Sunday, June 9, 2013

T.F. Torrance: The Goodness and Dignity of Man, pt. 1

            The following is a detailed summary and critique of: Torrance, T.F. 1988. The Goodness and Dignity of Man in the Christian Tradition. Modern Theology, 4(4):309­-322.

The goodness and dignity of man must be viewed in relation to Jesus Christ. According to Torrance, “Christian judgments about man are properly formed in the light of the humanity of Christ and in accordance with his redemptive purpose in the regeneration of mankind.”
In order to set the background for a Christocentric anthropology, Torrance outlines several basic tenets of the Judeo-Christian view of humanity.  

The Biblical Tradition 

(1). Man is created by God and affirmed by him as “good.” As a created being, man has a “contingent” relation with God, for man has his “sustaining ground and sufficient reason” in God. At the same time, man is a unique reality utterly different from God with an integrity and independence of his own. God called man into relationship with himself through his Word in such a way that “the Word of God is made to echo in the innermost being of man.” According to Torrance, “[T]he distinctly contingent nature of human being is grounded in the direct address of God to man which has the effect of sealing and destining him for communion with God.”
(2). In contrast to a Platonic mind-body dualism, Torrance follows biblical anthropology in describing man as a “unitary whole,” that is, “body of his mind and mind of his body.” Because man lives and moves and has his being in God (cf. Acts 17:28), he is made to live in relationship with God through the “immanent presence and power” of the Holy Spirit. The activity of the Spirit in creation is the freedom of God to be present to the creature, notes Torrance, “sustaining it in its creaturely being and realising the relation of the creature to himself, so that the creature may reach its true end beyond itself in God.” Not only does God uphold man from “below” in his contingent existence, but through his Spirit, God is present to man in such a way as to sustain him in his “contingent openness to God and the address of his Word.” The Bible uses the word “spirit” to describe man’s relationship to God as constituted by the Holy Spirit. The “spirit” in man is not to be understood as a gnostic “spark” of divinity, but rather as the “creaturely pole of the spirit-Spirit relation.” As Torrance notes, “It is creative Spirit at God’s end and creaturely spirit at man’s end.” In light of the “spirit-Spirit relation,” notes Torrance, man must regarded as an “essentially relational being,” who is what he is as man through “subsisting” in the “being-constituting” God-human relation. If God were to withdraw his Spirit, notes Torrance, man would vanish into nothingness.[1]
Man is a creature who lives on the boundary between two worlds: the physical and spiritual, the visible and invisible, or what scripture refers to as the earthly and heavenly. As a unitary being, mind of his body and body of his mind, uniquely related to God through the presence of the Spirit, man spans both worlds. “He is thus the one constituent of the universe,” notes Torrance, “through whom the creation discloses its astonishing order and harmony and comes to expression in such a way as to praise and glorify God the Father Almighty.”
3). Human beings are created by God not as solitary individuals but as “male and female,” in such a way that they need each other to be human. In the biblical tradition, it is not man alone but “man and woman” who constitute in their union the basic unit of humanity. Thus, “co-humanity” belongs to the essential fabric of human existence. Marriage takes an essential place in the structure of humanity, for the becoming “one flesh” of the man-woman relation “generates a dynamic ontological relationship within human existence.” Hence, man is constituted a “relational” being not only through his “vertical” relationship with his Creator, but also through his “horizontal” relation within his created existence as man and woman. Through procreation, the “intra-human relation” within marriage weaves the intrinsic social fabric of humanity around the family.
(4). It is in respect of the “intra-relational” structure of man as “man and woman” that he is created in the “image and likeness” of God (cf. Gen 1:26). The “basic inter-human relation” is made to reflect in its creaturely difference both a transcendent relation within God and the basic covenant partnership between God and humanity. As Torrance notes, it is not man or woman “individually” who reflects the image of God, but “man” as “man and woman” in their reciprocal and complimentary relationship with one another, a relationship that is a “unique analogical relation to God.”[2] The horizontal man-woman relation (within the covenant of marriage), grounded in the vertical relation with God, is “a contingent reflection of God and represents a created correspondence to uncreated relations within God himself.” Unique among all created beings, singled out in “created correspondence” with God, man is the “crown of creation,” who has been granted a covenant partnership with God wherein he is to exercise “dominion” (not unrestricted lordship) over his fellow creatures.
(5). The enigma of man, however, is that he is “fallen” from the state in which God created him and exists in “contradiction” to the purpose for which he is destined. Far from being abandoned, however, God continues to claim man and accept as his “good” handiwork. According to Torrance, “The human nature created by God as such is not evil but essentially good in its determination for fellowship with God, and perfectly adapted for the fulfilment of his will and purpose in the creation (italics added).” Torrance continues:
Although the contradiction into which man has lapsed is judged by God, the very fact that God set his “No” against it means that God will not allow man to escape from the primary “Yes” of God in his creative affirmation of him as good, and so man must always be regarded in the light of God’s promise that he will make good his claim. 
The “inexplicable emergence of evil” into the God-man relationship, notes Torrance, creates a breach not only between man and God but also between man and woman, man and nature and within man, so that man is alienated from himself. Because human beings are no longer the beings they ought to be, whether in relation to God or to one another, they are trapped in an ontological split in the fabric of their being. Deeply “curved in upon themselves” in the depths of their being, no matter how much they exercise free will, they are unable to escape from their self-will, so that, try as they may to be what they ought to be, they remain aware that they ought to be other than they are. As Torrance argues, “They cannot overcome the disruption in their constitutive relations with God or fellow human beings which inexorably imposes that obligation upon them for it belongs to the ontological structure of what they now are.”[3]
              6). Out of the breach that evil has created in our vertical-horizontal relations arises “conscience,” the “inner warning that is soundlessly voiced within us ... when we come into conflict with God and with one another.” While conscience has its primary reference to man’s vertical relation with God, through which his being is constituted, it has a secondary reference to his horizontal relations in which he exists with others. As part of the “ineradicable makeup” of man, conscience functions at the intersection of man’s vertical-horizontal relations, where the claims of God written on his heart meet with the claims of neighbour upon him. Because of his broken relationship with his Creator, however, conscience functions as a “sounding board” through which man hears the voice of God only as a refracted “echo,” distorted and unclear. Thus, conscience tells us nothing “positive’ about God but, at best, signals when we are in the wrong with God and other. Moreover, conscience may become twisted, so that its signals are co-opted by evil for the purpose of greater evil.
(7). Man’s entire being partakes of the inner contradiction into which he has fallen, so that sin and guilt are rooted in the ontological depths of his existence. Yet God continues to claim man as his own and affirm him as good, despite the contradiction in which he is trapped. God’s steadfastness toward disobedient man is expressed in the “covenant of grace.” While the righteous God judges man’s sin and guilt, God’s refuses to let man go but, rather, “redeems him from the evil that menaces his reality and integrity as a child of God.” Far from being condemnatory, God’s holiness is “supremely self-imparting and redemptive,” for God’s holiness is the “purity of his everlasting Love with which he has bound man to himself and will not let him go.”[4]
As Torrance notes, God’s relation with Old Testament Israel, “in the redeeming and renewing force of his steadfast Love,” is the paradigm for his relations with all humanity. Torrance writes:
The astonishing revelation of God in the Biblical Tradition is that God does not wish to exist alone, and has freely brought into being alongside of himself and yet in utter distinction from himself another upon whom he may pour out his love, with whom he may share his divine Life in covenant-partnership. That is the relationship in terms of which the ultimate secret of human nature is to be sought, and with reference to which therefore the essential goodness and dignity of man are to be understood.[5]
Hence, human history must be viewed within the framework of God’s determination of man for fellowship with himself and God’s positive affirmation of human existence, despite the contradiction of evil entrenched within it. While the biblical tradition will not allow us to overlook human evil, neither will it allow us to forget that, in making man for himself, God approves of what he has made and affirms its goodness. Even in the face of everything that contradicts it, man’s creation “in the image of God” is the “divinely given law and truth” of his being. In view of man’s destiny to live in a covenant partnership with God that transcends the brokenness of his actual existence, Torrance writes:
What greater dignity could man have than to be the covenant partner of God, the being of whom God is for ever mindful, the one to whom he addresses his Word and whom he enlightens as no other creature, and indeed the one with whom God wishes to share his own life and love and glory?

[1] For Torrance, man is constituted a relational being primarily by the “vertical” spirit-Spirit relation and secondarily by the “horizontal” man-neighbour relation (cf. below). In describing the spirit-Spirit relation as a “being-constituting” relation (i.e., “onto-relation”), Torrance implies that the God-human relation is an integral, essential aspect of what it means to be human.
[2] The One God of the Christian faith is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three divine Persons, eternally and equally co-existing in a communion of love. As a creaturely reflection of the equality, unity and diversity of the Holy Trinity, “man and woman” united in the covenant of marriage reflect the image of God.
[3] Torrance appears to describe “original sin” in terms of a breach of relationship between God and man and man and neighbour. This would follow from his assertion that “relationship” constitutes the imago dei.
[4] Torrance sets holiness in relation to divine love rather than divine law. Holiness and love are not competing attributes in God; rather, holiness is the “purity” of divine love. Moreover, Torrance does not say that man is evil; rather, he asserts that man is “menaced” by evil.
[5] Italics added. Man’s goodness and dignity derive from his relationship with God, as covenant partner and recipient of divine love.

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