Kenosis1 and Creation
Lucien Richard, Christ, The Self-Emptying of God (New York: Paulist Press, 1997).2
The present series of digests began with God as Creator.3 God then communed with “Adam” and “Eve” in “Eden.” Their mutual communion constituted the inaugural covenant. In that covenant Adam was one “other” (e.g., “I”). Eve was another “other” (e.g., “Thou”). The Godhead was the “Authoritative Other” (“Third Voice”). Without such triune “otherness,” relational human personhood would be impossible. The covenantal nature of inaugural human personhood reflects the covenantal nature of the Triune God. Mankind (male and female) was made in the “image” of God (Genesis 1:26, 27).
To understand original human personhood, we need to address the ultimate nature of the Authoritative Other (“Third Voice”) as the self-limiting, self-emptying, self-giving God. This understanding 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). Modern kenotic theology was first addressed by the German theologian Gottfried Thomasius in Christi Person und Werk (1853-1861).4 In Christ: The Self-Emptying of God, Lucien Richard extends the concept of the self-emptying God to Creation and to God’s inaugural covenant with mankind.
Creation and the Kenotic Presence of God
“Creation involves a costly process. Creation is an act of kenotic love; in creating, God limits self and . . . makes room for human freedom . . . to emerge and for a natural order to be characterized by open-endedness and flexibility. . . . The God revealed in the self-limitation that is the incarnation is the same God who creates. Creation demands on the part of the Creator the same kenosis the incarnation demanded. . . .
“Christianity is committed to the affirmation that God is present to and acts in creating. . . . But the mode of God’s presence and care is quite another thing. It is my contention that the mode of presence and causality has to be kenotic. . . .
“Kenosis . . . must . . . inform the mystery of creation. We must approach creation from the simplest and most radical affirmation: ‘God is love’ (1 Jn 4:8). God’s love is ecstatic love and draws God to create a real ‘other.’ Creation emerges out of the ecstatic love that is God’s intrinsic being. To call God ecstatic love is to see God as a kenotic being, and to see God as essentially a kenotic being is to qualify God’s omnipotence. Kenosis implies self-limitation, self-denial, self-sacrifice. Ecstatic love is the abdication of power; it is the refusal of self-expansion. . . .
“The perfection of the divine nature resides not in its infinite self-satisfaction but in its self-giving love. Of course there is nothing other than God, or independent of God, to which God can give Godself. Yet may not God bring into being that which, being other than God (though always dependent upon God), can be the object of God’s love . . . ? The idea of creation as a form of divine self-giving, a love that goes out of itself to bring about fully responsive reality, demands that Godself be put at the disposal of creatures and limited in relation to them. Creation as the effect of God’s boundless and ecstatic love implies a self-limitation of God. . . .
“Creation is an act not of self-expansion but of self-limitation. While it is true that creation does not mean a diminishing of the divine life, through creation God enters a new, limiting relationship. Through creation God brings about an ‘other’ who is free. In creating, God has surrendered God’s triumphant self-sufficiency and brought about God’s own need. God has done this freely, out of love. . . .
“We can define a basic principle of self-limitation, a kenosis that applies to God in relation to finite being. The nature of God’s being as personal agent is a letting-be, an enabling to be. Letting-be is also self-giving or self-spending so that God’s creative work is a work of love and self-giving. Creation is not so much an exercise of power as it is an exercise of love and generosity, an act of self-limitation. . . .
“There is a sacrificial nature to creation; it is intrinsically a self-humbling, self-restraining, self-limiting act. . . . In order to understand how a unique God brings about an ‘other’ as an ‘other,’ some dimension of self-limitation must be attributed to God. This is even more clearly the case when the ‘other’ is given the specific possibility of freedom and personal relation. In creating, not only does God allow for the existence of a reality ‘other’ than God, . . . God actually gives a created being the possibility of choosing to respond to the Creator. Creation, by being given independence from God, has, in a real way, made God vulnerable. Creation is the work of authentic love, not simply the effortless expression of the divine will. God’s creative activity sets no limits to its own self-giving. It seeks constantly to enlarge the creature’s capacity to receive. In creating, God holds nothing back. . . .
“The relationship of God to the world must be a reciprocal, dialogical one. God cannot be understood as unilaterally significant to the world. The world and human history are also significant to God. Creation is a work of divine humility, and through this humility God is made vulnerable to creation; God is not, cannot be indifferent. While creation is marked by God’s own imprint, namely, the image of God, God in a real but different way is marked by the world.”
Creation and the Suffering of God
“God’s activity in creation is precarious. If creation is the work of love, then its shape cannot be predetermined. God is determined to be God only in relationship to God’s creation. That is the risk of God’s infinite love. Eternal love can become suffering love precisely because it has laid itself open to refusal. . . . Contrary to Greek thought, God suffers not out of imperfection but out of the plenitude of God’s love. . . .
“Divine creativity involves risk, the risk of being denied. The creating God is not, according to Hans Küng, ‘a God of solitude, but a God of partnership, of the covenant. He is not an apathetic, unfeeling, impassible but a sympathetic, compassionate God.’ God’s power resides in the ability to evoke a response while respecting the integrity of ‘the other.’ In that process God is open to refusal and therefore to suffering. . . .
“At no point does God overwhelm human freedom. The genuine freedom of the created to do what God has not willed is guaranteed by the self-limitation of God in bringing freedom into being. It is thus that freedom is real, that the future is open, that history is history. God acts in the future through our freedom and is limited by our freedom. The future is undecided and thus unknowable, in principle even to God. God, as the eternal One, does not merely establish time by creating it but freely assumes it as a specification of God’s own self. . . .
“The power of God must be the power of love, which is therefore the power over Godself, the power of self-limitation. This self-limitation, this kenosis, must be the precondition for the emergence of self-conscious persons. Such an act of self-limitation is consistent with and expresses the biblical affirmation that the character of God is marked by love. . . .
“Love is supremely manifest in self-limiting and costly action on behalf of another. Authentic love is precarious; it risks rejection. Love requires involvement. The primary attribute of God in the scripture is that God is a God of love. The right order of priority in understanding the attributes of God is surely to take God’s love as central. . . . Love places restraints on power. . . .
“If the creation is the work of love, then its shape cannot be predetermined by the Creator, nor its triumph foreknown: it is realization of vision, but of vision which is discovered only through its own realization: and faith in its triumph is neither more nor less than faith in the Creator Himself — faith that He will not cease from His handiwork nor abandon the object of His love. The creation is ‘safe’ not because it moves . . . towards a predetermined goal but because the same loving creativity is ever exercised upon it.”5
God as the covenantal authority — to, for and with mankind — cannot be defined by autonomous omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence, which exclude all “otherness.” Neither can God be defined by immovability, unapproachability and impassibility, which frustrate all “otherness.” Furthermore, God cannot be the immediate, immanent, possessive “Ground of All Being,” which consumes all “otherness.”
The covenantal God has explicitly defined himself as unconditional love. That love is manifest in God’s own self-limiting, self-emptying and self-giving for the creation and redemption of “otherness” in history. Such “otherness” is ultimately manifest as human personhood. Therefore, the human person is not an erect, bipedal primate, nor an autonomous, self-existent “individual,” nor a postmodern “social construct.” Rather, the authentic “otherness” of human personhood is defined covenantally by the self-giving, relational presence of God together with mankind’s responsive self-emptying, self-giving love to, for and with “otherness.”
- 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)
- Lucien Richard, Christ: The Self-Emptying of God, is available at the booksellers listed here: www.bookfinder.com/search/?author=&title=&lang=en&isbn=9780809136681&new_used=*&destination=us¤cy=USD&mode=basic&st=sr&ac=qr. (go back)
- See “‘In the Beginning,’” Outlook (Prequel 2001.1); “‘Communion and Otherness,’” Outlook (Prequel 2001.2); “The ‘Third Voice,’ Outlook (Prequel 2001.3). (go back)
- See Wonbae Son, “The Self-Limited Christ: A Kenotic Theology of Incarnation” (Thesis, Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, MI, May 1990). (go back)
- Richard, Christ, The Self-Emptying of God. (go back)