Published by Worldview Publications
November/December 2002 

Resolving the Threefold Paradox

For thus saith the high and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy . . . — Isaiah 57:15.

Praise ye the Lord. . . . [H]oly and reverend is his name. — Psalm 111:1, 9.

. . . [A]nd holy is his name. — Luke 1:49.

The Hebrew term HaShem (the Name) is a euphemism for YHWH himself.1 Thus, YHWH is “holy.” The British scholar, Karen Armstrong, states:

Suddenly . . . [Isaiah] seemed to see Yahweh himself sitting on his throne in heaven directly above the Temple. . . . Yahweh’s train filled the sanctuary and he was attended by two seraphs, who covered their faces with their wings lest they look upon his face. They cried out to one another antiphonally: “Holy! holy! holy is Yahweh Sabaoth. His glory fills the whole earth”. . . . When we use the word “holy” today, we usually refer to a state of moral excellence. The Hebrew word kaddosh [holy], however, has nothing to do with morality as such but means “otherness,” a radical separation. The apparition of Yahweh on Mount Sinai had emphasized the immense gulf that had suddenly yawned between man and the divine world. Now the seraphs were crying: “Yahweh is other! other! other!”2

The Paradox of Absence/Presence

As “otherness,” YHWH is distinct and separate from Creation. God is not Creation, and Creation is not God (pantheism). God is not in Creation (Gnosticism), and Creation is not in God (panentheism). However, although God is radical “otherness,” “God [also] is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). The apostle Paul declared, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God . . . ” (Romans 8:38, 39). Lucien Richard has observed, “There is no love without compassion. One who is compassionate manifests human solidarity by crying out with those who suffer, by feeling deeply the wound of ‘the other’. . . . Compassion does not lead to commiseration but to comfort, to being strong with ‘the other.’”3

Thus, a fundamental paradox is that God is both radical “otherness” (absent from Creation) and radical “compassion” (present to Creation). The resolution of this paradox relies wholly upon God himself and involves God’s own relational kenosis. In kenotic theology, “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.”4

If in the “beginning” God was alone and, at the same time, God was self-giving, self-limiting, self-emptying, then he must have been frustrated. God had no “other” to whom to give himself, no “other” upon whom to empty himself, no “other” with whom to limit himself. How could God be the “Other” if there was no other “other”? How could God be loving, compassionate and self-giving if there was no “other” with whom to share his compassion and selflessness?

Since only God could resolve the paradox between his own disparate “otherness” and his own self-emptying compassion, he acted to create other “otherness.” Indeed, God must have said to himself, “It is not good that . . . [I] should be alone; I will make . . . an help meet for . . . [myself]” (see Genesis 2:18). However, for God to create “otherness” raised a profound issue.

The Paradox of Negation/Affirmation

The very act of initial creation necessarily involved God’s command, possession and control. In consequence of this original domination, predetermination or predestination, there at first could be no relational “otherness” that was truly free and open. God therefore chose to endow primal Creation with the innate ability to say “no” to himself and to his commandable “otherness.” This innate “no” constituted the potential determination of Creation to deny the command, domination and control of God. Since suffering and death were Creation’s endowment from God, then Creation could eventually reciprocate and provide that same heritage to God and his handiwork.

It was in this context that the prophet Second Isaiah, writing during the Babylonian Exile, explicitly declared the connection between God as Creator and the existence of evil:

I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God before me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. — Isaiah 45:5-7 (emphasis supplied).

It is shocking to affirm that the One-and-Only God created evil. It is even more disquieting to probe the nature of evil. At its root, evil is the desire to annihilate Creation and its Creator. Evil is therefore the ultimate negation of all reality. However, by his own choice, God had no option but to accept the possibility of such negation, to tolerate its occurrence, and to assume its consequences.

As God proceeded with the ongoing process of a continuing Creation (creatio continua), mankind was finally endowed with moral consciousness. Creation — through mankind — was granted the moral capability of saying either “yes” or “no” to God himself. Metaphorically, God gave mankind both the “tree of life” — the “yes” — and the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” — the “no” (Genesis 2:9, 16, 17). Thus, God freely accepted the possibility, occurrence and ultimate consequences of moral evil.

It is distressing to consider that the One-and-Only God of love and compassion should create a moral “otherness” that could choose to annihilate itself, exterminate God’s work, and even murder God himself. Nevertheless, this reality should not be ignored. David S. Cunningham addresses the matter:

God creates the world as something wholly-other-than-God, gives to it the gift of life, in order that the world might return the gift to God — and to do so of its own accord, not as a result of the divine pulling of various strings. And it does so; the created order glorifies God — it “returns the gift” — simply by being what it most fully is, and thereby testifying to God’s loving act of donation. But one particular group of the creatures in this creation have been given even more — and of them, more is required. Human beings are given not only their life and breath; they are also given a rather extravagant degree of freedom. Created in the image of God, they possess even the power to turn away from God. They — and perhaps they alone — are capable of choosing not to return the gift.

And because such creatures are part of the divine plan from the outset, God’s relationship to the world is not exhaustively defined by the notion of “creation”; in other words, God does not simply leave the creation to its own devices. Creatures who have the power to say “no” can be expected to act on that power at some time or another. God creates us in order that we might come into communion with God; God awaits our response, our “yes,” our return of the gift. Having thus created us, God does not abandon us; even when we fail to fulfill our purpose (to glorify and enjoy God forever), God provides a way for us to turn and be converted — a way for those who have said “no” to God to say “yes” instead. Of course, even those who do eventually say “yes” are still free, and they may turn away again. Thus, God sustains them in their willingness to return the gift . . . giving them a foretaste of its glory.

God creates, redeems, and sanctifies the world. . . . [T]his is not a series of rearguard actions, in which God attempts to rectify the mistakes of the past. They are all necessarily bound up with the creation of an “other.” If this other is truly other — and is thus endowed with the freedom and power to turn away — then we should perhaps not be completely surprised when it chooses to exercise that power. If its creator wants it to turn back and be reconciled, then such a creator must also be willing to expend the energy — and, if necessary, to pay the price — to call the other, again and again, into communion.

Here . . . an analogy of parents and children may help. Despite its flaws in describing God’s inner life, it provides a rather good analogy for God’s relationship to the world. It is, of course, an imperfect analogy; we do not “create” children in the strong sense that God creates the world. Nevertheless, it is useful in that good parents recognize that bringing a child into the world involves more than a mere act of “creation,” a pleasurable sexual event that “initiates” the child’s life. Children are not fully under the control of their “creators”; they have the freedom to turn away. Parents who wish to remain in communion with their children know that they must do more than simply “make a baby.” They must also provide a means whereby children can turn a defiant “no” into a willing “yes” — and they must find ways of sustaining that decision by means of a long, fully-engaged process of reconciliation. At its best, parenthood is not simply a series of emergency measures, each undertaken as a way of coping with the willful otherness of the child. Good parents know from the outset that children cannot simply be “made” and left to their own devices.

And God is the best of all possible parents. Having created the world, and having created human beings (whose freedom is so extensive that they are able even to turn away from God), God redeems them from their isolation and alienation, providing a means by which they can be taken up, once again.5

So it is that God created the universe, life and humanity, giving mankind the right and privilege of saying “no” to the Creator, to Creation, and even to itself. In fact, Creation already has said “no.”6 Yet God not only has accepted the occurrence of that “no”; he already has accepted the consequences of that “no.”

Despite the “no” of Creation, God has never intended to reject, abandon or terminate his Creation. However, over against God and his true intentions is the false philosophy of nihilism (nothingness). Nihilism originated in primitive mythology 4,000 years ago, persisted throughout history, and has become a global phenomenon in our postmodern age. To nihilists the entire created order, the Creator-God, and all “otherness” are expendable. At the extreme “left” of nihilism are the secular nihilists. A prime example of secular nihilism is the philosophy of “deconstructionism,” developed by the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida. According to Derrida, nothing in the entire universe has any ultimate meaning, significance or value. Even language and words used to represent reality are considered meaningless.7 At the extreme “right” of nihilism are the “sacralized” nihilists. Tragically, the concepts of “Christian Reconstructionism,” developed by Rousas John Rushdoony and his son-in-law, Gary North, have infiltrated much of nihilistic Christian fundamentalism.

The key concept of Reconstructionism is Dominion. God gave Adam and later Noah the task of subduing the world. Christians have inherited this mandate and they have the responsibility of imposing Jesus’ rule on earth before the second Coming of Christ. There will be no need, however, for Christians to take action to achieve this, since God himself will bring the modern state down in a terrible catastrophe. Christians will simply reap the victory that God will effect.

In the meantime, the Reconstructionists are training themselves to take control when the secular humanist state is destroyed. Their vision is a complete distortion of Christianity in its abandonment of the ethos of compassion. When the Kingdom comes, there will be no more separation of church and state; the modern heresy of democracy will be abolished, and society reorganized on strictly biblical lines. This means that every single law of the Bible must be put literally into practice. Slavery will be reintroduced; there will be no more birth control . . . ; adulterers, homosexuals, blasphemers, astrologers, and witches will all be put to death. Children who are persistently disobedient must also be stoned.8

Today, both secular and “sacralized” nihilists are determined to accomplish their misguided intentions. Some are intent on abandoning the world through their own “rapture.” Some are determined to destroy the world by launching a Battle of Armageddon. Some are trying to reduce the world and the universe to utter subjection or nothingness by lighting a fuse that will ignite a final conflagration.9

But nihilists fail to understand that the One-and-Only God already has acted to assure the irrevocable, noncontingent and eternal integrity of himself, of his Creation, and of all “otherness.” As the apostle Paul declared, God already has reconciled “all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Colossians 1:20). The term “reconciled” is a translation of the Greek word “katallage, which means ‘a becoming other.’”10

In his human manifestation God resolved the paradox between his absence and presence. As Jesus said, “ . . . [L]o, I am with you always . . . ” (Matthew 28:20). At the same time, God accepted the possibility, occurrence and consequence of evil, including the death of Creation, of the Creator, and of all “otherness.” God accepted the ultimate “no.” In his incarnation, life, ministry, suffering and death as Jesus Christ, God accepted and eternally crushed all evil — the “no,” the negation of “otherness.”

The Paradox of Inauguration/Consummation

But this is not all that God accomplished as Jesus Christ. In his resurrection from the grave, Jesus inaugurated the irrevocable, noncontingent and reciprocal “yes” to divine “otherness.” As Jesus, God became the corporate and representative human “other.” Thus, the reciprocal and relational “otherness” essential to the mutual integrity of Creator and Creation has already been assured.

However, the full realization of this mutual “otherness” awaits the consummation of God’s revelation to our human understanding and acceptance. Only mankind’s willingness to accept God’s presence and action as the actuality of faith, hope and love will bring that consummation. At this moment of crisis, then, are we willing to accept him as the representative human “other” who constitutes our faith, our hope, our love, our ultimate transformation into his own image?

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. — Ephesians 2:8, 9.

Conclusion

In the Christ event the paradox between the ultimate absence and presence of God to Creation has been resolved. The ultimate “no” and “yes” to God and his Creation have been decided. Now, the paradox between the inaugural mutual relationality by God as the human Jesus Christ and the final consummate manifestation of such reciprocal relationality with humanity is about to be resolved. Let us then accept his faith, hope and love so that he might be seen in all the glory of his “otherness” and so that we might be received into that glory.

Notes and References

  1. HaShem (‘the Name’) is a euphemism for YHVH. Alternatively, ‘the name’ . . . stands for Yeshua.” – David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications), p. 239. (go back)
  2. Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), pp. 40, 41. (go back)
  3. Lucien Richard, Christ: The Self-Emptying of God (New York: Paulist Press, 1997), p. 177. (go back)
  4. Ibid., p. 94. (go back)
  5. David S. Cunningham, These Three Are One: The Practice of Trinitarian Theology (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1998), pp. 75, 76. (go back)
  6. The created order has explicitly said “no” to God through mankind. (go back)
  7. See Tom Snyder, “Deconstructing Deconstructionism,” at answers.org/issues/derrida.html. (go back)
  8. Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God (New York: Ballantine Books, 2000), p. 361. The alliance between Christian fundamentalism and Christian Reconstructionism should be further explained. Nihilistic fundamentalism has focused on the ultimate destruction of Creation. Reconstructionism has focused on the ultimate domination of Creation, with the state as the human manifestation of deity. To use a metaphor, both Christian fundamentalism and Christian Reconstructionism have now agreed that the “criminal” created order must first be legally apprehended, subdued and tried. Whether Creation is subsequently subjected to the capital penalty or is eternally confined is a secondary consideration in which fundamentalism and Reconstructionism choose to differ. (go back)
  9. See ibid. (go back)
  10. Richard, Christ, p. 38. (go back)

 

Copyright © 2002 Worldview Publications