God is a Giver
This morning our provincial conference of MB churches has gathered in Surrey, BC to engage in conversation about how we understand the doctrine of the atonement. I’m unable to be there in person, but I’ve got one eye on the life feed of the presentations this morning. My other eye is on Miroslav Volf’s Against the Tide—in particular, an essay called “You Can’t Deal With God.” After telling the familiar story (told in the play/film Amadeus) of Antonio Salieri’s attempt to bargain fame out of God, Volf concludes with this affirmation of the character and work of God:
God hanging on the cross for the salvation of the world is not a negotiating God. On the cross, God is not setting up the terms of a contract that humanity needs to fulfill. God isn’t saying: “I died for you, now you’ve got to do what I tell you to do.” Instead, God is giving God’s own self so that humanity may have life, and life abundant. God is not a negotiator. God is a giver.
Interesting words, given the topic on the agenda today in our little corner of the theological world.
My mentor at the university, David Noel Freedman, wrote about and talked about the difference between the promise, or unconditional covenant, that God made to and through Abraham, and the conditional covenant God made through Moses. In some ways, he observed, it is easier to live with a conditional covenant than with an unconditional one. Under a conditional one, we know what is expected. But under an unconditional one, we don’t, and it is potentially much more demanding, as perhaps the binding of Isaac dealt with, and as perhaps, the cross represents.
The Christian view of the covenant, at least in Protestantism, is more like the unconditional one – God is a giver. Jesus settled the conditional covenant, the Mosaic one, and fulfilled the unconditional one, the Abrahamic. Now there is no more negotiating, for better or worse.
I know that you were meditating on the atonement when you wrote you posting. But your meditation and Volf’s reminded me not of the atonement, but of my mentor, now deceased, and his voice.
I think Freedman is right—unconditional is more ambiguous and probably more demanding. I think it also has the potential to be a lot more rewarding.
I appreciate the interesting angle (and the window into the voice of your mentor).