Results tagged “beatific vision” from Reformation21 Blog

On happiness: a theological outline

I. Christian theology addresses the topic of happiness by addressing, first, the being and works of "the happy God" (1 Tim 1.11; 6.15) and, second, the happiness of the people whose God is the Lord (Ps 33.12).

II. God is happy because he possesses infinite riches of being, wisdom, goodness, and power in and of himself (Gen 17.1; John 5.26; Rom 11.33; Eph 3.16) and because he possesses these infinite riches within the perfect communion, knowledge, and love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt 11.25-27; John 17.24-26). The happy God is the supreme paradigm and source of all creaturely happiness. 

III. Though we may speak of the happiness of all sorts of creatures insofar as they may achieve various states of rest and satisfaction in various circumstances (e.g., the duck who finds peaceful habitation in the pond), creaturely happiness, in a strict sense, is a condition proper only to certain kinds of creatures (i.e., angels and human beings), who are capable of possessing, knowing, and loving both finite and infinite objects of happiness. 

IV. Human beings in their natural state are intrinsically incomplete and unrealized. Therefore, they can only acquire happiness in relation to other creatures and, ultimately, in relation to God, the supreme happiness toward which all creaturely objects of happiness direct us. This natural state of human beings exhibits itself subjectively in the soul's restlessness, hunger, and thirst to possess finite and, ultimately, infinite objects of happiness: "How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord. . . Happy are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise" (Ps 84.1-2, 4).

V. Because the ultimate happiness of human beings lies in God, God must instruct human beings in that ultimate happiness, and also in the way that leads to that ultimate happiness, if they are to realize their natures in relation to God (Gen 2; Prov 8.32-36). 

VI. Human sin and folly consists in throwing this divine instruction aside and in pursuing the wrong objects of happiness in the wrong way: in exchanging the glory of the happy God for the false promises of wealth, honor, fame, power, health, and pleasure. "Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer 2.12-13).

VII. Despite our sin and folly, God wills to communicate a share in his happiness to miserable sinners. To this end, the Son of God became "a man of sorrows" in order to bear "our griefs" and to carry "our sorrows" (Isa 53.3-4). In drinking the consequences of our sin and folly to the last drop (Matt 26, 39, 42; John 19.28), he became the fountain of eternal happiness: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt 11.28); "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst" (John 6.35).

VIII. The supreme happiness of the redeemed cannot be achieved in this life. In following the path of their Lord, the redeemed are characterized by poverty of spirit, mourning, hunger, and thirst, along with the loss of various creaturely objects of happiness through persecution (Matt 5.2-12; Heb 10.34). Nevertheless, even in this life, the redeemed can "rejoice and be glad," because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them, because they shall see God (Matt 5.8, 10, 12).

IX. The supreme happiness of the redeemed lies beyond this vale of tears in the vision of God (Matt 5.8; Titus 2.13). When Jesus appears to receive his people into his eternal kingdom, they will see him as he is (1 John 3.2). In seeing him as he is, they will fully possess, know, and love God, even as they are fully possessed, known, and loved by God (1 Cor 13.12). Thus they will be completely happy: "in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Ps 16.11). In the vision of God, our human nature will be realized as we rest and rejoice in God; our natural hunger and thirst for God will be fully satisfied in God: 
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middles of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the three of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever (Rev 22.1-5).  

The Incarnation Apart From Sin?

Christological supralapsarianism can take on a variety of forms. In connection with this doctrine, I would like to address whether the Son would have become incarnate if Adam had not fallen (Cur Deus homo si Adam non pecasset?). Reformed theologians have asked what reward Adam would have received if he did not fall (and have disagreed on the answer), so I do not think it is inappropriate to ask whether that reward would have included a sight of the God-man.

Those affirming the view above have a fairly inauspicious history of theologians joining with them, whose names begin with "S": Scotus, Suarez, Servetus, Socinus, and Schleiermacher (and oh-Siander). With company like that, well...there's always Cardinal Bellarmine for the other side to even things out. Of course, a material similarity does not necessitate a formal similarity, o lovers of Republication! In fact, my position doesn't quite follow the arguments put forth by the aforementioned theologians and heretics. 

The fightback against this medieval "chimera" is well documented, especially by Reformed theologians. Calvin argued that the question involves unnecessary speculation (Institutes, 2.xii.5). G.C. Berkouwer seems decidedly unhappy with the idea because speculation tends to move us away from what actually happened (which is really what matters). The supralapsarian, Thomas Goodwin, did not want to address the question of whether the Son would have become incarnate if Adam had not sinned, even though he was prepared to say: "Christ did not come into the world for us, but we came into the world for Christ," which is a form of Christological supralapsarianism. 

We can look at this question from our perspective as well as the perspective of the Father. In this post I want to focus primarily on the reasons "from below" more so than the reasons "from above."

Did God will (understood in terms of "divine permission") the Fall - a sort of felix culpa - in order to achieve the greater good of sending his Son to redeem sinners? I doubt it. If the Son became incarnate as a response to the entrance of sin, Christ becomes, as it were, an "accidental identity" (so David Bentley Hart).

The Son (as theanthropos) must be at the centre of God's creating purposes, not simply his redeeming purposes. The creation of the world exists for the sake of the Son, otherwise we can make no sense of Colossians 1:16, which has in view the Son as God-man (i.e., Christ), not the Son simpliciter. Hence, Adam and Eve were created for Christ and by Christ.

Salvation from sin is not the highest end for humanity. That view conceives of the purposes of God too negatively. Rather, the highest end for humanity is uninterrupted (eternal) communion with God. However, in order to enjoy the fullest and highest blessings of communion with the triune God, we need to be glorified. Because of the Creator-creature distinction, God must nevertheless condescend before we can "ascend." The incarnation provides the only way God can have perpetual, unimpeded communion with man whereby man lacks nothing in terms of his ability to fully enjoy and know God because man is now Spirit-filled by the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9).

Adam was without sin, but that does not mean he was perfect; nor in the Garden did he reach glorification. Even Christ eventually reached "perfection" ("and once made perfect") in his high priestly role and awaited glorification (Jn. 17:5; Heb. 2:10; 5:9). Adam was naked in Eden. He was not yet clothed as he needed to be. The Son is clothed in the flesh of humanity. This formerly "weak" flesh is now glorified flesh (Rom. 1:4). We reach this same destiny when we are given new "clothing" in Christ (resurrected bodies, 1 Jn. 3:2; cf. Rom. 5:15-17).

I do not believe Adam could have gained for humanity what Christ was able to gain. He simply could not merit anything from God, much less could he merit the same blessings as Christ was able to merit as the God-man. Our union with the God-man brings us into a state far greater than what would have happened if Adam did not sin. The incarnation adds an incredible and immense dignity to our nature. Moreover, our adoption is on a higher level, for we are united to the God-man, not just a man. In Eden, Adam was a son indeed, per gratiam creationis, but not a son per gratiam adoptionis, that is, not in Christo, vel per Christum

Adam's personal sonship required development, just as Christ's own mediatorial sonship required development. Jesus, who was "for a little while" lower than the heavenly beings, is now superior to them in every way and for all eternity (Heb. 1-2). Adam desired from God what he was not yet ready for concerning the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Christ, however, remained patient, eagerly desiring the gift of the Father according to the timing and promise of the Father. Christ did not snatch his bride, but waited for his reward.

What does this all mean? Very simply, God's intention for humanity could only ever be fully realized through the incarnation. Why did God create humanity? To bring into being a bride for his Son, who would assume a human nature. This was best realized in the incarnation where God made it possible for us to commune with him in and through Christ alone by the Spirit.

Christ is not only God's reaction to sin. Sin did not necessitate the incarnation. True, things were made more difficult for the Son and for us as a result of sin, but God's basic telos has not been altered. The king of creation, to whom creation would bow, could not ultimately have been Adam. It had to be Christ. Christ, the heavenly man, makes possible what was ontologically impossible for the earthly man (1 Cor. 15:49). Full rights of eternal sonship must come through the eternal Son, not the temporary son (Adam), who was of the dust. Union with the God-man must be eternal because God hates divorce and cannot allow himself to be implicated in a divorce, which would be the case if something were to separate us from his love in Christ. Because of the incarnation, we truly belong to the same family of God when we are in Christ.

So, however it would have happened, the Son would still have become incarnate, ruled over creation, and brought about the possibility of full communion with the Father through the Spirit. As van Driel says in his book, Incarnation Anyway, attempting to respond to the charge that this view is overly speculative:

"I ask about the incarnation as it happened, about the Christ as we have him; and my point is that the incarnation as it happened gives us so much, is so rich in gifts of divine friendship and intimacy, that it cannot be explained as only a divine countermeasure against sin. There is no speculation here about a hypothetical situation; there is no discontent with the Christ as he is; rather, I am so impressed with the Christ as he is that I argue that the category of redemption is not rich enough to explain the wonder of his presence" (pp. 164-65).

In a nutshell, we are able to reject the "felix culpa" argument (so Schleiermacher) and also move away from unnecessary speculation based on this model. We give Christ the priority in all things (Col. 1:16), and we rejoice that God has always desired to bring us into communion with himself through the Son, who was always destined to be the man of the Spirit, par excellence, so that we could likewise be people of the Spirit in the fullest measure possible (i.e., maturity). This is something only Christ could give us, and not Adam. 

Perhaps most importantly, the incarnation gives us the highest blessing possible: the beatific vision. We see the face of God in the man, Christ Jesus (Col. 1:15; 2 Cor. 3:18, 4:6; 1 Jn. 3:2). We behold God's glory in the God-man (Jn. 14:9). Apart from the incarnation, we would be without this great blessing. But the incarnation gives us a sight of God that Adam could never have attained to. 

Thus the incarnation best displays God's love for humanity, by gifting us with the greatest gift possible: sight and enjoyment of the God-man. To think that we would have missed out on this if Adam had not sinned makes little theological sense to me. Indeed, it makes little sense that a loving God towards his creatures would withhold from them the greatest blessing he can give to them: an ocular, not just intellectual, sight of God in the flesh. 

While Goodwin does not wish to speculate on the incarnation (anyway) as the medieval schoolmen did, he does make an important point worthy of our consideration as we wrestle with this question:

"Whereas to bring [Christ] into the world only upon occasion of man's sin, and for the work of redemption, were to subject Christ to us...Whereas he is the end of us, and of all other things. This were also to have the person ordained for the benefits (such as redemption)..., which are all far inferior to the gift of his person unto us, and much more the glory of his person itself. His person is of infinite more worth than they all can be of."

Therefore, to acknowledge the pre-eminence of the gift of Christ's person over his work might be the first step to acknowledging that perhaps the Son would have become incarnate even if Adam did not sin. If there was no incarnation, the universe would be without its crowning glory. The man that God most delights in is the man, Christ Jesus (Isa. 42:1; 1 Tim. 2:5) - one of the arguments "from above".

Those who dealt with this question and rejected the position of incarnation apart from sin (see Johannes Hoornbeeck, Socinianismus Confutatus, II.253) usually point to the plethora of passages which speak of Christ coming into the world to deal with sin (e.g., 1 Tim. 1:15). Of course this is true, though there are certain types of "ends" that would have to be addressed before the case becomes a slam dunk. But just because Christ came to save sinners does not mean he wouldn't have come if there was no sin.  The force of habitual interpretation may explain why some assume that if Christ came to save sinners then he wouldn't have come if there were no sin. 

Finally, all of the arguments I have read against Christological supralapsarianism - the type I have advanced - haven't actually dealt with the issue of the ocular beatific vision. That is, I think, a major plus for the S-men, though I can't recall any of them actually making that specific argument. Had they, I wonder whether the reaction against their position would have been so vigorous. 

Pastor Mark Jones has nothing to hide, and, like Steve Biko, writes what he likes. (*A special sign-off for a special student and his special professor at a special seminary). 

Suarez (1548-1617?)

Today Justin Taylor posted one of my favorite sections from C. S. Lewis's sermon, "The Weight of Glory." In that sermon, Lewis speaks eloquently about the "desire for our own far-off country"--the desire for heaven. I worry that much contemporary teaching and preaching fails to speak with Lewis's eloquence about this far-off country because it fails to speak properly about that which makes this far-off country so desirable. 

Much is said in contemporary preaching about the resurrection of the body, about the glories of a renewed creation, about the cessation of conflict and strife--much is said about many of the great things that will characterize the new creation. But far too little is said about the greatest blessing of the new creation, namely, the glorious presence of the triune God. God will dwell in the midst of the new heaven and earth in unveiled glory, and we will see his face (Revelation 21-22). This, according to Scripture, is our greatest inheritance (Psalm 16), and this is the greatest source of joy: we will behold "the king in his beauty" (Isaiah 33.17).  

What is it about God's glorious presence that makes the Christian's blessed hope "blessed"? Jerry Walls explains in words that echo Lewis:

Theism raises the ceiling on our hopes for happiness for the simple reason that God provides resources for joy that immeasurably outstrip whatever the natural order can offer. However great the delights of this planet, it must be remembered that earth is only a tiny speck in a universe whose dimensions are truly staggering. What theism claims is that, while this universe reveals and reflects the glory of God, it is still only a pale image of his infinitely surpassing beauty, power, and goodness. Whatever is wonderful and joyful in this life was created by him, and insofar as it brings joy, it points to an author who is even more fascinating, exciting, and overflowing with vitality. The partial, fleeting happiness that leaves us wanting more is an image and a promise of a happiness that is truly without limit and without end, a happiness that is not only an implication, but also a gift, of a God who is himself boundless in his own happiness and creative joy.

This is the happiness that Jesus promised to the pure in heart, to those who possess an unmixed desire for a far-off country: "blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5.8).