It’s high time that I concluded this set of posts on the authority of love!
As sometimes happens I’ve been waylaid by other writing deadlines and also this time by working with the ace bunch of students who are currently tackling the Richardson Institute for Peace Studies distance learning module in Political Theology for Peace. If any of you clickers and surfers are interested in registering for this module in 2014/15 please let me know. I am now working on a second module on Politics of Love in Places of Conflict that I hope will also be up and running in 2014/15. Use the comment box below if you are interested in either of them.
One of the writing deadlines was a sudden opportunity to contribute a chapter to a book considering the nature of kenotic authority with a view to providing resources for the ongoing reform of the Roman Catholic Magisterium – an opportunity too exciting to miss! The book should be out over the next few months. Watch this space for more information. The former posts on the authority of love provided good resources to work on for that book, so thank you, all of you, that contributed to the discussion. This post is adapted from what became the final section of that chapter and makes the following three basic points:
1. By displaying the authority of love in a human being, the incarnation of Jesus not only reveals the divine nature, it restores the image of God back into human nature. This is of course, in part, a recovery of what Christians believe that God did when he created humankind in his image in the first place. But it goes far beyond that. Now a human being is in the heart of divinity for ever, and a divine human is substantiated in the heart of human history. Let no-one say that the incarnation didn’t change things! If it happened, then God and humanity are for ever changed! The theologian Thomas Torrance speaks of this in terms of the vicarious humanity of Christ (See Incarnation. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic 2008, 125ff). That is to say that Jesus lived the life of a human being in the fullness of the divine nature, and did it on our behalf so that his life would be available as a resource for any human who desired it.
2. In order to substantiate this new humanity, it was necessary for Jesus to take on all that stood in the way of the authority of love. Undoing empire, disarming the powers, empowering the powerless, as the previous three posts have articulated, are all necessary to demonstrate the authority of love. It is because empire ultimately identifies and kills those who oppose it that the power of death has to be overcome for the authority of love to be demonstrated. Similarly, the powers are the powers of death, and the powerless are the raw material of a system that ultimately eats them up. So in order to manifest the authority of love, love has to be stronger than death.
3. The authority of love is life laid down in love for one’s enemies, to the point of death itself. The new humanity is defined by this characteristic. The gospel narratives continually emphasise Jesus’ repeated statements about needing to go to Jerusalem and be crucified and slain, and rise again on the third day. The disciples, with their sovereignty understanding of power, simply did not understand this. Even post-resurrection, as Luke describes in his account of the incident on the Road to Emmaus, this prevented them from recognising who Jesus is. When they had grasped it then Luke quotes Jesus linking his death for his enemies and the subsequent resurrection to the promised authority carried by his message of forgiveness to the nations. The writer of John’s gospel makes this clear when he explains the time qualification to Jesus’ description of the coming of the Spirit: “But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified”( John 7: 39.)
From the believers’ point of view this is the real substance of the uniqueness of Jesus, and the reason that it needs to be included in political discussions in the public forum. In articulating this I wish to underline that I am not making an exclusive claim that says only Christians can love their enemies. What I am doing here is focusing on a significant resource for positive peace. If we can find it elsewhere, great. But here is an extraordinary articulation of it from the heart of a tradition that something like a third of the world’s population embrace. It is not a matter of excluding the others, but activating the displaced heritage of this multitude on behalf of the rest.