The Openness of Man
In his divine nature and purpose, God is free. He not only is free to be whatever he is. He is free to become whatever he intends. However, in order to become, God had to provide for change and “contingency.” That is, he had to provide for an existence that is not determined but open to infinite possibilities. Such an existence, in which God could be truly free in his becoming, required an existential world1 and a history with which to interact and with “whom” to fellowship.
Thus, in the interest of freedom, God created the universe of time and space, with life and mankind (male and female) in that universe.2 How wonderfully our emerging world and its history have enabled God’s becoming! As Jesus, he adopted the creature as his own reality. He became Man. As Man, through his life, death and resurrection, he was the first to become truly human — man as man was meant to be. He therefore is the true Adam. The Genesis account of man’s perfect creation was thus “proleptic” (anticipatory of the future). It was an invaluable myth that pointed forward to a future reality.
While in God’s creative history of becoming, he is “coming down” through his kenosis3 (“self-emptying”) to adopt our reality, what is happening to mankind? With this important question before us, we now will consider seven aspects of man’s becoming.
1. Man and Origin.
Man originated as a living creature, a higher animal, a primate — with the unconscious instincts that govern animal life. These instincts permit animal life to be open to its immediate environment. For example, these instincts allow eels to migrate across the Atlantic Ocean from the Sargasso Sea to the various rivers of Europe. These instincts guide Monarch butterflies across the Caribbean and the swallows to San Juan Capistrano. It is these instincts that are responsible for countless other wonders in myriad forms of life. Animal instincts include the universal demand for territory, for possessiveness, and even for predation within the natural environment. In this respect man differs from other animals only in the sophistication and intensity of his territoriality, possessiveness and predation.
2. Man and “God-Consciousness.”
Unlike other animals, man in prehistorical times was granted god-consciousness. This “god-consciousness” and its vestigial remains have been exhaustively explored by Julian Jaynes.4 This consciousness was a higher instinct that distinguished man from all other animals and that, over time, led to the movements and actions of peoples to occupy a wider environment around the globe.
3. Man and Progressive Development.
About the second millennium BCE mankind generally lost its god-consciousness. However, this loss was associated with the gift of progressive development of language, writing and laws. Thus, while this profound change has been represented as the “Fall” of man, it also represented an advance toward human self-consciousness and man’s openness — not merely to a restricted environment but to the entire world.
In this phase of man’s development, his actions were guided not only by internal instincts but by external and universal laws. The associated development of language, writing, and the impersonal mediation of law (between God and man and between man and man) also included the emergence of religion (re-, back + ligare, to bind, bind together). Religion thus indicates man’s awareness of his separation from God and his destiny of reunion with God.5 However, these critical developments were impeded by man’s ignorance of freedom6 and by his terror of history.7 Man was dismayed by the prospect of contingency (not determined but open to infinite possibilities), change, and choice. He was frightened by the thought of living with the unknown prospects of history. Therefore, for many centuries man attempted to avoid the terror of present history by using ritual, incantation and ceremony to return to the (preconscious) “beginning,” reinvoking the moment of God’s creative presence.8 However, by the end of the first millennium BCE, mankind had begun to understand and exercise the principles of freedom and to accept the presence and consequences of history.
4. Man and God’s Incarnation.
It was at this crucial juncture that God himself intervened in the Person of the incarnate Christ. Christ was truly God. He was truly Man. In this duality he accepted the mediation of law under which man had lived. By his life and death, Christ recapitulated man’s history and accepted the consequences of all of man’s animal instincts. More than this, by his resurrection Christ moved to a transformed and transcendent humanity. This incomparable development presented both God and man with new definitions and new destinies in history.
5. Man and Christ’s Presence.
The risen and human Christ is mediatorially present in history. He is present with us “always” (Matthew 28:20, RSV). His mediation among mankind — between people everywhere — is intended to replace the mediation of instincts, internal God-consciousness and laws. Because of Christ’s presence in history, mankind is now open to God — open to fellowship with the human God in history and his openness to us. Because of Christ’s mediatorial presence, mankind now possesses human self-consciousness.9 As Karl Rahner observed regarding Jesus’ parable in which the lord of the vineyard gives each laborer a “denarius” regardless of the number of hours worked (Matthew 20:1-16), Christ has given all of us the “denarius” — ourselves:
The parable teaches us to say: we are those who receive the denarius, we ourselves are the denarius. For we receive ourselves, with our destiny, with our freedom certainly and whatever we choose to do with that freedom, but ultimately what we receive is ourselves. . . . Our great life’s work [is]: to accept ourselves as the mysterious and gradually revealed gift of the eternal generosity of God. For everything that we are and have, even the painful and mysterious, is God’s generous gift: we must not grumble at it but must accept it in the knowledge that when we do so God gives himself with his gift. . . . God is willing to give us everything if we will only accept it — ourselves and himself and life without end.10
6. Man and Parousia.11
As mankind grasps the reality of the risen Christ’s mediatorial presence in history, man can move forward in faith, hope, and loving commitment to his fellow man. Man can be a neighbor to his neighbor. Then, in accordance with his promise, Christ will reveal himself in the Parousia (Second Coming). “ . . . [W]hen he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2, RSV).
7. Man and Eternity.
The human God and man in his new humanity will together move forward in eternal time and space, in open fellowship, in unending history, and in freedom to accomplish what “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived,” to become and to do (1 Corinthians 2:9, RSV).
Because of his kenotic12 (“self-emptying”) character, God — as Ultimate Being and Ultimate Becoming — has embarked on an eternal journey of openness to the universe, to life, and to mankind. Man, created in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27), is on a similar creaturely journey. That journey is not yet over, but God as Christ is present with us to mediate loving, compassionate relationships between and among human beings. These relationships are destined to replace and transcend man’s predatory animal instincts and are intended to lead mankind forward to eternal friendship and fellowship with each other and with God.
- The term “existential world” literally means “world in the face of God” or “world in God’s presence.” (go back)
- See “The Openness of God,” Outlook (Prequel 1994.4). (go back)
- The Greek word for self-emptying is kenosis. “ . . . God is considered as absolute letting-be, as self-giving, as self-spending. Kenosis 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)
- See Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976). (go back)
- See “The Freedom of Personhood,” Outlook (Prequel 1994.2). (go back)
- See ibid. (go back)
- See “The Christ of History,” Outlook (Prequel 1993.4). (go back)
- See ibid. (go back)
- See T. J. J. Altizer, “Replies: The Self-Realization of Death,” chap. 6 in R. P. Scharlemann, ed., Theology at the End of the Century (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1990), p. 131: “Now nothing is more important in that history than the historical advent of self-consciousness, a self-consciousness that apparently did not actually or fully exist until the advent of Christianity.” (go back)
- Karl Rahner, “The Denarius Stands for Us — and for God,” Biblical Homilies (New York: Herder & Herder, 1966), pp. 22-25. (go back)
- The Greek word parousia, translated, means both “presence” and “coming.” See Wikipedia — The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Parousia,” at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parousia: “Parousia . . . is an ancient Greek word meaning presence, arrival, or official visit.” (go back)
- Kenotic is from kenosis, the Greek word for self-emptying (see note 3). The understanding of kenotic love is derived from God’s kenosis (to empty), found in Philippians 2:5-8: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who . . . made himself of no reputation [kenoo] . . . humbled himself, and became obedient unto death . . . ” (KJV). (go back)
This article was originally published July 1994 under the Quest imprint.