Wednesday, February 6, 2013

T.F. Torrance: The Womb of the Incarnation, pt 8

Intensification of the Covenant 

According to Torrance (1992:75), the institution of the cultic liturgy, set out in the Torah and interpreted by the prophets, reinforced Israel’s separation from other nations as “a people imprinted with a priestly character and invested with a vicarious mission” as mediator of divine revelation and reconciliation. This was not, however, a mere formal rite designed to guarantee propitiation between God and the people. Torrance writes:
[T]he covenanted way of response had to be worked into the very flesh and blood of Israel’s existence. It had to be impregnated into its understanding and sculptured into its very being. It had to be built into the reciprocity between God and Israel and be allowed to control the whole pattern of its life and mission in history. 
For Torrance (1960a:121), the covenanted way of response had to be “translated from the realm of symbolic ritual into the actual existence of His people,” for the covenanted way of response was never intended to be a dead liturgy or an empty ritual. He continues:
The worst thing that could be done with such a covenant would be to turn the symbolic ritual into an end in itself, as a means of acting upon God and bending His will to serve the ends of men. That is precisely what Israel tried to do again and again, so that God sent the prophets to protest against their use of the Cult and to demand obedience rather than sacrifice. 

As Purves (2001:63) notes, by its very nature, the covenanted way of response was intended to be written on the hearts of the people and incorporated into their existence in such a way that Israel was called to pattern its entire life after it. Similarly, notes Colyer (2001a:100), if Israel was to be a light to the nations as mediator of revelation and reconciliation, the vicarious way of response provided the people by God had to be embodied in Israel as a whole, that is, in the totality of Israel’s existence as a people charged with a priestly and vicarious life and mission. 

As God drew nearer to Israel in reconciling love, Israel’s sin was not only revealed but also intensified. As Torrance notes, this was not an accidental feature of the covenant: “[God] used the suffering and judgement of Israel to reveal the terrible nature of sin as contradiction to God’s love and grace, to uncover the deep enmity of humanity in its persistent self-will before God in his divine self-giving.” The intensification of Israel’s sin was incorporated into the “full design” of the covenant, Torrance argues, for “it was the will and the way of God’s grace to effect reconciliation with man at his very worst,” that is, in a state of stiff-necked rebellion against God. “In that ordeal,” notes Torrance, “the word and the cult were not mere letter and liturgy, but were worked out into the very existence of Israel,” as indicated in Deutero-Isaiah (Chapters 40-55) and Jeremiah (Torrance, 1992:28, 29; 2008:47). In this regard, argues Scandrett (2006:59), Torrance sees a connection between sin and human suffering, for Israel’s condition of enmity and rebellion against God was always the occasion for its suffering. For Torrance, notes Scandrett, sin may be regarded as the “disease,” with suffering the inevitable “symptom,” from which Israel (and all humanity) needs to be healed. 

As Torrance argues, in unswerving love for Israel, God worked out a way of reconciliation that did not depend on a worthy response from humanity, but made Israel’s sin and rebellion the means by which he bound it to himself in “unsullied communion.” God used the history and suffering of Israel to reveal his infinite love for humanity and to serve his unrelenting purpose of forgiveness and reconciliation, until his love achieved its ultimate purpose of final union and communion of humanity with God in Jesus Christ (Torrance, 1992:28, 29; 2008:47). More succinctly, Torrance shows how a sovereign and gracious God can use even human sin as a means of further address to his people (cf. Kruger, 1989:60). 

The great sign of the covenant was circumcision, notes Torrance, whereby the covenant was “cut into the flesh” of the people as the sign that the promises of God would be fulfilled in the life of Israel only as the word of God was “translated into its flesh,” that is, into its very existence. Circumcision was the sign that the covenant had to be written into the heart, in the “‘crucifixion’ of self-will” and the “putting off of ‘the enmity of the flesh.’” Astonishingly, however, the more God gave himself, Torrance argues, the more he forced Israel to be what, in its sin and self-will, it truly was: a “rebel.” Because the self-giving of God intensified the enmity and contradiction between Israel and God, Torrance argues that Israel was, in fact, “the suffering servant.” Israel suffered as it was broken, remade, and realigned into conformity with the covenant will of God. For Torrance, the whole concept of the “suffering servant” represents the activity of God, whereby he begins “to draw together the cords of the covenant” between himself and Israel (Torrance, 2008:47-52). 

The Servant of the Lord 

Israel’s corporate role of suffering servant is gradually associated in the mind of the people with one individual who identifies himself with the nation’s suffering. Torrance sees the vicarious embodiment and mediation of the covenant beginning to come to expression in the Isaianic “servant of the Lord,” as particularly and poignantly illustrated in Isaiah 53. Here the mediatorial and priestly figures of Moses and Aaron respectively, and the notions of guilt-bearer and sacrifice for sin, are conflated to provide the “interpretive clue” for the intercessory and vicarious role of the servant in the redemption of Israel (Torrance, 1992:75, 76; 2008:51, 52). For Torrance, notes Scandrett (2006:55, 56), this is the “penultimate stage” of mediation in Israel and reflects Torrance’s image of the “ever-deepening, spiral movement” of divine revelation (cf. Torrance, 1992:8). Torrance’s treatment of the Isaianic material, argues Scandrett, demonstrates his understanding of the “unifying and narrowing thrust of the Old Testament toward the ultimate goal of the Incarnation.”  

Moreover, the “fundamental antinomy” (Scandrett, 2006:60) between Israel’s sin and God’s holiness will be gathered up and reconciled in this one individual, for, as Torrance (1992:75, 76; 2008:51, 52) argues, the servant of the Lord is the “hypostasised actualisation” of the divinely provided way of covenant response set forth within the flesh and blood existence of Israel; that is, the entire covenanted way of response is gathered up in this one individual (cf. Scandrett, 2006:56).  Moreover, Torrance sees a messianic role envisioned for the servant, wherein both mediator and sacrifice, as well as priest and victim, are combined in a form that is both representative and substitutionary, as well as corporate and individual in its fulfilment. 

For Torrance, the Isaianic writer is struggling to articulate a vision wherein the servant of the Lord is identified with Israel as a whole, the divine Redeemer (goel) is identified with the Holy One of Israel, and the roles of Servant and Redeemer are combined and spoken of together.  Torrance argues, “It is as though the prophet wanted to say that the real servant of the Lord is the Lord himself who as goel-Redeemer has bound himself up in such a tight bond of covenant kinship with Israel that he has taken upon himself Israel’s afflicted existence and made it his own in order to redeem Israel.” For Torrance, this implies an actual state of incarnation which finally takes place within the matrix of Israel in the birth of the Son of God to the Virgin Mary (Torrance, 1992:76; cf. Colyer, 2001a:100). Thus, while Israel itself is the suffering servant, assumed into oneness with the word of God, in the servant songs of Isaiah, it is evident that the word becomes one with Israel, becoming more and more “one Israelite,” for that is the only way in which the word assumes human nature and existence into oneness with itself. For Torrance, therefore, the suffering servant is primarily to be understood as “the Word” identifying himself with Israel, and becoming “one particular Israelite, an individual person, the Messiah” (Torrance, 2008:51, 52). 

As Scandrett (2006:61) notes, Torrance clearly identifies the suffering servant of Isaiah Fifty-Three with Jesus Christ. For Torrance, the suffering servant acts from within the ontological depths of Israel’s troubled, sinful existence and, therefore, “vicariously” on behalf of Israel, that is, “as Israel in a participatory sense” (Scandrett, 2006:63). As Scandrett rightly emphasises, “The Servant’s suffering moves beyond the forms of Israel’s covenanted way of response to penetrate the essential disjunction which exists between God and Israel because of sin” (emphasis in original) and, thereby, “binds” himself to Israel in such a way as to reconstitute the nation’s relation to him so that “their true end is fully and perfectly realised in unsullied communion with himself (Torrance, 1992:29). As will be shown below (cf. Chapter Six) the servant’s participatory, ontological penetration into the depths of Israel’s existence in order to bind the nation to himself in communion is paradigmatic for Torrance’s understanding of the atoning reconciliation of Jesus Christ. 

For Torrance, argues Scandrett (2006:57, 58), the repeated juxtaposition of the Isaianic servant of the Lord and the Holy One of Israel is of new and critical importance in regard to divine revelation in Israel. “Most remarkably,” notes Scandrett, it juxtaposes God and humanity in a single individual. Moreover, it brings together the legal and sacrificial  dimensions of Israel’s life [as represented by Moses and Aaron], which, together, form the “two complementary poles” of the people’s entire existence, as encompassed in the covenanted way of response in Israel. “In emphasizing the juxtaposition of these entities as pointing beyond itself toward a single reality,” argues Scandrett, “Torrance’s basic commitment to the centrality of the Incarnation is once again made clear.” In addition, the juxtaposition of the servant of the Lord and the Holy One of Israel brings together in an unprecedented way the liturgical concepts of Mediator and Sacrifice with the moral and legal concept of Redeemer. For Torrance, argues Scandrett, this marks a “stunning development in the mind of Israel regarding the character and role of the Messiah as a Mediator between God and humanity.” This “new combination of forms” by which the Word of God revealed in Jesus Christ can be apprehended shows the “progressive, unifying, and narrowing character” of God’s self-disclosure to Israel, wherein the Servant of the Lord and the Holy One of Israel are brought together, as the “ever deepening, spiral movement” (cf. Torrance, 1992:8) of revelation progresses toward its goal in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Grace and Response: A Matter of Order

Many years ago, when I was a young man in Bible college, one of my theology professors said to the class, “When I wake up in the morning, ...