Monday, July 12, 2010

"How God Acts: Creation, Redemption, and Special Divine Action" by Denis Edwards (Pt. 7)

In chapter 6 of Denis Edwards book “How God Acts”, he dives into a noninterventionist theology of resurrection. He does not diminish the significance of the event though: “I will maintain…the resurrection as the central act of God that shapes the history of the universe but will suggest, tentatively, that here too, God can be thought of as acting in a noninterventionist way, in the sense of acting in and through created causes.” Edwards does not see the resurrection of Jesus as a subjective event, but one that is powerfully objective enough to ontologically transform reality. Edwards is committed to an eschatological vision alongside of a noninterventionist vision. Without eschatological hope, the costs of evolution are simply too great.

The resurrection of the crucified Jesus as the central expression of God’s one act of divine self-bestowal, as the culmination of an evolutionary Christology, and as the sacrament of salvation to the world is vital to a robust Christian eschatology. The creation of the world had as its purpose the Christ-event, which is itself directed towards eschatology. God is the one who enables the self-transcendence of the universe from material existence, to life, and finally to human consciousness. In this context, Jesus is the most radical product of self-transcendence within the universe – which is enabled by God, but through the human Jesus. Jesus dies after a self-sacrificial life in a radical act of love for God, and is raised up and transformed by the Spirit: “In this paschal event [the entire Christ-event], part of evolutionary history gives itself completely into God and is taken up and transformed in God, as the beginning of the reconciliation and transformation of all things.” This Christ-event is also the sacrament, or real symbol, of the divine initiative to redeem creation – the sacrament of salvation. That is to say, the Christ-event expresses most fully God’s desire for creation and action within it that has been present all along. Although “God has been present in self-offering love from the very-beginning”, the Christ-event is the fullest manifestation of this eternal divine desire – and the resurrection is the center of the Christ-event. Edwards believes, in line with the Eastern church, that the resurrection is the beginning of the “adoption and divinizing transformation of all things.” The resurrection is an ontological event. In this context, Jesus’ transformed body is taken up into God and able to be present to all things. The “return” of Jesus will be the “disclosure of this new relation to creation that is attained by his resurrection.” The resurrected Jesus radically unites creation to God.

But doesn’t the resurrection of Jesus bypass the laws of nature? How can this possibly be seen as noninterventionist? Edwards is cautious in his claim that the resurrection can be seen as interventionist, but he persists. Because we do not have direct access to the actual act by which God raises up and transforms Christ crucified, Edwards focuses on the proclamations of resurrection, the appearances of the resurrected Christ, and the empty tomb stories. First, when we mystically experience the risen Christ in community, it is always mediated through secondary causes – whether this is through Eucharist or nature. What about the appearance stories in the gospels? Edwards suggests that the disciples really experienced the risen and radically transformed Jesus, yet only through the creaturely mediation of things like community, the breaking of bread, the natural world, the love of another human, and prayer. These experiences are neither imaginary visions nor the same as ordinary sense experience. They transcend both as the unique manifestation of the meaning of creation. There is no exact analogy for these experiences.

Edwards quotes Robert John Russell to bolster his claim that the universe was created to be transformable. As such, the eschatological transformation of the entire universe that the resurrection promises should also be understood as noninterventionist. There is no need for God to introduce a new law into nature at the resurrection as Russell proposes. Creation is made to be transformed. This is what the resurrection points us to.

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