Death is not an Impediment to Deity

Every now and then I pull into and browse a few of the “Recommended books” they have for me; I love it that they point me to books I end up liking.   Here is a spectacular quote from one such book:

Jesus is what happened to God

This is from The Preached God, p.33, ed. by G. Forde (I am not sure which contributor wrote this particular chapter).  The statement is provocative, so I want to take a moment and explore the theology behind it. 

What draws me to this quote is its way of talking about God so as to locate Him on the temporal map (i.e., within the realm of happening).  In speaking about God, it goes into territory that may be disconcerting to some. It says that something can happen to God, and before that happening, we had less to say about him than after it happened. And therein rigid and fixed categories about a static or Platonic unchanging “god” run headlong into the historical Revelation of God in Christ. And that little quote contains all of that in six simple words.

It reminds me of the line from the Wesley hymn we sing, “And can it be, that thou my God shouldst die for me?” When we lisp those words, we gather up our feeble voices and sing a very strange thing; we sing of God dying. We sing of something happening to God, and not just any happening, but the normally final happening of death.

But the Death of Jesus is exactly the event wherein we find out that death, after all, is not an impediment to God being God (to echo my beloved professor, Dr. Mark DeVine).  Jesus does not lose divinity in death.  God does not cease to be the incarnated God at the most critical and climactic of all moments: the crucifixion.

Any shock resulting from these ideas probably arises in conjunction with presuming that death is not to be mixed with notions of godness or deity — notions we develop intuitively or which we receive in Platonic categories (which is a fancy way of saying “ideas from Plato”). But in Jesus we see that something Happened. And we must steel ourselves to accept the revelation that shocks.

To help us, Multmann wrote his own provocative line in the title of his book, The Crucified God. And Richard Bauckman followed through with a short essay called, God Crucified. I don’t know, but Karl Barth may have re-popularized this thinking with his collection of essays titled The Humanity of God where he applies the title, “Humanity” in a way that is befitting Wesley’s hymn.

All of this is really summed up well in John Taylor’s, The Christlike God, where he says something like, “God is Christlike, and in him there is no un-Christlikeness at all” (I paraphrase from memory). And so theologians are agreeing that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, that G. Forde might be onto something:

Jesus is what happened to God.

But that takes us back to the shock. We may not expect to find God acting in this way, and we might instinctively recoil from all of this. When theologians so recoil, they often attempt to keep God out of the grave by making distinctions between Jesus’ divinity and his humanity (positing that only his humanity was in the grave). That is, they imagine that the death of Christ says something about the Humanity of Jesus, and not the Humanity of God. And hence the counter-intuitive beauty of the opening quote that got me to write today, proves to be counter-intuitive even to theologians.

But the quote won’t let me go that easy. I still want to ask the hard question: What was happening to Very God of Very God? I believe the answer comes in the place I may not want to look: in the Death of Jesus.  But I can’t stop looking at his grave, for I ultimately see his Resurrection. And together, the Death and Resurrection say something profound about God.

God incarnated himself. He cloaked himself in flesh. And when he acted against our instincts (not doing what we imagine is permissible for him), he taught us to re-orient ourselves to his revelation.

That means that in the Death of Jesus we don’t need to retreat to safe theological categories about humanity and divinity.  The ressurection is the answer.  The earth could not hold Very God of Very God.  We can sing the Wesley hymn! And we can sing that hymn because the Resurrection tells us what Mark DeVine pointed out when he said, “In Jesus we discover that, Death is not an Impediment to Deity.”

Louisburg, Kansas

See also: God is like this: Jesus washed feet and The Temptation of Christ

This article was published under Christlike-God, Jesus, Theology.

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