Friday, 11 April 2008

Transcendence Enables Intimacy

It is common amongst those who have studied theology in a more progressive theological institution to be deeply suspicious of or even reject the transcendence of God. They do so believing that by rejecting transcendence intimacy takes its rightful place in Christian theology unimpeded by the distant God of cold, bossy and controlling religion. Now, it is of course true that the distant and cold god is presented to the faithful in terms of transcendence. A god of a great gap between himself and us, and who is the heavenly image of an unemotionally involved father. And it is true that this betrays Jesus and the one he named 'Abba', and the specifically Christian doctrine of God (the Trinity). The god of coldness and control (predicated on distance) is not Christian, and let us affirm our atheism in respect to that god. But this is nothing more than a pale imitation of real transcendence when applied to God. It is precisely because God is transcendent that the deepest intimacy with God is possible. Transcendence and intimacy are correlates not enemies. This God is free because of God's transcendence to be vulnerable and to mould our response into God's own life.

The ontological chasm between us and God (wrong language actually because it makes it sound like God is just ontologically different from us, but still a 'something' like us, but anyway ...) is the ground upon which intimacy stands, rather than a philosophical affirmation we wheel out occasionally. It is this insight that was the subtext of the christological and trinitarian debates of the early church. I would not be overstating the case by much if I said that the God-world relationship is the most important theological doctrine to get right: everything else will be conditioned by it.

I can't resist putting in one final paragraph. It is because transcendence and intimacy are correlates that the dual nature of Christ is not a nonsense: human and divine in Christ are not competitiors because of the transcendence of God. (This is why many of those from progressive theological colleges reject the doctrine of the Incarnation: they don't have a truly transcendent God.) Correctly understood, the transcendence of God (that is, God is not just a more transcendent version of us) is also the underlying theological principle of grace. It is because of the transcendence of God that human action adds nothing to what God does for us on our behalf. However, it is also because of God's transcendence that there can be a synergy between human and divine, and why, when correctly understood, it is possible to talk about us as co-creators with God.

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