Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Glory of God I: more than a restoration

As usual, Gaunilo (who's back from hiatus by the way) has been a helpful dialogue partner, and in an e-mail exchange, prompted the following thoughts from me:

In thinking about the process of human glorification of God, I wrote:

If in God, the highest praise and the highest praiseworthiness coincide completely, it seems that glory is this highest praiseworthiness “published abroad”, in part so that praise might be returned. There is a dynamic of glory “proceeding” from God, and “returning” to God: that is, God’s utterly praiseworthy self and actions are made known, and result in the praise of God by the creation, which implies (where appropriate*) valuing, loving, and following God.

Gaunilo wrote, in part:

Finally: your talk of 'risk,' 'friendship,' and the work of creation gone bad: important questions about the relationship of divinity and creation are raised. How, precisely, does God's 'praiseworthiness published abroad' factor in this dynamic? Particularly in terms of sin and evil:...

And I responded:

This is a crucial question. My initial sense is that the human process of glorification** (in which the Holy Spirit is involved) is itself an important part of the redemption/sanctification/hallowing/consummation of creation. This is (in some sense) an undoing of what has gone wrong, and a restoration.

Yet it is also more than a restoration, for God in wisdom and patience allows the sin (which is real) to be the occasion for an elevation -- the consummation at the eschaton is more than just being returned to our original state, it is somehow moving to a more-than-original state. In the scope of the Bible, we start in a garden and end in a city; it is not just a return to where we began, but a moving on. In fact, throughout Revelation, I am struck at how often it seems clear that what is happening is a return through books of the Old Testament/Tanakh, an undoing/redoing of what has happened, so that the scope of Scripture ends up being like descending into a valley and re-ascending on the other side, but on a higher peak. (An example: might not Revelation 7, with the great multitude from every tongue and tribe and nation, crying out in a loud voice and praising God be an undoing of the Tower of Babel? And that not just that the confusion of the many languages of the earth are undone, but that their true end is restored -- glorifying and worshipping God?)

Of course, this elevation is not a 'reward' for sin, and does not follow on the heels of sin, so that sin cannot be said to be the reason or cause of our elevation (in Paul's words, God forbid!). But even as Paul alludes to the rejection of Jesus by the Jews to be the occasion for the ingrafting of the Gentiles, this logic expands to describe an economy of God's action, such that our wickedness is never in itself a hindrance to God's intent, and can be used by God for an expansion of that intent. In the terms of Sam Wells, himself drawing on improvisational theatre, every 'offer' we make to God is not merely 'accepted' but 'overaccepted', taken up, transfigured, and made to serve God's purposes. This is some of what I mean by 'wisdom coupled with patience' in God.

I believe that this is something like the logic behind one of my favourite collects, said near Eastertime, something like "O God, who has wonderfully created us, and yet more wonderfully redeemed us..." There is something profound in that 'yet more', a determination that our spoiling of the gift will not stand in the way of God's ultimate purposes, a logic of overflow, of superfluity, of grace: that nothing will (ultimately) stand in the way of God's purposes.

Of course, this is not the end of the conversation, but the beginning, and I wanted to post these thoughts to allow others to join in the conversation too.

*That is, the creation – broadly construed – might in its own characteristic way give praise and glory to God, but valuing and following God seem limited to humans; perhaps this is the characteristic way that this part of creation gives praise and glory to God, whereas other parts praise and glorify God in their own characteristic ways.

** Which in itself is a divine process, rather than a merely human process.

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Blogger Gaunilo said...

I am really quite interested in two points in particular that you're making: glorification as (part of) the redemption of creation, and the 'overplus' of redemption...the 'how much more.'

What's going on here, to me, is fascinating because it addresses in an interesting way the working of the Spirit in grace and shedding love abroad in our hearts (Rom. 5.5, Augustine's favorite text): a movement in which God's giving of Godself to redeem and perfect the world creates a people that enact a kind of liturgical transfiguration of the cosmos. The work of the Spirit, the gift of grace and love, would then be the work of glorification (of God by God) which would at the same time be the work of redemption - precisely because it would be God glorifying God in the community.

I'm really not trying to push you in a pneumatological direction - I'm thinking with you and can't avoid the connection. There's a logic of grace lying within this I find fascinating (hence the talk of de Lubac).

I guess the final moment of this trajectory (thus my comment in the email) then becomes one of mission, the 'publishing abroad.' It becomes very interesting to parse mission as a locution of the work of glorification.

Good stuff. Thanks.

Monday, March 20, 2006 11:20:00 PM  

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