The One Story of God’s Infinite Love

A fascinating summary by David Bentley Hart of the drama of divine love in the theology of Robert Jenson:

God’s “present” is not something that can be abstracted from the particular historical identity of Jesus of Nazareth. Here is where Jenson’s thought is perhaps most radical, and most in accord with one very pronounced extreme within modern Protestant dogmatics; for in his theology it is as the man Jesus—and in no other fashion—that Christ is the eternal Son and Word of the Father. There is no Logos asarkos for Jenson—that is, no timeless and “fleshless” Word of God; rather, God the Father has decided from all eternity to determine Himself in this man as His Son, to make Jesus the object of His perfect attention and complete preoccupation, and thereby to determine Himself as the Father of this Son. As the unique object of the Father’s absolute concern, the man Jesus “stays” the consciousness of the Father and gives it the shape that it has. The eternity of the Son, therefore, begins as the eternal presupposition of the election of Jesus in the infinity of God’s choice; the preexistence of the Son is not a preincarnate state, but rather a pattern of movement within salvation history toward the arrival of this “incarnation.”

Who God is, therefore, subsists in the Father’s loving concern for the Son and the Son’s loving obedience to the Father, and in the freedom of the Spirit who—as unending divine futurity—makes this relation eternal. In Jenson’s rather daring formulation, the Spirit “frees” the Father and the Son for the adventure of this love and for the infinite possibility that is this love’s perfection. As for us, our place in this drama is that of the companions of the Son; we are included in the story of God’s freedom because Christ is the man who is for all men, and so for the Father to have Christ as His Son He must have us as well; for there is no Son apart from Him who said “Father, forgive them.” And thus we are taken up into the one story of God’s infinite love, in which all our particular and shared stories—insofar as they are true stories—live, and move, and have their being.

Another implication of this line of thought, from which Jenson does not shrink, is that not only does God overcome death for us in the death and resurrection of Christ, by virtue of His transcendence; He in fact overcomes death for Himself, indeed constitutes Himself as transcendent of death by way of His confrontation with death upon the cross and His triumph over death at Easter. Which is also to say that—inasmuch as God has eternally decided to determine His identity in this man—God has eternally elected the world of sin, death, and the devil “alongside” His election of the Son as the context in which the drama of triune love must be played out. Thus, even the fallenness of our world falls within the story of God’s life as Trinity, but only insofar as that fallenness is overcome by God in Christ. There is sin only that we might be saved, for it is as the God who saves that the Father determines Himself in His Son, and raises the Son by the Spirit, and draws us into that mystery. The triune “event” that God is, then, involves the cross of Christ not as something incidental or subsidiary, but as (so to speak) its axis: the moment in which the Father’s love for the Son and the Son’s obedience to the Father arrive at their crisis, and in which the Spirit lifts up that love and obedience into an eternal living future.

. . .Jenson’s central claim is that God is the event of what happens between the Father and Jesus, as enabled by and lifted up in the Spirit. And so it is the human Jesus who is the second Person of the Trinity, and the human will within Jesus that is the divine will of the Son. Hence, the perfect human love of Christ for the Father, and His perfect assent to the Father’s will, is also the salvific divine decision that sets all of us free, and the one great High-Priestly act whereby the Son hands all of us over—in our corporate nature—to the Father’s love.

First Things

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