New Age movement is a mixture of Western Christian thought and Eastern spiritualities derived from Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shamanism and Confucianism.18 The New Age movement is a fundamental revival of ancient animism and first-century Gnosticism. This ideology is sweeping orthodox Western Christianity through the World Council of Churches, the charismatic movement, the preterists and postmodernists, as well as Eastern religionists. To the New Age movement, “all is God, and God is all.” The New Age movement has “de-selvified” the self by divinizing the self and thus divinizing identity, meaning, freedom, responsibility and destiny so that they are invisible, unapproachable, impersonal forces. To the New Age movement, the self is god and only has to become conscious of what the self really has and is. In the view of the New Age movement, Jesus Christ was simply a god like everyone and everything else and merely became conscious of his divinity at baptism. However, such a divinized self is dissolved in a cosmic monism (oneness) that makes no fundamental distinctions among a rock, a high-tension line, a thunderclap, an exploding star, a clump of trees, a hive of bees, a herd of cattle, or a personal self. By making the self everything and everything the self, the self becomes nothing. Therefore, the divinized self also is dead.
The Crisis of the Self and a New World Order
We now have come to an unprecedented crisis. All self-deceived, self-contained, self-evident selves are dead. The demonized self is dead. The animalized self is dead. The divinized self is dead. All worldviews and ideologies that are destructive of the self — that are the negation of the self — are dead. Yet the true, unreflectable, unanalyzable, irreducible self that we have vainly sought to hide or displace remains. There is a profound apprehension that this self is “naked,” alone and unfulfilled. We therefore have arrived at a fundamental crisis of the self. Mankind is filled with foreboding, anxiety and terror. Mankind is not so much terrified at the prospect of death as at the prospect of life — the prospect of decisional responsibility and freedom and, even more fundamentally, the prospect of a relational rather than autonomous existence. This terror is leading to a dissolution of the bonds of human community. It is leading to the exaltation of killing religions such as Christianity, Judaism and, to a lesser extent, Mohammedanism. And it is leading to a fixation on “warrior cultures”19 and death cultures dominated by drugs, crime, violence, terrorism, wars, the rape of the environment, and by military-industrial complexes and other irresponsible social, economic, political and religious institutions and forces.20
In this crisis the human Jesus in his paradigmatic, quintessential self offers the only viable alternative to moribund worldviews. He is humanity’s ultimate “Other.” He is the Savior of the world. He alone can take the deceptive, demonized, animalized, divinized, unfulfilled self and wholly humanize and fulfill that self. He alone can satisfy our relational selves. But he cannot and will not command the self. He therefore invites the free decisional responsibility of the self. Man may now freely choose the “other” — in Jesus Christ and in every neighborly “other.” Or man may freely choose the alternative annihilation of the self.
Therefore, with the death of the old world orders founded on the old worldviews, we have indeed come to the threshold of a new world order. We have come to a historic hour of decision for all mankind. In the most profound sense we have come to a time of awesome judgment. The self — which every human is — is invited to decide for all eternity whether to accept responsibility and freedom in fulfillment with the eternal “Other,” or to accept inevitable annihilation through irresponsible self-deception. Furthermore, what is true of each self is true of all selves. Individually and collectively, we have come to judgment. Thus, all world orders have come to judgment.
The Destiny of the Self and the Parousia21
Immediately on the threshold of human decision lies the Parousia (Second Coming) — the judgment appearing of the Son of Man, the Son of the Earth.22 The Parousia now is ready to usher in the true and universal destiny of all selves. By Christ’s creative initiative and through faith, hope and love, those who have freely decided for life soon will have moved from primitive animal to full and eternal humanity — to a fully humanized self. God will have moved from an invisible and allegedly unapproachable, impassable, immovable deity to full and eternal humanity. All selves — his and ours — will relationally stand together at the boundary of the implicate and explicate orders. We will stand together with the freedom to explore the timeless/spaceless, invisible, undisclosable ground of being and the freedom to live in relational identity and freedom with all others in the universe of time and space, of matter and energy, of life forms, and of all human selves.
Let us then together press forward to responsible, decisional selfhood in this hour of judgment. In this judgment already stands the One who created us in the image of his own self. In this judgment now stands the One who longs to fully liberate us from all our fearful self-deceptions. In this judgment stands the One who longs to transform us at his appearing so that he can be our ultimate “Other,” so that we can be his ultimate “other,” and so that together we can creatively move forward in one universal human community to our eternal and transcendent responsibility, freedom and destiny. This alone will fulfill God’s eternal purpose.
- See Ephesians 3:11. (go back)
- Richard A. Rhem, “Sleeping through a Revolution,” Perspectives 6, no. 4 (April 1991): 8-14. (go back)
- Viktor Frankl, The Unconscious God: Psychotherapy and Theology (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1948, 1975). (go back)
- James B. Miller, Postmodern Theology, p. 11, quoted in Rhem, “Sleeping through a Revolution.” (go back)
- Rhem, “Sleeping through a Revolution.” (go back)
- John 6:35, cf. vv. 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 18, 23, 28; 9:5, 39; 10:7, cf. v. 9; 10:11, cf. v. 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, cf. v. 5; 18:6, cf. vv. 8, 37; Revelation 1:8, cf. vv. 11, 17, 21:6, 22:13; 1:18; cf. Exodus 3:14. (go back)
- For example, see Matthew 26:45, 64; Luke 24:7; John 8:28. (go back)
- The word “Man” is derived from the Hebrew adamah, meaning “earthly.” See Nancy Roth, A New Christian Yoga (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1989), pp. 11, 12. Cf. “‘On Earth Peace,’” subhead “The Quantum Field and Observable Reality,” Quest (Prolepsis 1990.2). (go back)
- Rodney Gapp, “Tom T. Hall and the Necessity of Narrative,” Perspectives 6, no. 4 (April 1991): 17-19. (go back)
- For a definition of transcendence, see Stephen E. Erickson, Human Presence: At the Boundaries of Meaning (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1984). (go back)
- The Greek word for self-emptying is kenosis. “ . . . God is considered as absolute letting-be, as self-giving, as self-spending. Kenosis [self-emptying] is understood as the way God relates to the world; creation is a work of love, of self-giving.” — Lucien Richard, Christ: The Self-Emptying of God (New York: Paulist Press, 1997), p. 94. (go back)
- Rhem, “Sleeping through a Revolution.” (go back)
- See note 11. (go back)
- See Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976). (go back)
- See Michael A. Persinger, Neuropsychologial Bases of God Beliefs (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group [Praeger Publications], 1987). (go back)
- See note 14. (go back)
- See Erich Fromm, The Fear of Freedom (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1942). (go back)
- See Won Yong Ji, “The Challenge of Eastern Spiritualities to the West,” Concordia Journal, April 1991, pp. 128-140; Raymond L. Coombe, “Rough Seas for the WCC [World Council of Churches]?” Australasian Record, 4 May 1991, pp. 6, 7. (go back)
- Barbara Ehrenreich, quoted in Warren Van Tongeren, “Lament of a Peacemaker,” Perspectives 6, no. 4 (April 1991): 4, 5. (go back)
- See James Combs, “Death Cultures,” Cresset, April 1991, pp. 15-57. (go back)
- The Greek word parousia, translated, means both “presence” and “coming.” (go back)
- See note 8. (go back)
This article was originally published June 1991 under the Quest imprint.