Christ is risen!
It is a funny thing how many of us expect to pay for the good things that we experience through suffering in the future. We do not consider Fortune a capricious dame but rather a diligent keeper of accounts who ensures that happiness must be balanced by misery. We do not enjoy blessings easily because we suspect that horrible news awaits us just around the corner; the time of reckoning must come.
Perhaps, this attitude is due to our fundamental suspicions about our place in providence, as I noted in “Pessimist,” but I wonder if something more universal is at work. In this world of finitude, men are always in need. As such, they do not give away what treasure or skill they have until they have secured their necessities. Instead, they trade, and most everything has a price—and everyone has to accept limits.
It is easy to interpret our relationship with God within this framework. Natural religion—paganism—does this explicitly, and we heirs of Abraham often harbor some residual pagan opinions of mortal-divine bartering. We pray for blessings, and we speculate about the cost. We might propose deals to God—and then worry about our failing to keep our end. In all this, we assume that God is like man—that he must exact a payment. Yet, we forget that the bartering economy arises from limited resources. The divine economy has no such restraint. As Kristor Lawson often remarks on the Orthosphere, God creates ex nihilo, and God’s free giving of being radically differs from the world of the market. God has no need and requires nothing of us for his own benefit. For God is perfect. In what way could a perfect being benefit?
But, then, what of us and of our relationship with God? What does the perfect God have to do with us besides creating and holding us in existence? Is he simply that timeless clock maker and tinkerer? This question troubles many folks who deal with the dilemma either by depersonalizing God or by reducing God to a creaturely level. A good example of the latter is another Orthospheran, Bruce Charllton, who praises Mormonism for its anthropomorphic understanding of God. For how can we have a relationship with the “beyond being” that has any resemblance to the scriptural images of the relationship between God and man: father and son, king and subject, bridegroom and bride, and so on. What can the Perfect and Unchanging get in return for our devotion?
I believe that those human relationship images indicate an answer—or rather the path to the answer. What binds human beings as human beings more than love? Love is an odd dynamic, whereby the lover gives and benefits in such giving by rendering good to the beloved. What does the lover get besides the happiness of being a lover? Perhaps love in return, and such certainly adds to act of loving as a completion, but true love is not a payment in expectation of a return. The happiness of love is in the act itself. It is, we might say on many levels, a pure act.
God is the lover par excellence. In the divine liturgy, we call the Lord the lover of mankind—φιλάνθρωπος. God cannot be defined, but Christians have always used love as the best way to talk about God. God is love and the archetype of love. In Christianity alone may we maintain that love is essential to God. According to rabbinical Judaism and Mohammedanism, love requires creation; God only loves that which he creates. So, love is a created force, even if God eternally loves that which comes to be in time. Christians, however, believe that the community of the Trinity is one of eternal love—which is essential to God—and that this relationship is the ground of all existence. We do not judge that we anthropomorphize the cosmos when we speak of love among non-human beings. Rather, we believe that human love in its many forms is an imitation of and participation in the fount of reality—God’s inner life of love.
As with so many dilemmas that result from trying to pigeonhole the Almighty into creaturely categories, the problem disappears when we reflect upon God. God is the Lord of both/and and not simply either/or (ha!), and he freely gives being and goodness. God only enters the marketplace of exchange to rectify our creaturely debts; in such manner are we bought with a price—and yet God frees his bondsmen.
Truly, he is risen!