Sunday, June 16, 2013

T.F. Torrance: The Goodness and Dignity of Man, pt. 2

The Christian Tradition
The decisive factor and controlling centre of the Christian tradition is Jesus Christ. In his incarnate constitution as God and humanity joined in reconciling union, “the ground and goal of the Covenant and of the whole creation have been embodied within actual human existence.” Thus, the real truth of human nature is to be found in Jesus Christ and in him alone. In Jesus, God’s affirmation of man as “good” is fully realized. Torrance writes:
Jesus Christ is the Word by whom, for whom, and in whom we have been created in the image of God, so that in his Incarnation as Immanuel, God with us and for us and in us, he is the secret of our creation and redemption―in him we may now penetrate through all the distortion, depravity and degradation of humanity to the true nature of man hidden beneath it all.[1]
At the cross, the truth of man’s sin and guilt is exposed and judged; at the same time, God’s infinite love for man is revealed, so that the true worth of humanity is disclosed as the object of God’s sacrificial love. In the humanity of the incarnate Son of God, we find the truth that for man to live in union with God is to become fully and perfectly human. Thus, the evil and wickedness of man has nothing to do with his creaturely nature as such, but rather is a “perversion” and “corruption” of his nature as a result of rebellion against the creative source of his being.[2]
             
Torrance’s particular concern is to show what the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, along with God’s forgiveness of human sin, have to tell us about the real goodness and dignity of man.
(1). For Torrance, the cross is a window into the heart of God. Jesus Christ is God incarnate, God himself come to be one of us and make our lost cause his own. Against a neo-Platonic dualism that asserts that Christ suffered in his humanity but not in his divinity,[3] we must think of God as directly present in the suffering of Christ on the cross. We must look beyond the passion of Jesus all the way to the passion of the Father, who suffered alongside his Son. [4] As Torrance argues, “The self-abnegating Love of God the Father is surely the supreme truth that lies behind everything else in the Gospel, and gives it its decisive meaning and redemptive power.” Because God forgives our sin at infinite cost to himself in the sacrifice of his Son, the cross proves that God loves us more than he loves himself. The infinite price God has freely chosen to pay in order to share his life with humanity attests to the immeasurable worth and infinite value that God puts upon man. Hence, we are unable to set any limits on the worth of our fellow human beings.
(2). Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God, has become Man. In the incarnation, the creative ground and source of our human being has entered the actualities of human existence. By taking upon himself our fallen Adamic flesh, he has healed the dehumanising breach between God and humanity, for he is the perfect man in whom there is no ontological split between what he ought to be and what he is. If to be truly human is to live in fellowship with God, then Jesus, the obedient Son who lives in perfect filial relation with the Father, is the one human being who truly reflects the image and likeness of God. Moreover, because the fully divine Son of God has assumed our actual fallen human nature in the incarnation, notes Torrance, “it is in the human being and nature of Jesus that the true nature and dignity of man are ultimately disclosed and established.” Because he is the Creator Word in whom God and humanity are indivisibly united in his incarnate Person, “the humanity of every man, whether he knows it or not, whether he believes it or not, is ontologically bound up with the humanity of Jesus.” This is precisely how God makes good his original claim at creation that man is made “good,” notes Torrance, for Jesus himself is “the true secret of the nature of every human being.” Because he is both the image and the Reality of God, who has taken our fallen humanity to himself, it is by reference to Jesus that we must now think of man as created “in the image of God.” Even though it may be hidden or distorted by sin, the image of God in man nevertheless remains, sealed in place by virtue of our ontological bond with Jesus Christ. Even if we cannot see it, Jesus acknowledges it in teaching that in our relations with our fellow human beings, we have ultimately to do with him and, therefore, with God.[5]
Jesus Christ is “humanising Man” and “personalising Person.” He alone is fully and properly Man, “for in him the creative Source of human being and the perfect actualisation of human being are one.” He is the “fount” from which all that is truly human is derived. We, on the other hand, are “humanised” men and women, for we are not human by virtue of an innate “essence of humanity,” but only in virtue of what we receive from his humanity. Therefore, for us to be truly human is to be “in Christ.”
Likewise, Jesus Christ is “person” in the fullest sense, for, in him, the creative source of personal being and the one perfect human person are united. We, on the other hand, are “personalised persons,” for the source of our personhood lies not in ourselves but in union with Jesus Christ, through whom, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we participate in the communion of personal being of the Holy Trinity. Therefore, for us to be truly personal is to be “in Christ.”[6]
The humanising and personalising character of the incarnation must be understood in relation to the infinite self-abnegating love of God embodied in Jesus Christ, “who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). In giving up his Son at infinite cost to himself, the Father has proven that he loves us unconditionally, without reserve, more than he loves himself. As Torrance argues, “That is the essential nature of his Divine Love which bears upon us in Jesus with all the compelling claims of God upon us and with the undiluted imperative that we love God …  [with all our heart, soul, mind] … and our neighbour as ourselves.” This is such a new kind of law, Torrance contends, that a new word, agape, had to be coined for it in the New Testament. As we reach out to the “objective other” in agape, we pass beyond ourselves to that place where the humanising and personalising power of Jesus Christ may be actualised in our daily lives. It is here, argues Torrance, that the real goodness and dignity of man is made manifest: in “loving others objectively for their sake, and being accounted as the object of such selfless love for our sake.”[7] 

The Communion of the Holy Spirit 

As already noted, the biblical tradition eschews a Platonic dualism in favour of a unitary anthropology, where man is body of his mind and mind of his body. Hence, the “spirit” in man, by which he is related to God, is not a “third” thing but rather a “dynamic correlate” to the Holy Spirit, by whose power man is sustained in his distinctive existence in relation to other human beings. While transcendent and wholly Other, the Holy Spirit is free to be present to man, in order to make him open to God and bring him into fellowship with his Creator. While man has no inherent “continuity” with God,[8] he does have a relationship with God that is unceasingly sustained by the Holy Spirit, who acts both from the side of God and from the side of man, undergirding and upholding him in reciprocal relation to God. Thus, man is not to be understood from a centre in himself, but from above and beyond himself in his transcendent relation to God, as well as within the nexus of his interrelations with neighbour.
In order to further develop his argument for the goodness and dignity of man, Torrance turns to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the trinitarian concept of “person.”  The doctrine of the Trinity asserts that God is three distinct “Persons,” who eternally coexist in a communion or fellowship of love. In the Triune Godhead, notes Torrance, the relations of love between Father, Son and Spirit are “personal relations subsisting in One Being.” That is, “the relations of Love between the Persons of the Holy Trinity belong essentially to what the Divine Persons are.” Noting that the trinitarian concept of “Persons” in the Godhead gave rise to the Western concept of “person,” Torrance argues that God created human beings to reflect on a creaturely level the inter-personal relations of God himself. As the interrelations between the divine Persons are essential to their distinct identities as Father, Son and Spirit, so also on the human level the relations between persons belong to what persons really are. In other words, to be a human “person” is not to be an isolated “individual” but is to be a “person-in-relation,” for relationship is integral to what a person is.
The trinitarian concept of “person” illumines our understanding of the humanising and personalising impact of Jesus on human nature. As the love that God is belongs to the inner personal relations of the Trinity, “love” belongs to the “essential equation of the personal” at the human level. Yet, this is love in a “profound ontological sense” that derives from the Holy Spirit―the love between persons that belongs to what personal beings actually are. According to Torrance, the Spirit dwells in our hearts and floods them with the love that God is; thus, as he is the “bond of Oneness” in the Trinity, he “may” also be the bond of unity, love and intensely personal relations among us.[9] “It is thus that in our frail contingent human nature,” argues Torrance, “we may even be ‘partakers of the Divine Nature’ as through the Communion of the Holy Spirit we are allowed to share in the very Love that God himself is.”
The intimate indwelling of the Holy Spirit is made possible only through Jesus Christ, the one Mediator between God and man. [10] In assuming our sinful human flesh, Jesus made himself one with us, taking our lost and damned condition to himself in atoning exchange, so that we might be restored to communion with the Father. By making himself the “dwelling place” of the Spirit, mediating within our fallen human existence the divine presence and power of God, Jesus has healed the “ontological tension” that sin has created between God and fallen humanity. The New Testament refers to this “new spiritual and ontological condition” as being “in Christ,” or “in the Spirit.” While this is true “in a distinctive and intimate way only of those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour,” notes Torrance, it has a wider application. As all humans are ontologically dependent upon Jesus Christ, so also all humans―regardless of whether they know it or believe it―are ontologically dependent upon the immanent presence of the Holy Spirit, who has been poured out on all flesh (cf. Acts 2:17). Torrance continues:
While we cannot understand all that this being-constituting relation of the Spirit of God to man involves for one who is “without Christ,” it certainly means for a man “in Christ” that his human nature as body of his mind and mind of his body is affirmed with a spiritual wholeness and a new ontological interrelation with others that transcends his original creation, for now he exists not just alongside of the Creator, but in such a way that his human being is anchored in the very Being of God.  

Torrance sums up his argument for the goodness and dignity of man by restating the pivotal importance of the incarnation, where the eternal purpose of God is gathered up in Jesus Christ. In the incarnation, notes Torrance, “our human nature has been taken up in Jesus to the top and summit of being, and that with him and in him man has been located in the very centre of all things!” In lieu of a dualism between the physical and spiritual realms, the incarnation shows that, despite the contradiction introduced by sin and evil, God and man are forever one in Jesus Christ and, through the cross, all things in heaven and earth are reconciled to God (2Cor 5:19). In the incarnation, creation and redemption are perfectly integrated; the original relation between the covenant and the creation has been reaffirmed by God, so that the entire universe is redeemed, sanctified and renewed in Jesus Christ. Man’s role is to serve the purpose of God’s love in the ongoing actualisation of redemption, sanctification and renewal in the universe, as a kind of “midwife” to creation, assisting nature out of its divinely given abundance to ever bring forth new forms of life and richer patterns of order. Torrance concludes:
Indeed as the covenant partner of Jesus Christ man may be regarded as the priest of creation, through whose service as a man of faith and a man of science the marvellous rationality, symmetry, harmony and beauty of God’s creation are being brought to light and given expression in such a way that the whole universe is found to be a glorious hymn to the Creator.


[1] Note that Torrance distinguishes between “depravity” and the “true nature” of man.
[2] For Torrance, sin and evil are “perversions” of our nature. Contrast this with the NIV translation of Romans 7:18, 25, as “sinful nature,” a translation that is subject to criticism.
[3] This particularly dualism, all too common in the Patristic era, was based on the radical separation of the divine and material in Platonic thought.
[4] Torrance does not fall into the heresy of patripassianism by asserting that the Father was crucified; rather, he refutes both a dualism between the divine and human natures of Jesus, as well as between the Father and the Son.
[5] Cf. Acts 9:4: “Saul, Saul; Why are you persecuting Me?”
[6] Torrance quotes John 1:16: “And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.”
[7] According to Torrance, this is why John focuses so much attention in his Epistles on the “new” commandment, where we are to love others with the very love with which we ourselves are loved by God in his self-giving at the cross.
[8] Contra gnostic emanationism and “New Age” pantheism.
[9] Torrance’s description of the Spirit as the “bond of Oneness” in the Trinity is similar to Augustine’s description of the Spirit as the “bond of love” between the Father and the Son. Augustine’s description is useful so long as it is not taken to depersonalize the Spirit.
[10] In regard to the Spirit’s relation to man, Torrance notes that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, and that he is mediated to humanity through the person and work of the incarnate Son. The Holy Spirit is the personal presence of God to man, actualising knowledge of God within him and creating in him the capacity to respond to God’s Word. Coming from the inner communion of love in the heart of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit brings man’s human relations to their true end through his “inter-personal” mode of presence to man, effecting a communion of love between God and humanity.
 

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T.F. Torrance: Union with Christ through the Communion of the Spirit

T.F. Torrance: Union with Christ through the Communion of the Spirit