Friday, April 29, 2011

The Blessing of an Unbounded God.

Yes, I know I've done this to death, but more on election and Rob Bell.

For Rob Bell, God is only law.  He's bound to the law.  What law?  The law of love.  The law of love makes it impossible for God to do anything else.  He must love, this is the law of his nature.  He cannot transcend that law and be something else.  Because of this, humans are also bound to this law.  When are they bound to it?  Forever and ever.  This law of love never ends.  It goes beyond the grave and demands their fulfillment, even in hell.  

Now this has a couple of interesting implications which Bell doesn't seem to understand.  First, if the law of love goes on and continues to demand a response from people in hell, it also means it demands a response from people in heaven as well.  If that's the case, we never get relief from the law.  It goes on and on, it's infinite.  For this reason, the law of doing (in this case, the response to God's love) is never finish.  When I've done all I can to fulfill the law in a day, then I get up the next day and have to do it all over again.  If I stop doing the law, then everything I've done prior to this is meaningless.  For all my former compliance, now I'm a law breaker.  If this remains a possibility in heaven, I will always be under the threat of entering hell if I cease to fulfill the law of corresponding to and responding to God's love.  

Though it never apparently occurs to Bell that this is an implication of his position, Origen, the early Church theologian thinks that that's exactly what's going to happen.  Humans will still be free in heaven and so eventually they'll fall all over again.  Then, the whole cycle of Incarnation, ransom and redemption will start up again, just to be repeated an infinite number of times.  Therefore "love wins" means "law wins."

Luther's God (who is the Bible's God!) is not bounded by the law.  The law is holy and is God's will, but God is not subject to it.  Neither does it exhaust his reality.  This makes God very frightening to human beings.  As I noted yesterday, this makes God identical with the power of fate that we can never really explain away.  In fact, humans make up the idea that God is bounded by the law in order to protect themselves against God who chooses- hence all world religions!  The first person to do this was Adam in the Garden of Eden.  He said "you put this woman here with me."  Then the woman said "you put this serpent here to tempt us!"  If God is subject to the law, then don't they have a point?  Of course, God did not make their choices for them and therefore he is not the author of evil.  And, yes, they are guilty of breaking the law by their own volition, no one man-handled them into doing it.  But wouldn't God also be guilty of being an accessory after the fact?  After all, he put the tree there and he didn't stop the serpent from tempting them, did he?  Beyond that, he now through his work as creator continued to propagate the human race in such a way that original sin is passed on to all.  I am guilty of Adam sin even before I am born!!  How unfair!  I am fated to be guilty!

But Adam and Eve aren't right, because God is God and God chooses to be what will be.  He's unbounded by the law (even the law of fairness!) and he chooses to have mercy on whom he will have mercy.  In fact, "I am that I am" is better translated "I will be, whom I will be."  If God the creator puts the tree in the Garden, then that's what he does.  And if for some unknown reason lets the serpent tempt Adam and Eve, that's what he does.  Therefore, God isn't bound by the law.  Any law!  Self-justifying human are always wrong before his bar of justice.  It doesn't matter what they do or what excuses they have.  Indicting God for being God, that is a God who chooses, simply proves we are sinful.  What it proves is that we want to be the ones who choose and therefore want to be God.  Furthermore, it shows that the law ultimately cannot be a protection for us against a God who transcends the law.

But the fact that God is unbounded by the law is ultimately the thing that saves us also.  Unlike Rob Bell's God, who is love, and who infinitely demands love from his creature, the Biblical God transcends the law as the gospel.  In God's own mercy and love, he enters into the law in the person of Jesus and crushes it.  Indeed, if God were only law, this electing love would be as unfair as the fact that we are subject to original sin!  Because of this, the condemning effect of the law is ended through God's merciful fulfillment of it on our behalf.  Indeed, instead of demanding an "infinite response of love" Jesus tells us that he has come to "bring us rest" from the demand of response.  He bring the vita passiva of faith.  He conquerors the power of fate also, by making known and enacting God's electing will of mercy "pro me."  Therefore, God's transcendence of the law ceases to create the terror of my inability to protect myself against God, but in fact becomes my very salvation.


  1. Irony of ironies:

    * I'm thinking of me here.

    Something about glass houses and throwing stones...

  2. Pseudepirgrapha- I'm sorry. I accidentally erased your first post. To answer your question, I have a limited amount of time and I don't have the opportunity to find every little thing wrong with the post. To answer your second question, it's hard to tell how widespread Origenism was. It was apparently widely spread enough that it was condemned by the 5th ecumenical council.

  3. No worries! Pardon my priggishness -- it was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. I will continue to share your work unabashedly.

    And thank you for clarifying the bit about Origen. I'll have to lug out the J.N.D. Kelly and read up on him again...

  4. You write: "Indeed, if God were only law, this electing love would be as unfair as the fact that we are subject to original sin!" Indeed, this is part of the moral argument against the Christian God made by some of the new athiests. They declare the God of atonement unjust by human standards and in this they are more honest then these emergents who seem traped in some kind of perpetual adolescense. God does not have to be cool. Instead we need to die and be raised with Christ.

  5. Gregoy, this is correct. The New Atheists simply don't want God to be God. Trying to beat them at their own game by saying "well, God's really nice and fair by your standards" just gives them the argument.

  6. Yes! God is free to do whatever He wants!

    Excellent post Jack. Thank you.

  7. Jack,

    Keep up the good work! You may not know it ... but you're more "Fordean" than you care you to admit ... :-D Truly a Bondage of the Will theologian of the cross ...

  8. Is there a distinction between saying that God is bounded by His Law and that God is the Law to Himself and doesn't act contrary to it?