The point I made in the podcast and in the series of posts where I wrestled with these questions (see the "On Weakness and Warfare" series on the sidebar) is that if the power of God is "weakness"--the cruciform love of Jesus on the cross--then love is always "in a battle" with the forces antithetical to love in the world. Love has to struggle to assert and insert itself. That is, since love doesn't control the world with coercive, top-down power love is always intruding and inserting itself from below. Spiritual warfare in this view is guerrilla warfare, the tactical interruption of the world with love.
As St. John of the Cross said, "Where there is no love, put love." That is spiritual warfare, putting love where there is no love.
But back to the podcast. My description of spiritual warfare is all well and good, but I struggled with the origins of sin and evil in my "On Weakness and Warfare" series and that issue came up again briefly in the podcast. Where does evil come from? Especially if God is weakness?
Because as Luke mentioned very briefly in the podcast, reflections along these lines can tend toward dualism. That is, if you start to take evil as a "given," as the background into which love must insert itself, that "givenness" can drift toward "pre-existent" or "co-existent" with the good. Which is dualism. Good and bad, side-by-side for eternity.
One way to deal with the origins of evil, and this is where Greg Boyd came up in the podcast (see his book God at War), is to posit free will. Free will introduces sin and evil into creation.
That has been a classic move in these discussions, but I come at the issue a bit differently given my starting point with the "weakness of God."
So, how do I understand the origins of sin and evil given my emphasis upon the weakness of God?
To start, and taking a cue from theologians like Jürgen Moltmann, we don't posit a creation ex nihilo with a big flashy display of power. What we posit, rather, is a divine withdrawal. God withdraws to make room and space for creation.
Consequently, creation is characterized, to a large extent, by God's absence.
So that is Act One, divine withdrawal making room for creation.
Act Two is God's re-entry into creation, God's movement back toward creation. This is the Spirit hovering over the formlessness left behind in the wake of God's withdrawal. God's re-entry is characterized by the insertion of order, beauty and goodness into the chaos. Creation, as described in the first lines of Genesis, is the Spirit of God (re)introducing order and goodness. That is the primal signature of God's working in the world, the ordering of chaos and making it good.
God's action in the world is as that nurturing, nourishing and loving force that brings goodness out of the chaos. God is that nurturing, nourishing and loving force that is present at all times and all places, ever attempting to enter more fully into creation so that the Spirit of God can indwell and fill all of creation.
Thus the drama of the biblical story, the constant movement of God toward us. The movement to bring the "Kingdom of God" to earth.
Importantly, God doesn't re-enter creation or bring the Kingdom to earth forcibly and coercively. God re-enters creation and brings the Kingdom through weakness. God enters the world through cruciformity, through the love Jesus displayed on the cross. God re-enters the world from the bottom up, in the midst of the least of these.
Sin enters the world when we fail to trust God, fail to trust that love is the "the grain of universe" and that those carrying crosses move with that grain. Sin rips the loving fabric of shalom. Sin is violence, in all its various guises.
[Since writing this post I read something from Robert Jenson that gives a different spin on all this.The vision here is less about agents with free will making choices than it is about the harm caused by the exercise of power and dominion over others and creation. The contrast is between actions that move with the grain of the cross versus actions that move against that grain, actions that rip the fabric of the Kingdom of God. Anxious about our own survival we do not trust God. We rebel against and reject cruciformity. We attempt to use force to violently secure our well-being.
Specifically, what God creates is history. What God creates is a Story. And in this Story Love alone is pre-existent. Sin and evil enter the Story as a falling away from Love, away from the primordial condition. Thus, what runs beneath the Story/Creation isn't conflict--a war between good and evil--but Love. Love, to use a musical metaphor, is the Cantus Firmus of Creation. Sin and evil come into existence when play dissonant notes, when we "fall away" from the Melody of Love. Behaviorally, the life of Jesus functions as our "tuning fork," the way we locate the right notes in finding our way back to the Cantus Firmus. Salvation, then, is returning to the harmony and melody of Creation. Salvation, to return to the literary metaphor, is narrating our stories back into Love's original plot line.]
The call of faith, then, begins with the call to repentance. We are called to enter the Kingdom, to trust that the grain of the universe is demonstrated, enacted and incarnated in Jesus, the image of the invisible God. The gospel proclamation--the Good News--is that the Kingdom of God--where God reigns and where God's Spirit has re-entered and re-filled creation--has been inaugurated in Jesus and in the midst of communities who celebrate him as Lord.
Eschatology is the vision of the Kingdom coming in its fullness, the goal and direction we are loving our way toward. Eschatology imagines that future where God's Spirit infuses all of creation bringing wholeness and shalom. Eschatology is the vision of God's Spirit filling the whole of creation as prefigured in God's Spirit filling the Temple. Eschatology is the Kingdom having come upon earth as it is in heaven, the completion of Act Two.
Judgment is the future vision of the Kingdom apocalyptically intruding upon the present moment in the prophetic pronouncement of blessings and woes. Judgment is the moral verdict the future Kingdom pronounces upon the Now.
Pronouncement of blessing--"Blessed are the..."--names and makes salient those locations in the world where the Kingdom of God intrudes and is celebrated, even when it is as tiny as a mustard seed and is as small as cup of cold water.
Woe and pronouncements of damnation are prophetic judgments naming and making salient the forces of darkness in the world, the forces that are antithetical to love and valorize coercive violence and the domination of others and creation.
These three things remain, faith, hope and love.
Faith is covenantally trusting in God and in God's Kingdom as inaugurated in Jesus. Faith is covenantally trusting that God is love and that cruciform love is indeed the grain of the universe.
Hope is the fully imagined future of the Kingdom of God, the vision we are journeying toward, the vision that guides, orients, directs and judges us.
Love is walking as Jesus walked, taking up the cross and following the Lamb wherever he goes.