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Cruciformity Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross
By Michael J. Gorman
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Copyright © 2001 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
All right reserved.
Chapter One THE CRUCIFORM GOD
Paul's Experience of "The Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ"
Knowing God - having an appropriately awe-filled yet intimate relationship, or partnership, with the creator, redeemer of Israel, and sovereign of the universe - is and was the life goal of faithful Jews. It was no less so for Paul. Paul characterizes himself as zealous - both before and after his first experience of Jesus as Messiah - in his pursuit of the means to this knowledge of God and its corresponding life of obedience. The initial and ongoing encounter with Jesus, however, reformulated his understanding of who God is and how God is most fully experienced. That the Messiah, God's Son, was sent by God to be crucified, and then raised by God, meant that somehow God and the cross were inextricably interrelated. This connection led Paul to see not only Jesus, but also God the "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," as defined by the cross. How did this connection occur, and what impact did it have on Paul?
Paul's Knowledge of God
As a faithful Jew, Paul knew God as the one God and creator of all, and as the faithful, merciful God of the covenant. After coming to the conviction that Jesus was God's promised Messiah, Paul of course stillrelated to God as creator:
For from him [God/the Lord] and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 11:36)
Paul alludes to the Jewish shema, or confession of God's oneness (Dent. 6:4), when addressing problems perceived by some in Corinth as idolatrous (1 COL 8:7, 10). He does so also when asserting justification by faith for Jews and Gentiles alike, since God, as one, is the God of the Gentiles as well as the Jews (Rom. 3:29-30). Paul continued also to relate to God as covenant-maker and covenant-keeper. Indeed, he did so with renewed vigor, as Romans most clearly demonstrates:
3 What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written, "So that you [God] may be justified in your words, and prevail in your judging." (Rom. 3:3-4) 1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. (Rom. 11:1-2a) ... for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Rom. 11:29)
As an apostle of this God, Paul also continued the Jewish tradition, found for instance in some of the psalms, of referring to God with the personal pronoun "my." In the opening prayers of his letters, Paul frequently thanks "my God" for the people to whom he writes (Rom. 1:8; 1 COL 1:4; Phil. 1:3; Philem. 4). Paul's sense of personal relationship with God is expressed also in his conviction that "my God may humble me" (2 Cor. 12:21) and that "my God will satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19).
Paul can summarize the believer's spiritual experience as "knowing God" (Gal. 4:9a), or better, as "being known by God" (Gal. 4:9b; cf. 1 COL 13:12). This language also continues the biblical tradition that speaks of knowing God. For Paul this is clearly an intimate knowledge: his goal is one day to know "even as I have been fully known" (1 COL 13:12). Yet for Paul, God is known in Christ; "Christ is determined by God himself as the place where God can be known"
Knowing God Anew in Jesus as "Father"
When Paul encountered Jesus, his Jewish experience of the faithful, righteous, and merciful God of Israel was deepened and broadened. However, one significant change in his knowledge of God occurred. Now, Paul had experienced God in Jesus, and he, like all early Christians, had to find language to articulate both the relationship between God and Jesus and the believers' experience of that relationship. Paul seems to have drawn upon early Christian worship - prayers, hymns, and creeds - to understand and express his new knowledge of God as Father: Father of Jesus Christ the Son, and Father, through "adoption," of all who have faith that Jesus is God's Son and Messiah.
Paul was most likely indebted to his Jewish heritage and to early Christian worship traditions, such as short creeds or confessional statements, in his understanding of Jesus the Messiah as the Son of God. The terminology of "Son of God" itself naturally implied God's fatherhood of the Son. This was derived from, and reinforced by, the biblical and Jewish tradition of referring to the king, and later the Messiah, as God's Son and thus to God as the father of the king/Messiah (see, e.g., Psalm 2). Paul, apparently echoing early Christian acclamations, speaks of God sending his (or, with emphasis, his own) Son in Galatians 4:4 and Romans 8:3. Similarly, in Romans 8:32 he speaks of God "not withhold[ing, sparing] his own Son." Some fifteen times in the undisputed Pauline letters Paul refers to Jesus as God's (own) Son (eleven times), the Son of God (three times), or the Son (once). In addition, Paul refers to God as "the God and Father of our/the Lord Jesus [Christ]."
This early Christian identification of Jesus as God's Son and God as Jesus' Father was fueled by Jesus' habit of referring and praying to God as his Father - "Abba" in Jesus' language of Aramaic. The predecessors of Paul, in turn, most likely followed the practice of Jesus in calling God their "Father," too. That Paul twice preserves the Aramaic word "Abba" suggests this continuity from Jesus to the earliest Christians to Paul (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Although there was some Jewish precedent for an experience of God as "father" (e.g. Hos. 11:1), biblical and early Jewish sources suggest that this image was not as central to Jewish life and worship as others. Nevertheless, although Israel's experience of God as father is not pervasive in Judaism, the contours of the experience are those of Jesus and Paul: God is the one who provides for his children/heirs, and who is owed honor and obedience.
When Paul speaks of God, especially when referring to God while greeting fellow Christians with an invocation of divine grace and peace, or otherwise praying, he repeatedly uses phrases like "God our Father," "our God and Father," "God the Father," or simply "the Father." In corporate worship, in private prayer, and in invoking God's blessing in written form, Paul experiences God as Father. God is the benevolent Father of all believers and of each community, in contrast to pagan gods and rulers. As Father, God has a family, replacing the gods as the head of a new "race" and the emperor as the community's pater familias, or head of the (universal) household. Paul therefore sees himself and all other believers - Gentiles as well as Jews - as God's children.
For Paul, however, possessing this status of "children of God" comes not by virtue of creation, and certainly not by unique election or preexistence (as in the case of Jesus), but by special relation to God through faith. The metaphor Paul uses to express this relationship with God, initiated by God, is adoption. It is those adopted by God who may call God "Abba Father," and Paul seems both to do this and to encourage it with delight (Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:15). In the sending of God's Son, so that Paul and others could enjoy the privileges of being God's children, Paul perceived and experienced the self-giving, life-giving love of God. God had not spared the Son but had given him in love first to be born, but primarily to suffer, die, and be raised on behalf of humanity in the grip of sin. To say that God is our Father, for Paul, is to say above all that God is for us, as demonstrated in the giving of his only Son so that that Son could become the first of many "sons" (children) of God (Rom. 8:29). God, that is, is known to be faithful and loving to the entire human race, both Jews and Gentiles.
God for Us
As the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and as the Father of believers, God for Paul is especially the One who is lovingly "for us" in Christ; indeed, "Christ is 'God for us"':
31 If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? (Rom. 8:31b-32)
God is the "God of peace" (Phil. 4:9) - the God who makes peace with us mortal enemies of God (Rom. 5:1-11). Paul knows that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself" (2 COL 5:19); or, in other words, God's love was and is found in "Christ Jesus our Lord," and nothing "in all creation will be able to separate us" from that love (Rom. 8:39). For Paul, then, God's love is known in Christ's love, specifically in Christ's act of love in death, as Paul says in the same passage: "[I]n all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Rom. 8:37), a clear reference, in context, to the Son's death. As Jürgen Becker writes,
[O]n the basis of the Christ event, Paul infers not only the depth of human lostness ... but also the depth of divine grace and love.... [God] does not wait until he can let the principle of poetic justice rule. Rather, according to Paul, his nature consists in re-creating the unlovely so that under his love they become lovely, in turning enemies into reconciled people, in giving worth to the worthless. This is the self-characterization of the Father of Jesus Christ.
Paul probably would not have expressed his experience of God in the words of 1 John, "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16), though he had similar sentiments. For Paul love is not primarily God's being but God's way of being; it is not primarily God's essence but God's story. It is a story of self-giving love ("his own Son," Rom. 8:3, 32), and it corresponds to the self-giving love of Christ. For Paul, Christ's love is both the sign and the substance of God's love:
God proves his [literally "his own"] love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)
Paul, then, would have found his experience of God echoed in the words of the gospel of John:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)
The God whom Paul knows has given the gift of peace and love to his apostle and to all who trust that God's promises are fulfilled in his Son, the Messiah Jesus. Paul's experience of God was personal and transformative. He felt him self "dead to" - unplugged from, so to speak - his former self and life, and thereby alive to and for God:
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. (Gal. 2:19a) So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 6:11)
To be "alive to God in Christ Jesus" is to take on a new posture toward God, not one of apathy, rejection, and rebellion, but one of faith, hope, and love.
To continue this relationship with God, Paul urges his fellow Christians (and no doubt also himself) to present themselves and their bodies - the whole of their lives - to this God of mercy who has given them life.
[P]resent yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life.... (Rom. 6:13b) I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom. 12:1)
As Galatians 2:19 (cited above) suggests, however, Paul's relationship to God is intimately linked to his newfound experience of Christ. The uniquely Christian dimension of Paul's experience of God is that he knows God as the Father of Jesus the Son, the Father who sent the Son into the world to accomplish what humans could not accomplish, so that Paul and others could in turn know God as their Father. The act that made this possible was the Son's reconciling death on the cross as an act of obedience and sacrificial love. For that reason, Paul's experience of God was transformed by his encounter with the crucified - and exalted - Christ.
The Father, the Son, and the Cross
Knowing God as the Father who raised and exalted the Son confirmed Paul's understanding of God as all-powerful creator, able even to re-create life out of death. Yet knowing God as the Father of the crucified Christ led Paul to another dimension of his experience and understanding of God. Like other ancients, Paul knew the idea, if not the expression, "like father, like son." The necessary similarity of God's children to God, articulated in texts like 1 John 3:9 and 4:7-8 (God's children do not sin, but love), depends on this concept. For Paul, there was a necessary "family resemblance" between the Father and the Son. The Father was like the Son, and vice versa.
If the Christ of Paul's experience was the faithful, obedient Son of God, then he acted in life and especially in death according to the will and character of God. That is to say, the Son's act on the cross was an act of "family resemblance," of conformity to God. If so, Paul would have reasoned from his experience of Christ, God must be a God who by nature wills and does what the Son willed and did. God is, in other words, a God of self-sacrificing and self-giving love whose power and wisdom are found in the weakness and folly of the cross. In a similar vein, Marianne Meye Thompson, alluding to Galatians 5:6, rightly claims that, for Paul, "God's Fatherhood can be summarized as 'faithfulness working through love.'" In subsequent chapters we will argue that this text also encapsulates both Paul's understanding of believers' existence and his view of Christ's death.
For Paul, "Christ - that is, Christ crucified" (1 COL 2:2) is the revelation of the love, wisdom, and power of God: "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself" (2 COL 5:19); "Christ [crucified] ... [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24). As such, Christ reveals to Paul a God who is not otherwise known in antiquity. This God is certainly not to be found among Greek or Roman deities, and not even among Paul's fellow Jews. Despite Paul's clarion and legitimate claims of continuity with Israel's experience of God, it is clear that the God he knows in Jesus Christ was not known in the same way by any who preceded him, not even Abraham, who knew God as the One who justifies by faith and raises the dead (Romans 4).
Paul clearly, however, did not believe himself to know a different God, but only the same God of Israel, now more fully known and knowable. Yet the difference is tremendously significant. "Confession to [sic] Jesus as the sign of God's decisive act stands God on the head." All claims to knowledge of God - and of God's love, wisdom, and power - whether pagan, Jewish, or even (no, especially!) Christian must now pass the test of conformity to the cross of Christ as the revelation of God: "God's stance toward the world is quintessentially demonstrated in the action of Christ [in his death]." If on the cross Christ conformed to God, then God "conforms" to the cross. The cross is the interpretive, or hermeneutical, lens through which God is seen; it is the means of grace by which God is known. As John Carroll and Joel Green write, in Paul we find an
unyielding affirmation that in the cross we see the character of God; the crucifixion of Jesus is the gauge of God's immeasurable love just as it is the ultimate object lesson for God's unorthodox notion of the exercise of power.
One of the central dimensions of Paul's experience of divine love and power in the crucified Jesus is his discovery that God is the "great subverter of the status quo." Not only is God "stood on the head," but also, consequently, are all human values and visions. The impact of this "discovery" (Paul would say "revelation") on the apostle's life and ministry will unfold in subsequent chapters.
Excerpted from Cruciformity by Michael J. Gorman Copyright © 2001 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company . Excerpted by permission.
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