Try as I might, I can’t think of a time when I heard a sermon on Genesis 22 that wasn’t filtered through Hebrews 11 – why is that?
One of my favourite passages from Fear and Trembling comes from the ‘Preliminary Expectoration’. There’s quite a bit in the quote below and its surrounding passages that’s significant to Kierkegaard, but for my purposes let’s take this at face value and focus on the exchange between the sleepy believer and the fiery preacher:
We glorify Abraham, but how? We recite the whole story in clichés: “The great thing was that he loved God in such a way that he was willing to offer him the best.” … But just suppose that someone listening is a man who suffers from sleeplessness–misunderstanding is very close at hand. He goes home, he wants to do just as Abraham did, for the son, after all, is the best. If the preacher found out about it, he perhaps would go to the man, he would muster all his ecclesiastical dignity and shout, “You despicable man, you scum of society, what devil has so possessed you that you want to murder your son.” And the pastor, who had not noticed any heat or perspiration when preaching about Abraham, would be surprised at himself, at the wrathful earnestness with which he thunders at the poor man. He would be pleased with himself, for he had never spoken with such emphasis and emotion. He would say to himself and his wife, “I am an orator–what was lacking was the occasion. When I spoke about Abraham on Sunday, I did not feel gripped at all.” If the same speaker had a little superfluity of understanding to spare, I am sure he would have lost it if the sinner had calmly and with dignity answered: But, after all, that was what you yourself preached about on Sunday.
What if instead, the sinner had calmly answered: ‘But it is I, Abraham — don’t you see? Abraham, the man you showered with accolades and praise for what I was prepared to do’. Either way the point is made (for my purpose, anyway). To the outside listener, Abraham’s actions in Genesis 22 seem monstrous, and only when confronted with those actions in another do we realize that. Perhaps because we find it difficult to think about Abraham outside of the parameters of Hebrews 11?
…Kierkegaard’s irony shouldn’t be missed here either. That a half-asleep man understand the gravity of the preacher’s sermon more than the preacher himself is quite funny (if you imagine an angry preacher yelling at a man who can barely stay awake!).
Is Jesus God in the Trinitarian understanding? The Christian church has historically answered ‘yes’, but more recently groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) and Mormons have disagreed. 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’. 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’. Importantly, both would affirm that Jesus died in atonement for the sins of the world. Contrary to the view expressed in JW and Mormon theology, I’m going to suggest that if Jesus is not God, then the God of the Bible is not worthy of worship. The argument goes something like this:
- In 1 John 4:8 we read, ‘God is love’.
- In John 15:13 we read, ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’.
- From (1) and (2): if God is love, capable of the highest expression of love, then God has died for another.
- There is only one potential example of God dying for another: Jesus’ atonement.
- But if God sent Jesus as atonement and Jesus is not a person of the Godhead, then God did not demonstrate self-sacrificial love.
- Further, in the atonement Jesus expressed a form of love than God has yet to express.
- This is absurd, therefore Jesus is God.
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 did, but he isn’t God, then God is in trouble. The second is to acknowledge that Jesus is in fact divine. If the above argument is successful (and I’m not sure that it is, of course), in this form or another more rigorous, then it’s not possible to affirm that Jesus is created and savior while maintaining the integrity of God.
The 2014 – 2015 academic year flew by, and with the submission of my dissertation my postgraduate studies have come to an end. In spite of myself, I have successfully completed, and been awarded, an M.Litt in Systematic and Historical theology from the University of St Andrews. Awesome!
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 subtitle ‘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.’ 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.