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God without a Mediator?

Tim Challies has quoted a pithy saying of Ligon Duncan's:

Hell is eternity in the presence of God without a mediator.

Heaven is eternity in the presence of God, with a mediator.

What do we reckon?

Here's what's great about it.  It affirms that our experience of eternity hinges on our relationship to the Mediator.  It also affirms that God is not absent from hell.  Both those things are true and worth lifting up.

But I think there are better ways of saying such things.  Here's what's unhelpful about it:

  1. In terms of our doctrine of God - what sense can be made of 'God without a Mediator'?  Trinity means that mediation goes way back.  WAY back.  And WAY forwards.  1 Corinthians 8:6 - all things have always been from the Father and through the Lord Jesus.  All things.  And all things always will be.  Who is this God who is without His Mediator. I simply can't recognize 'God without a mediator' as the Christian God.
  2. In terms of our christology - does this sentiment give Christ His due?It could lead people to suppose that Christ is simply the wrath-averter.  Now of course He is the wrath-averter.  And if He was only the wrath-averter we would still praise Him into eternity for it.  But He is far more than this.  He is the Mediator of all the Father's business.  Christ does not exist for our benefit - we exist for His.  The saying above could be easily misconstrued to mean that the Mediator is extremely important for us - but not so important for God.  No.  He is essential to the divine life before we ever consider His importance for us. 
  3. In terms of Scripture - 2 Thes 1:9 "Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." (KJV)  There's a translation issue about the preposition ('apo').  Should it be translated 'from' or 'away from'?  I favour 'from' - ie implying that Christ is present in judgement.  This goes with Revelation 14:10 where the damned are tormented in the presence of the Lamb.  See also Rev 1:18 where Jesus is presented as the Jailor of death and hades, and Rev 6:16-17 where it's the wrath of the Father together with the Lamb.  Jesus expressly says in John 5:22 that the Father has entrusted all judgement to Him. 

What does this mean?  It means that hell is being in the presence of God who continues to mediate His judgement through the Son.  There is no such thing as 'God without a mediator'. 

I've got some more to say on this, but I'll wait for another post... 

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0 thoughts on “God without a Mediator?

  1. Will

    Yes I've often been concerned by the power of pithy sayings. Sometimes you just have to think of a clever way to say something and everyone will agree with you!

    Anyway I agreed with your comments Glen, notwithstanding any lack of pith.

  2. Gav

    For me this affirms and builds on your Trinity sermon, Mens Breakfast one, I listened to the other day. Thanks...Its been a paradigm shift for me.

  3. Perry Robinson

    If I may make a friendly suggestion that the question is what is the relation of the wicked to Christ is at issue here. If they are united to Christ at the level of human nature, then this explains there persistence and leaves space for an issueant account of punishment and eternal suffering. But if they are't taken up in Christ's assumtion of human nature, then we need another explanation for their resurrection and eternal persistence. This is usually explicated in terms of a need for God to be just or law abiding. The incipient problem is that it makes God dependent on the wicked in orde to be eternally just. Further, if Christ died for all because all were dead (2 Cor 5) and is therefore the mediator of all, then if he is the meiator of some, then he didn't die for all and there are some men that aren't dead. A weird pelagian implication falls out here.

    So I'd suggest sed contra that Christ is the mediator even of the damned, but since they personally are opposed to him, they experience his glory and divine power as punishing fire. (2 Thess 1:9)

    So what is missing is a doctrine of mediatorship relative to creation and a robust refleciton on the one Logos in whom are the many eternal logoi of created things.

  4. glenscriv

    Thanks Perry - very similar to my thoughts, which I might post or perhaps I won't bother now.

    The wicked are raised - where did they get their resurrection bodies from? They are participating in Christ's own passion - yet in His reprobation not vindication. In a sense the reconciliation of all things includes the lake of fire - not such that the lake of fire is saved but in the fact that not even the damned can escape God's reconciling action in Christ. They participate in it to their destruction.

  5. bobby grow

    Hey haven't we talked about this in the past, Glen?

    I'm right there with you on this stuff. And so are many of the 'Scottish' theologians (like Jonathan Fraser of Brae) that Torrance mentions in his book 'Scottish Theology'. I like this approach, because we can still talk about election/reprobation (and have an 'universal atonement), and not engage the typical Calvinist framing; and also not become 'universalists'.

  6. glenscriv

    I think we spoke about it on your blog Bobby (one of your many!) ;-)

    If you find the discussion, I'd love to read over it again. I might go and dig around for it myself...

  7. Gav

    I was just listening to a song from Jeremy Camp,"There Will Be a Day", and looking at point 3.........No more tears....I still cant get my head around that you know. How can I have no more tears when there is is ever lasting torment?...I can see why people are drawn to annihilation type stuff.

  8. Perry Robinson

    Glen,

    I am not clear on what you mean by Christ's repobation, unless you mean it in a Barthian sense. If so, I don't think that is necessary either, particularly since I think it tends to conflate the categories of person and nature. All that is required is that Christ takes up all of human nature in his incarnation. so that he is the font of the race, in a similar fashion as Adam was.

    Further, if it was a reprobation, why would their bodies (nature) be vindicated in terms of immortality and eternal persistence?

  9. Perry Robinson

    bobby grow,

    short answer: No, I do not hold to the annihilation of the wicked.

    Long answer: On my view were it so, satan's intention would be successful to thwart God's intention for humanity to exist forever. Rather the wicked persist because all humans are united to Christ in his human nature. Christ loses nothing that the Father has given him of human nature bur raises it all up. If the wicked were annihilated, this would be because Christ is either a creature having contingent existence or the wicked are only united to him extrinsically via an act of will through the law so that only some are united to Christ in his resurrection (and his death) while others are united to him on some other basis.

    That's the long answer.

  10. glenscriv

    He Perry,
    'You will surely die' said the devil. Christ died Adam's death. He shelters those under Him. Those fleeing Him will not be able to avoid Him but be brought under His feet. Both saved and damned are brought into Christ's reconciling work. The saved are those spared the curse and united to His vindication. The damned are those who share in Christ's curse - united to His reprobation (i.e. His accursedness). Does the fact that they have resurrection bodies equal a vindication of sorts that is at odds with their punishment? I don't think this state of affairs is different to the broader mystery of how hell exists within an eternal reality in which God is 'all in all.'

    And probably the question of person and nature needs a lot of thought. Perhaps you could point me to some things you've written around the topic?

    Thanks,
    Glen

  11. glenscriv

    Hi Gav,
    I know what you mean. One thing that's worth considering is that we're *not* saying hell is a place full of people pleading to be released so they can worship Christ. God's judgement is ultimately a handing over of people to their own desires. (see Rom 1:18ff) Hell will be (and without Christ even now, *is*) what people want for themselves.
    Gotta dash, but let's keep talking on this...

    Glen

  12. Bobby Grow

    Perry,

    Interesting, and I think your logic is clear on the christological heresies you allude to.

    So if all humanity is objectively 'in' Christ, and is 'raised up' and will not be 'lost'; are you saying that you hold to a universalism? Or are you saying that they are 'raised up' one for salvation, one for eternal judgment --- based upon the subjective side of salvation (i.e. appropriating by faith, or not).

    And I agree with Glen, there needs to be further clarification on how you are using person and nature. Certainly the 'hypostatic union' has something to say on that, and would be, and is where I go for trying to articulate nature and person (and or nature/grace) categories.

    As far as the 'Barthian sense', I am not clear on what you are getting at (which I guess the nature/person clarification should help); as far as Barth goes, I'm not aware of any conflation of nature and person in his view of the incarnation (unless you're fearful that Barth ends up collapsing supra time into 'historic' time). His actualized metaphysic and 'being and becoming' dialectic (i.e. the deus incarnantus and deus incarnandus) seem to steer him well clear of any kind of conflation.

    Anyway, look forward to hearing more from you . . .

  13. Perry Robinson

    Glen,

    The question regarding God’s words about dying prior to the fall is whether this is to be taken in a consequentialist sense or a retributive sense. There is more than one theory of punishment on the conceptual market. As I noted before the vindication is twofold, natural and personal and all enjoy the former irrespective of their personal orientation and hence all persist eternally. God doesn’t need law to keep the wicked in existence eternally. So that is how I would cash out the vindication of life for all men in Rom 5:18 while maintaining their personal eternal suffering. All are predestined to eternal life but no one is predestined in how they will personally experience it.

    As for person/nature distinction, I can’t offer much other than what is in the classical Christological sources and secondary literature-Cappadocians, Cyril, Maximus, et al.

  14. Perry Robinson

    Bobby,

    I hold to universalism as to human nature existing eternally, but that is harmless as to historic orthodoxy. So I would put it this way, all are redeemed while others enjoy the fullness of salvation. This fits better I think with passages like 2 Pet 2:1 or in the pastoral epistles where Paul speaks of Christ as the savior off all men, but especially of those who believe. So I can maintain the redemption of all qua life while holding the condemnation of some relative to their free and personal orientation towards God.

    I don’t think that all are hypostatically united to Christ in terms of Christ united directly via the Incarnation to each and every human hypostasis. Rather Christ takes up in the hypostatic union all of human nature. Every human goes along for the ride since their persons can’t subsist without their nature. Same with Adam as the font of the race.

    One of the many things I am not is Barthian scholar, so feel free to correct me if I misrepresent him. Working with the Reformed notion of the person of the mediator, Barth seems to see the union in personal terms so that you have to have elect and damned in Christ where Christ is personally both. In part its not his fault, at least not wholly, since I think the locus of the problem is the Reformed understanding of the hypostatic union. If there wren't some kind of person/natue confusion in Barth, there wouldn't be a worry about universalism in his theology, or so I'd argue.

  15. Bobby Grow

    Perry,

    What do you do with anhypostasis enhypostasis relative to the 'Incarnation'? These are notions, which Barth and some of the 'Reformed' have pressed . . . and I think in fruitful ways.

    The 'dualistic' way you speak of nature and person is interesting, almost in 'competitive' terms. So in your accounting Christ, in the incarnation, only assumes 'human nature' but not 'human person' . . . so in your view Christ wasn't an 'human person'? I'm not sure I'm following you here. Per Gregory of Nanzianzen "the unassumed is the unhealed," if Christ did not 'assume' all of humanity (persons included), then what did he assume; a human nature abstracted from a human person? You'll have to clarify your view here, it almost seems that you're saying that human persons are somehow separate from human nature ontologically . . . which seems aloof to me.

    I'm no Barth scholar either, but I would like you, if you have the time, to elaborate further on the problem of the 'Reformed' understanding of the hypostatic union . . . which heresy does it fit, in your view, if any?

  16. Bobby Grow

    Perry,

    Let me tip my hat, I think that if we are going to engage in 'defining' nature and person that we must use the 'trinitarian analogy' which involves things like God's ousia and hypostases and perichoresis, etc.

    You're not an advocate of substance dualism ('essence' and 'accidents') are you?

    The thing about the anhypostasis and enhypostasis is that it does press the notion that Christ in His assumption of humanity indeed involved both the 'universal assumption of humanity' (anhypostasis) and the 'particular assumption of all human persons) (enhypostasis) . . . and this 'particularization' is best noted by the fact that the 'eternal logos' is in fact the particular man from Nazareth.

  17. Perry Robinson

    bobby,

    I take subtance dualism to be a thesis about the relation between mind and body where substance denotes an individual thing rather than a "stuff." Essence and accidents are part of a wider metaphysical position of some kind of essentialism. So I am not clear what you are referring to here. Some clarification would help.

    I certainly agree that the humanity of Christ in abstraction prior to the incarnation is anhypostatic and only enhypostatic afterward. But with the distinctives fo Reformed Christology that isn't the worry. The worry is the concept of the person of the mediator and hypostatic composition. Is the person of the mediator composite as a divine person who takes into himself human nature or is the person of the mediator the product of the two natures joinining as a human-divine person? i adhere to the former where the Reformed historically for the most part have adhered to the latter, though Jerome Zanchi seems to be an exception. This is all teased out in Muller's Christ and the Decree. This is the basis for Barth's distinctive take on Christ being elect and reprobate.

    I don't think Christ assumes any human persons qua hypostases in the incarnation though I do think he assumes all of human nature becoming the font of the race and this is why his redirecting the human will or power of choice to a new end affects the whole race.

    The enhypostinization I think refers to Christ making human nature specifically his own.

  18. Perry Robinson

    I am not sure distinguishing person and nature is dualistic, but if it is, I am certianly happy to take the term rather than conflate them. So yes, Christ assumes human nature but is not a human person. This does not mean he lacks a human soul, will or intellect, it just means that in us, none of those things are the person, contrary to the popular modern Lockian usage.

    If Christ assumed human persons or a human person, it would imply universalism and I don’t think either Gregory or the Cappadocians contra the Apollinarians think that he assumes a human person. Besides the touchstone here is Cyril and Chalcedon, which is sufficiently clear that he does not assume a human person. Persons are distinct from the natures in which they subsist. Natures provide the powers which persons use and may limit the objects of choice for them, but they do not determine their actions. So, following Cyril, if he assumed a human person, this would be Nestorianism since there would either be two persons or a composite divine-human prosopic union, that is a single appearing subject. Consequently, Christ is a divine person and Mary is the Theotokos.

  19. Bobby Grow

    Perry,

    Yeah I read Muller's Christ and Decree a few years ago now, in fact I would say that Barth is most certainly countering the classic 'Federal' framing of things; esp. in re. to the apparent 'Nestorian' strain represented by 'Covenant' ideas on 'mediatorship'.

    You said:

    The enhypostinization I think refers to Christ making human nature specifically his own.

    Yes and in so doing there is a vicarious point of contact between 'His humanity' and ours (as Heb. 2:14ff and 4:14ff presuppose). My only point in bringing that up is that there most certainly is an 'universalism' of sorts implied by His assumption . . . to say that we don't want to hold to that belief because of the 'consequences' really isn't an argument against that position, instead it only reveals a particular aversion to such implications (maybe because of prior theological commitments).

    You ask:

    . . . The worry is the concept of the person of the mediator and hypostatic composition. Is the person of the mediator composite as a divine person who takes into himself human nature or is the person of the mediator the product of the two natures joinining as a human-divine person? . . .

    I would say, lest we want to divorce His immanent from His economic, that He has always-already been, by composition, oriented toward being the 'mediator' which is shaped by His 'becoming' from all eternity. So I would agree, in one sense with you, that He is composite as divine person; but that this divine person has always been in the shape we see externalized in the 'economy' of disclosed through the 'man from Nazareth'. If we follow the classic Calvinistic frame, we most certainly engage in an 'subordinationist' type of Christology where Christ's mediatorship is predicated upon 'us' and thus human history.

    So maybe we agree at a point here, but I would want to know how you 'tense' the 'divine-person' in eternity.

    You said:

    . . . So yes, Christ assumes human nature but is not a human person. This does not mean he lacks a human soul, will or intellect, it just means that in us, none of those things are the person, contrary to the popular modern Lockian usage.

    If you will give your definition of 'person' that would be most helpful, Perry. You speak of Christ's assuming human nature, and then you seem to tag human person to human nature which at this point still is really unclear to me . . . relative to what you're getting at. You say that human personhood subsists from human nature, but then I'm not sure how you avoid a sort of adoptionistic understanding of 'personhood'. Anyway, I'm still unclear as to how you are dichotomizing the two (nature relative to person -- human that is).

    I'm not saying that Christ assumed human persons, rather that in assuming human nature in His divine-person (which is an always-already reality) all human persons have been oriented to the life of God in Christ . . . insofar as each particular human person is signified by 'their' human nature. And I think the enhypostasis of Christ speaks to this rather intricate transecting of the divine/human (diastasis) relationship. Furthermore, who Christ assumed in Jesus of Nazareth is not a foreign person, but a real-life person like you and me; which implies a 'personal' assumption of all humanity (even persons) in a vicarious sense. So in other words, His particularization cannot be separated from who He is as the eternal logos. Basically what I want to underscore is that 'personhood' and humanity must be determined to be who it is by Christ's humanity and personhood; not vice-versa.

    You know, Perry, I think we may agree in more areas than we 'appear' to disagree . . . although I'm not sure yet. I am certainly wrestling through this stuff, and a big help for me has been T. F. Torrance's recently published book Incarnation; a great resource.

  20. Perry Robinson

    Bobby,

    I agree that the Covenant stuff is Nestorianizing and that Barth is trying to counter-act it, but his reading of Chalcedon I think is mistaken along the usual lines of the Reformed. But more of this below. I suppose when we discuss the vicarious point of contact via the humanity of Christ it all depends on what this means. By that I mean that Christ sums up and recapitulates the race entire in a realistic sense. Jesus loses nothing that the Father gave him. (Jn 6:39). Is that what you mean?
    As for Heb 2 and 4 I take it to refer to the fact that Christ takes up our corrupt nature in the incarnation even though he never personally makes a sinful choice. (2 Cor 5:21). To say that we don’t hold to a belief because of heterodox consequences is just to recognize a good reductio argument, which is found both among biblical writers as well as the Fathers.
    I would say that prior to the incarnation Christ is not a composite hypostasis but afterward he is because he takes human nature into his divine person. He remains a only divine person throughout. I agree that a classic Calvinistic Christology is subordinationalist since it posits a composite prosopa as the *result* or product of the union. You can see this in Calvin in Inst. Bk 2, 14, sec.5 where he affirms that the person is *out* of the two natures.
    If I could give a clear definition of person, I’d be rich. By it though I mean to pick out the usage established by such writers as Nyssa, Nazianzen, Cyril and Maximus and use the term hypostasis. A human person subsists in a human nature, but person and nature are not the same things. I don’t think the person is from the nature though.
    I think we are closer on this later part you wrote. I would say given the imago dei, the telos and orientation of all human persons to the life of God in Christ (because Christ is the image in which we are al made) is still present post fall. What Christ does, specifically in the passion is reorient human nature’s telos from a natural inclination away from death, to going through death to reach immortality. In the assumption though the hypostatic union guarantees the immortality of all human (and angelic) agents. I am not sure what you mean by each human person as signified by their nature. I would say that it is impossible for a person to exist without a nature to subsist in and so by taking up all of human nature, all humans go along for the ride, whether they will it or not, to immorality. Hence predestination in Christ is recapitulatory and relative to nature. So all people are predestined to exist forever, but how hey experience it depends n how they freely orient themselves to the divine glory.

    Lastly, I am not a big Torrance fan. You might find helpful Blower’s little collection of writings on Christology from Maximus, On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ. Its cheap and chalked full of goodies.

  21. Glen

    Hi Perry,
    Just to say I really enjoyed reading this. Don't really feel qualified to comment (I think I need to study some Cappodocian christology - so thanks for the Blower tip). But very glad you commented.
    Thanks, Glen

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