I sometimes hear people suggest that we won't recognize each other in Heaven (what I think is properly referred to as the 'New Creation'). I don't know why, and I've never heard of a good reason for this to be the case, but if it were then I'd be terribly disappointed. Is it a mystery that Jesus knew who to reveal himself to in Luke 24?

I'd like to think that one of the joys of heaven will be meeting people we know in their renewed bodies, and having the realization that we've known them for so long, but now see them as they are truly meant to be. And it will make sense, as if in some way we knew all along that this is the person we've always known. We would miss that if we weren't able to recognize each other in Heaven, and that would be a shame. (But it is difficult to talk about something we can only speculate about.)

Is Jesus God in the Trinitarian sense? The Christian church has historically answered 'yes', but more recently groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) and Mormons have answered 'no'. If you were to ask a JW who Jesus is, he would tell you that Jesus is God's 'first creation', the only being 'directly created by God'.1 A Mormon would affirm that Jesus is a divine being, but then distinguish between 'the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He has] sent'.2 Importantly, both would also affirm that Jesus died in atonement for the sins of the world.3 Contrary to the view expressed in JW and Mormon theology, I'm going to suggest that if Jesus is the savior of the world, then he is necessarily God. The argument goes something like this:

  1. In 1 John 4:8 we read, 'God is love'.4
  2. In John 15:13 we read, 'No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends'.5
  3. From (2) we can abstract the following: the highest form of love is self-sacrifice for others.
  4. From (1) and (3): if God is love, then God has demonstrated self-sacrifice for others.
  5. Jesus' atonement is an example of self-sacrificial love.
  6. In sending Jesus as atonement, God did not demonstrate self-sacrificial love.
  7. There are no other recorded instances of God demonstrating self-sacrificial love.
  8. Therefore, Jesus has expressed a greater form of love than God has.
  9. But this is absurd: if God is love, then he has demonstrated self-sacrifice for others.
  10. Therefore, Jesus is God.

The most immediate objection might be to argue that there is a higher form of divine love than self-sacrifice for others, and that John 15:13 perhaps applies only to God's creation, but this runs into two problems. First, regardless of if there is a higher form of divine love, God still has not demonstrated sacrificial love, and this incomplete expression of love is not compatible with the idea that God is love. This objection could be avoided by rephrasing 8., 'Therefore, Jesus has expressed a form of love that God has not'. Second, what higher form of divine love could possibly be greater than self-sacrifice? It's not obvious that there is a higher form of love than this. One could object that God simply can't die, but is there any reason to suspect that God could not become incarnate (in human form, to be explicit), and experience all the things a human experiences, including death? This isn't a logical impossibility, so there seems to be no reason to deny this could be a possibility; and, if it's possible to conceive of an incarnate, self-sacrificing God, then surely such a God exists in actuality (or so Anselm might have rightly argued).

Rather, it seems to me that there are two choices here. The first is to recant the affirmation that Jesus died for the sins of the world: if he is not divine then he is not savior. The second is to reaffirm that Jesus is savior, and in doing so affirm that he is also God. But if the above argument is successful (and I'm not sure that it is), in this form or another more rigorous, then it's not possible to affirm that Jesus is both created and savior.

  1. Who is Jesus Christ?

  2. Jeffrey R. Holland, The Only True God and Jesus Christ whom He Hath Sent, 2007. See also Jesus the Christ, 'Preexistence and Foreordination of the Christ'. 

  3. For the JW view see footnote 1, and for the Mormon view see His Life and Teaching

  4. NRSV, 1989. The meaning is the same in the New World Translation (JW) and LDS Bible (Mormon). 

  5. Ibid. 

The last twelve months have flown by, and with the submission of my dissertation my postgraduate studies have come to an end. All that's required now is a bit of patience: in just under a month I'll find out if I've been awarded an M.Litt in Systematic and Historical theology.

But now that I'm finished I can start writing here again -- something I've been talking about for a while. The unfortunate situation has been that my academic writing would often (significantly) overlap with my writing here and elsewhere, so to avoid any potential difficulties (e.g. 'self-plagiarism') I focused purely on my academic submissions. Thankfully this is no longer a concern.

Why the title 'Fear and Trembling'? This is a reference to Søren Kierkegaard's book of the same name, which as a work of theology is as relevant as its ever been (or I think so at least). Kierkegaard himself knew of Fear and Trembling's significance. Writing in 1849 he said, 'Once I am dead, Fear and Trembling alone will be enough for an imperishable name as an author. Then it will be read, translated into foreign languages as well.'1 This is also a reference to Philippians 2:12, particularly the admonition to work out one's own salvation with fear and trembling, and so it is with fear and trembling that I write here. I think that's enough of an introduction, so next time we'll start an extended look at a topic I am personally invested in: women in (pastoral) ministry.

  1. Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, trans. Howard V. and Edna H. Hong (Princeton University Press, 1983), xxxii.