Maps of Meaning with Jordan Peterson: Part 22, Our Satanic Pride

Having introduced the archetype of Satan in Maps of Meaning, Jordan Peterson goes on to unpack the symbol. 

Peterson describes Satan as symbolizing an excessive rationalism curdled by pride. Peterson writes, "Reason, the most exceptional of spirits, suffers from the greatest of temptations: reason's own capacity for self-recognition and self-admiration means an endless capacity for pride, which is the act of presuming omniscience."

Peterson then goes on to argue that reason's "belief in it own omniscience" is the force that "underlies totalitarianism in its many destructive guises." 

How so? 

When reason becomes convinced of its own omniscience we stand as masters of the cosmos and our fate. We know everything and have nothing to learn. When that happens, Peterson observes, the "unknown no longer exists," which means that "further exploration has therefore been rendered superfluous (even treacherous)." 

The opposite of this satanic posture is humility, "constant admission of error and capacity for error." This willingness signals an openness to learn and be corrected, which facilitates creative exploration. Humility admits and "allows for recognition of the unknown, and then for update of knowledge and adaptation in behavior."

The temptation toward evil, in this scheme, means standing in the face of the unknown presuming that you have all the answers, that the unknown actually doesn't exist. This forecloses on growth and exploration. Worse, in times of crisis, our pride tempts us into inaction and stasis when we are being called to heroic action. This choice creates the archetypal "brothers" at the heart of this chapter. In the face of the unknown, the hero and Christ-figure, the archetypal savior, "is the everlasting spirit of creation and transformation, characterized by the capacity to admit the unknown and, therefore, to progress toward 'the kingdom of heaven.'" The "hostile brother" to the savior-hero, the "eternal adversary," is the "incarnation in practice, imagination and philosophy of the spirit of denial, eternal rejection of the 'redeeming unknown,' and the adoption of rigid self-identification." 

Let's pause here. 

I don't know if I understand everything Peterson is saying here. And I have some questions if his analysis of the Satan archetype is accurate and comprehensive. But there is a lot here that rings true. We see lots of evidence about how our "belief in our omniscience" takes us to some pretty dark places, culturally and personally. It's the Faustian bargain played out over and over again. Politically, I think of how Marxists trusted reason and how that experiment turned out in the USSR. Economically, I think of the neoliberal faith in free markets. Scientifically, I think of Jeff Goldblum's quote from Jurassic Park, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." And religiously, I think of Inquisitions and burning heretics. This is what I take to be Peterson's reference to a "totalitarian" impulse, how a prideful, rationalistic hubris leads us into darkness and dysfunction. Human life becomes subservient to the Idea or System or Dogma. Our prideful attempts to control the cosmos always come back to bite us.

I think Peterson is obviously right, a dose of humility puts us in a more adaptive, healthy posture. Our pride and hubris has a satanic edge. It puts me in mind of Job's confrontation with God in the whirlwind. I know a lot of modern Christians really hate how the book of Job ends. I wonder, though, if our chaffing at that ending reveals the satanic curdling of our minds, a turn toward pride, toward a "belief in our own omniscience." But let me ask you, where were you when God laid the foundations of the world? What, exactly, is it that you think you know? About anything? 

Like Job, we don't know a damn thing. And the quicker we realize that, the better off we'll be.  

Fleeing the Body

In yesterday's post I discussed what I've described as "Incarnational ambivalence" in my research, a gnostic anxiety that, as I describe in Unclean, pervades Christian experience.

Throughout Christian history, the faithful have experienced the body with a profound sense of unease. The body is filthy and animalistic. Worse, the body is a source of wickedness and defilement, the location of lust, craving, and desire. Especially sexual desire. So there is a chronic temptation to deny, mortify, or flee from the body into a hyper-spiritualized experience. 

In Unclean I make the argument that some of this anxiety around the body is existential in nature, that our bodies remind us of our chronic vulnerability to death, corruption, and decay. Incarnational ambivalence is a symptom of a culture characterized by a "denial of death," to borrow from Ernest Becker. Hiding from our bodies is a way of hiding from our own mortality. Our culture is characterized by what some scholars have called "the pornography of death," a culture where death becomes, as I describe in Stranger God, our "dirty little secret." In such a culture, to speak of death is illicit, uncouth, and impolite as such mentions burst our collective fantasies of perpetual youthfulness and vitality. In a culture characterized by the denial of death we dye our grey hair, inject Botox, dive deep into fitness and diet regimens, enjoy a midlife crisis, and search for the Fountain of Youth in wellness quackery. We think six-pack abs or breast implants will make us immortal.

In short, a lot of our anxiety and ambivalence surrounding our bodies isn't on the surface but is repressed and manifesting in a wide variety of defense mechanisms. And much of this anxiety and defensiveness bleeds into the Christian experience as well, driving ever-present gnostic temptations.

The Impact of Disgust Psychology: Quarantine, Dehumanization and Gnosticism

It has been over ten years since the publication of Unclean, my first book. I don't keep track of book sales, but, anecdotally, I'd say that Unclean has been my most widely-read and impactful book. Mainly because I think the book has been adopted by many seminaries for various classes.

Unclean is about the impact of disgust psychology upon religious communities. And on the surface it might not seem that disgust has a lot to do with church. It's been interesting, over the years, trying to share the insights of Unclean with congregations. Sermons that open with a discussion of disgust seem to strike most audiences as bizarre, weird, and coming out of left field. What does disgust have to do with me and my life?

Well, quite a lot, as Unclean argues. Disgust psychology, and in its manifestation as purity psychology, regulates huge swaths of our moral and social experience. 

How so?

Unclean breaks into three big parts, discussions about "purity, hospitality, and mortality." Those areas correspond to morality, social relationships, and attitudes about the body. That is, disgust psychology affects how we think about right and wrong, Otherness, and our anxieties about bodily neediness and vulnerability. As I recount in Unclean, disgust, as a boundary-monitoring psychology, creates problems for faith communities across these three domains. I'd describe these problems as quarantine, dehumanization, and gnosticism.

When disgust regulates our moral lives it creates an impulse toward quarantine, erecting boundaries between ourselves and vectors of sin. Holiness is conceived of as a pure space that has to be vigilantly monitored. This impulse creates a challenge for those wanting to emulate Jesus's lifestyle of being "a friend of sinners," as the quarantining impulse pulls us in the opposite direction, toward the creation of a pure and holy group separated from the impure and unclean. To borrow from Miroslav Volf, the impulse toward moral quarantine causes the "will to purity" to trump the "will to embrace."

In the social domain, disgust is also implicated in dehumanization. As Martha Nussbaum has observed, 

Disgust is all about putting the object at a distance and drawing boundaries. It imputes to the object properties that make it no long or a member of the subject's own community or world, a kind of alien species of thing...Thus, throughout history, certain disgust properties—sliminess, bad smell, stickiness, decay, foulness—have repeatedly and monotonously been associated with, indeed projected onto, groups by reference to whom privileged groups seek to define their superior human status.

Of course, the moral and social domains can overlap, where those deemed to be "sinners" are also dehumanized. But more often than not, stigmatized groups are simply deemed "less human" solely on account of their difference and otherness.

Finally, disgust is also implicated in gnosticism, a flight from the body into a hyper-spiritualized experience. The body, with this foulness, is deemed evil, bad, and corrupting in contrast to the spirit which is pure, good, and ennobling. Scandalously, our bodies link us to the beasts and animals where our spirits connect us to the angelic and heavenly. In my research I've called this gnostic anxiety "Incarnational ambivalence." As I describe in Unclean, this anxiety and ambivalence makes us inhospitable to bodies that display weakness, failure, need, and vulnerability--from the aged to those with disabilities to the mentally ill to the poor.

Quarantine, dehumanization and gnosticism. These are the impacts of disgust psychology upon the life of the church.

What Mattered Most at Home

I was visiting with a Christian father who was raising young children. We were both raised in the church and wanted to do the same for our children.

Goodness, that's increasingly a tall order for many Christian parents. As we were visiting together about these challenges, I shared one of the things that I greatly appreciated about growing up in the church and the value of raising children in the church.

Specifically, being raised in the church meant I was raised in an atmosphere of moral seriousness. And that same moral seriousness is how I tried to raise my two sons.  

What do I mean by moral seriousness? I don't mean guilt and shame. I don't mean sin and Judgment Day. I simply mean that being a good person was a front burner priority in my childhood home. Moral integrity and virtue were talked about, they were goals. Goodness mattered to my parents, and they wanted it to matter to me. And as a parent myself I put being a good person on the front burner for my two sons. Telling the truth and being honest mattered. It was a priority. Keeping promises mattered. Being patient, kind, and generous mattered. Sticking up for those being picked on at school mattered. Including those who were excluded mattered. Sharing mattered. Eschewing materialism mattered. Resisting stereotypes and racism mattered. And above all, love mattered.

What a wonderful way to grow up. 

This moral seriousness is one of the great blessings of being raised in the church. And I shared it as an encouragement to the young father. It's true that our children are leaving the faith in higher numbers. And in the face of those numbers we can panic, and even overcorrect. What I shared with the father was what I felt we could all control: You can make your home morally serious. You can make goodness matter. 

We cannot tell where our children will end up. They will make their own choices. But you, as a parent, can put your marker down. What is absolutely under our control are the memories of home. My sons will look back upon a home and a father who told them, over and over again, that love matters. Kindness, it matters. Care for those who are hurting and victimized, that matters. From there, going forward, my sons will make their own choices. But there will never be any doubt in their minds about where they came from and what mattered most at home.

On Derailment and Mental Health

In Hunting Magic Eels I describe what I call "the Ache." Borrowing from David Kelsey, I make the observation that meaning and purpose in life must be grounded "eccentrically" in some transcendent ground beyond myself, a ground that is immune to fickle fortune. If I lack this eccentric grounding, purpose in life becomes vulnerable to ups and downs related to the material outcomes of my life situation. This fragility in what makes life meaningful is one source of the Ache in the modern world.

In a 2018 article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Anthony Burrow, Patrick Hill, Kaylin Ratner, and Thomas Fullwer-Rowell describe this phenomenon as "derailment." As they describe:

As individuals reflect on who they are and who they have been, there is no guarantee that they will discern continuity. In fact, some individuals may be unable to reconcile discrepancies between their current and past identities, resulting in self-perceptions marked by temporal discordance and deviation in course. We define this phenomenon as derailment...
They then go on to describe three aspects of derailment:
At its core, we believe that derailment represents a limitation in reconciling the pathway by which a previously held identity has become a current one. We theorize that a sense of derailment coincides with a cascade of beliefs that influence how we perceive our sense of self and its stability across time. First, derailment requires that individuals believe that a once-meaningful identity has been extinguished and, in some cases, replaced with a different identity. That is, highly derailed individuals note a clear difference between their past and present selves. Second, derailed individuals may believe that a previous life direction can no longer be pursued, and that their motivations for pursuing past aims have changed substantially or are no longer relevant. When derailment is most apparent, individuals may sense a significant change in direction and feel they are no longer able to reach the destination for which they once set course. Third, and perhaps most importantly, we believe that derailment is experienced as a result of failure to draw meaningful connections between temporally distinct identities. In other words, people who score highly on derailment may have difficulty imagining how who they once were connects to the person they are today. When individuals endorse these three beliefs, we expect the experience of derailment to be greatest, and negative psychological consequences to be most evident.
Regarding that last aspect of derailment, its negative effect upon well-being, at the end of the study the authors summarize their findings: 
As expected, derailment was reliably associated with greater symptoms of depression, anxiety, perceived stress, and lower subjective well-being.
When it comes to meaning and purpose in life, the point to be observed is that, of course, any of us can name our "purpose" as flowing out of our own self-selected goals. This "purpose" can always be reliably conjured, over and over again, as often as we'd like. So it would be silly to say that only faith can provide us purpose in life. The point, rather, isn't about having a purpose, but vulnerability to derailment and its mental health sequelae: chronic, life-long vulnerability to "depression, anxiety, perceived stress, and lower subjective well-being."

To be sure, maybe this is simply our lot in life, and we just have to deal with it as best we can. But my point here today is merely descriptive in citing some psychology research. Derailment, and our chronic vulnerability in the face of it, is an illustration of the mental health consequences we must face when purpose and meaning in life cannot be eccentrically grounded.  

Maps of Meaning with Jordan Peterson: Part 21, Facing the Devil

We've now reached the final chapter of Maps of Meaning. But it's a very long chapter, 160 pages, which is one-third of the entire book. The chapter is entitled "The Hostile Brothers: Archetypes of Responses to the Unknown."

The big point of this chapter concerns what is now a familiar theme: How do we confront Chaos and the Unknown? In myth, our response to the unknown/chaos often takes the form of two "brothers" who each represent a fork in the road before us. One brother is the hero, representing the adaptive choice before us. The other brother, who Peterson calls "the Adversary," represents less healthy and functional choices. 

Having set out that basic thesis, Peterson quickly turns to the mythology of Satan, the "adversary" of Christ (the hero) in the Christian tradition. 

(I expect some discomfort here at a suggestion to consider Christ and Satan to be mythological "brothers." Perhaps a more orthodox take would be viewing Michael and Satan as the angelic "brothers," given their conflict in Revelation 12. Regardless, one gets the mythological contrast that Christ represents a healthy response to life and Satan does not, two forks in the road.) 

In turning his attention to Satan, Peterson make the following observation about evil in modern consciousness (emphases in original):

The image of the devil is the form that the idea of evil has taken, for better or worse, at least in the West. We have not yet developed an explicit model of evil that would allow us to forget, transcend or otherwise dispense with the mythological representation. We rationalize our lack of such an understanding by presuming that the very notion of evil is archaic. This is a truly ridiculous presumption, in this century of indescribable horror. In our ignorance and complacency, we deride ancient stories about the nature of evil, equating them half-consciously with childish things best put away. This is an exceedingly arrogant position. There is no evidence whatsoever that we understand the nature of evil any better than our forebears, despite our psychology, even though our expanded technological power has made us much more dangerous when we are possessed. Our ancestors were at least constantly concerned with the problem of evil. Acceptance of the harsh Christian dogma of Original Sin for example (despite its pessimism and apparent inequity) at least meant recognition of evil. Such dogma at least promoted some consideration of the tendency toward evil as an intrinsic, heritable aspect of human nature...The dogma of Original Sin forces every individual to regard himself as the (potential) immediate source of evil and to locate the terrible underworld of mythology and its denizens in intrapsychic space. It is no wonder that this idea has become unpopular: nonetheless, evil exists somewhere. It remains difficult not to see hypocrisy in the souls of those who wish to localize it somewhere else.

As the author of Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted, my own argument for why the modern world needs to take the devil seriously, I can only applaud such a comment. This passage is yet another example of how Peterson's Jungian approach can "preach" to modern audiences. In the hands of Peterson, 1 Peter 5:8 gets your attention:

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Only Passing Through: How Christians Live in a Nation

Yesterday, I described how politics and the nation state have warped and twisted the Christian psyche. Politics has become an unhealthy cathexis, a morbid fixation.

If that's the case, what might a more healthy relationship with the state look like?

One answer comes from "A Letter to Diognetus," a piece of early Christian apologetics from the second century. In the letter, the author describes how Christians relate to the nation states in which they dwell:

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country.
This, it seems to me, is a healthy and proper emotional relationship to the state and politics. As citizens we "play our full role." We pay taxes. We vote. And yet, the nation in which we live is not our homeland, we dwell here as if living in a foreign country. Christians live in their nation as if we are only passing through. 

The Christian Energy Suck: On the Cathexis of Politics

Many of you may be following the James Wood and Tim Keller debate about Christian involvement with politics. The conversation started with Wood's article "How I Evolved on Tim Keller" in First Things. People like David French responded. And then Wood followed up with a response to those responses. There's been a lot of commentary about all these articles.

In brief, the debate concerns the shape of Christian political engagement in an increasingly post-Christian world. Should Christian political engagement be winsome and non-partisan (Keller) or more aggressive and partisan (Wood)? 

While I have opinions about that question, what I want to share is a deeper concern about this debate and debates like them.

Stated simply, my worry concerns the cathexis of politics within the Christian psyche. 

Coined by Freud, the word "cathexis" comes from the psychodynamic tradition in psychology. A cathexis is an unhealthy concentration of mental energy on a person, idea or object. The word "fixation" is a related concept, as we become "fixated," to an unhealthy degree, where there is a concentration of mental energy and investment. Along with "fixation," "obsession" is another word that points to a cathexis. 

You can think of a cathexis as a "hot spot" in the psyche, a "gravity well" that creates a mental orbit, even a kind of "black hole" that sucks up available energy. And that's a key notion in psychodynamic thinking, how our mental energy is a finite resource. Our various cathexes, fixations and obsessions hurt us because they suck up mental energy, leaving us less energy to allocate, devote and invest in other areas of our lives. Like the pull of a large gravitational mass in space, a strong cathexis warps and distorts the psyche causing it to become twisted and imbalanced.  

Given that, let me restate my concern. Politics has become a cathexis in the Christian psyche. Like a psychic black hole, the power of this cathexis is warping and distorting the Christian mind, heart and soul. Worse, the cathexis of politics is sucking up all the available mental and emotional energy, energy that needs to be directed toward other pressing endeavors and concerns.

So, my concern about the Wood/Keller debate has less to do with the debate itself. I expect that Christian opinions will differ regarding how to engage politics in a post-Christian culture. Fine. Express your opinions. My bigger worry is the energy suck, how the debate itself is symptomatic of the warping of the Christian mind. The Christian psyche is currently orbiting the nation state with an unhealthy, distorting, and morbid fixation. 

To be clear, I think it's perfectly appropriate for Christians to be involved in democratic politics. Feel free to vote and be politically engaged. The issue involves the cathexis of politics in the Christian psyche, the unhealthy concentration of psychic energy being devoted to the state and electoral politics. Psychic energy is a precious and limited resource, and every bit of energy sucked up by the cathexis of politics is energy that could be devoted to your family, your friendships, your church, your creativity, your spiritual formation, and your works of mercy in the local community. 

Who is right, Keller or Wood? Perhaps our interest in that question, and the energy suck of my writing this post, is a sign that the battle has already been lost.    

His Area Occupied by the Unhaloed Presences

I don't know how much you pondered the poem "Suddenly" by R.S. Thomas I posted last week. I've been mulling over an image in the poem and wanted to share that. First, the entire poem once again:
"Suddenly" by R.S. Thomas

As I had always known
he would come, unannounced,
remarkable merely for the absence
of clamour. So truth must appear
to the thinker; so, at a stage
of the experiment, the answer
must quietly emerge. I looked
at him, not with the eye
only, but with the whole
of my being, overflowing with
him as a chalice would
with the sea. Yet was he
no more there than before,
his area occupied
by the unhaloed presences.
You could put your hand
in him without consciousness
of his wounds. The gamblers
at the foot of the unnoticed
cross went on with
their dicing; yet the invisible
garment for which they played
was no longer at stake, but worn
by him in this risen existence.
Before getting to the image I want to share, there is so much worth contemplating in the opening lines. Christ comes to us "unannounced," without a big blast of fanfare, "remarkable merely for the absence of clamour." The image from Isaiah 53 comes to mind: "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." 

And then how the truth of Christ "must quietly emerge" like a scientist doing an experiment, a dawning of realization, clarity, and insight. 

And then seeing Christ not with "the eye only," but "the whole of my being." The image of Christ filling us to overflowing "as a chalice would with the sea."

Then the imagery turns to the crucifixion scene, to the lines I've been mulling over:
Yet was he
no more there than before,
his area occupied
by the unhaloed presences.
What might these lines suggest?

My mind went to those many posts I've shared on this blog about God's "non-competitive" relation to creation. Specifically, because God is so radically transcendent, ontologically different from created existence, God can come radically close to creation. God doesn't compete for space, pushing and shoving to find a location for Himself among the furniture of the world. 

In light of that, back to Thomas' poem. Creation is a "chalice," a container that Christ fills to "overflowing." And yet, when Christ fills creation he is "no more there than before." I take this to mean that Christ's "filling" does not make him supersized or superdense. Because if Christ's filling were a filling of space, we'd all be pushed aside as Christ occupied more and more territory. So, Christ "fills" but is "no more there" than before. 

Instead what we find is that the "area" of Christ is "occupied." Christ's "filling" isn't displacing but incorporating and including. Christ's filling doesn't nudge us aside. Rather, we are included in his own space. And most radically of all, Christ's space is occupied by "unhaloed presences." Christ's space includes and encompasses sinners. 

And isn't that a beautiful image of grace? His area occupied by the unhaloed presences.

Maps of Meaning with Jordan Peterson: Part 20, Paradise Lost

In the final pages of Chapter 4 "The Appearance of Anomaly" from Maps of Meaning, Jordan Peterson turns to talk about the impact of death upon human development and consciousness. Recall, in this chapter we're dealing with threats to our maps of meaning, things that cause a crisis in our personal and cultural paradigms. And as you can imagine, death can precipitate such a crisis.

These pages in Maps of Meaning reminded me a lot of Ernest Becker's seminal work The Denial of Death, a book, as regular readers know, that significantly impacted both my scholarship and spiritual journey. I'm an existentialist at heart. Death has always accompanied my thoughts. 

Peterson's description of the impact of death upon human consciousness is very similar to arguments I've made before in this space. Specifically, as human consciousness evolved it eventually reached a threshold where a twin capacity emerged, the onset of death-awareness and a capacity for moral reflection. As Peterson writes, "We have become able to imagine our own deaths, and the deaths of those we love, and to make a link between moral fragility and every risk we encounter." 

Mythologically, the dawn of this twin awareness is experienced as an expulsion from Paradise. Consciousness becomes saturated with both death and guilt. With the onset of the "knowledge of good and evil" comes expulsion from the Garden. A primordial "innocence" is lost. As Peterson observes, "The tradition of the 'fall from paradise' is predicated on the idea that the appearance of self-consciousness dramatically altered the structure of reality...Our constantly emerging self-consciousness (our constantly developing self-consciousness) has turned the world of experience into a tragic play...Survival has become terror and endless toil..."

Here in this space, I've argued that this mythological take on the evolution of human consciousness is a way to reconcile human evolution with Genesis 1-3. Of course, such a reading of Genesis isn't for everyone, but it is one of those examples where mythological readings can help some people reconcile Scripture with science. As I've said repeatedly in this series, Jordan Peterson is a useful resource for the church in getting skeptical audiences to listen to the Bible. In the hands of Jordan Peterson, Genesis can preach to atheists.

"Suddenly" by R.S. Thomas

As I had always known
he would come, unannounced,
remarkable merely for the absence
of clamour. So truth must appear
to the thinker; so, at a stage
of the experiment, the answer
must quietly emerge. I looked
at him, not with the eye
only, but with the whole
of my being, overflowing with
him as a chalice would
with the sea. Yet was he
no more there than before,
his area occupied
by the unhaloed presences.
You could put your hand
in him without consciousness
of his wounds. The gamblers
at the foot of the unnoticed
cross went on with
their dicing; yet the invisible
garment for which they played
was no longer at stake, but worn
by him in this risen existence.

A Love Has Succeeded and Will Succeed

We can say straight out: what happened with Jesus is that love happened ...

First, "love" is not so much the name of a personality trait, as shorthand for a narrative: death and resurrection ... "Love" can stand as shorthand for "death and resurrection" because, seen from faith's viewpoint, death and resurrection is what love concretely means ... The usual promises we make each other stop short because we except the condition of death, because we reserve self-preservation; but to promise myself is to try to give up this reservation. Therefore to love is to accept death: it is to give up my cautious claims to hang onto myself, in order that there shall be no checks at all to our creating a mutual world. All love says, "'Till death do us part."

Therefore love is a promise to promise unconditionally. I said earlier that we cannot evade the condition of death, therefore that we can make no unconditional promises ... With love's promise of myself, this paradox becomes thematic. For if I give myself to my beloved, and from this acceptance of death in fact die, I am no longer there for anyone, including the beloved. and the gift is undone. Every radical attempt to love threatens itself with its own final defeat.

Love's self-defeat is well-known ... So we set out to be moderate in our loving--which is the same as hate. The identification of love and death, and the impossibility of love, are the great ineradicable motifs of the poetry of love.

Love could succeed only as death and resurrection ...

To say that Jesus--the content of his life assumed--died and rose again, is to say that there now exists one successful lover. "Jesus is risen" can be said: "A love has succeeded and will succeed"... And if we are to love, it will be when we are freed from having to hold on to our selves in order to survive. For now, there is a lover; and therefore we may now hope to love--which is more than enough.

--Robert Jenson

Justification and Judgment Day: Epilogue, The Obligations of Grace

Before ending this series, I wanted to add an epilogue connecting the work of John Barclay with the argument we've been exploring in this series. 

Specifically, how is it that justification can be based upon grace but judgment become based upon works? I believe John Barclay's very influential work on grace in his book Paul and the Gift can be illuminating on this point. 

In his book Barclay argues that grace has been "perfected" in various ways. If God is the perfect Giver then God gives perfect gifts. But what does a perfect gift look like?

Barclay suggests that, throughout Christian history, grace has been perfected in six different ways:
1. Superabundance
Grace is "perfected" if it is lavish and extravagant.

2. Singularity
Grace is "perfected" if it flows out of a spirit of benevolence and goodness.

3. Priority
Grace is "perfected" if it is unprompted, free, spontaneous and initiated solely by choice of the giver.

4. Incongruity
Grace is "perfected" if it ignores the worth or merit of the recipient.

5. Efficacy
Grace is "perfected" if it accomplishes what it intends to do.

6. Non-Circularity
Grace is "perfected" if it escapes repayment and reciprocity, if it cannot be paid back or returned.
Barclay's argument is that Paul's message of grace was primarily about the incongruity of grace. Grace is grace because it is a gift given to the unworthy. That seems banal to us, but Barclay points out that this was, in Paul's time and place, a radical notion. In the Roman first century context perfect gifts were gifts given to worthy recipients. Paul's gospel blew that idea out of the water and forever changed how we think of grace. Today it's a truism that grace is given to people who don't deserve it. That's what makes grace grace. This was the revolution at the heart of Paul's gospel. Grace is what obliterated the honor/shame distinction between Jew and Gentile. 

But for this series I'd like us to pay attention to Barclay's work regarding the perfection of non-circularity.

Non-circularity is the idea that grace cannot be repaid, that grace escapes the obligations of reciprocity. Grace is grace because we cannot pay it back. Because if we could pay it back, it would no longer be grace, no longer be a gift. Or so we think. 

Like the perfection of incongruity, this perfection of grace was foreign to Paul's world. Gifts were given in the ancient world precisely to create bonds of reciprocity and obligation. These bonds of obligation were what made the ancient patronage and gift economies work. True, elaborate cultural rituals were in place to obscure this fact--it would be crude and improper to try to repay the gift immediately and directly--but bonds of obligation were created by ancient patronage. 

So our modern notion that grace escapes repayment is a break with the ancient understanding. How did we wind up with this foreign idea? 

As Barclay recaps the story, the perfection of non-circularity emerged from the fires of theological debate in church history. Augustine vs. Pelagius. Luther vs. Erasmus. Calvin vs. Arminius.

At the heart of these debates was the amount of human participation required in salvation. As the debates were waged, the Augustinian, Lutheran and Calvinistic camps perfected the non-circularity of grace. Grace was 100% the work and initiative of God. Humans cannot repay grace. They shouldn't even try. If we tried to repay grace we'd destroy it. We'd be trying to earn grace, trapping ourselves in a works-based righteousness. And so the assumption took hold. Grace escapes repayment.

And yet, if you read Paul, that conclusion seems off. And that's the point that Barclay makes. Paul didn't perfect non-circularity. Theologians did, and we do, but Paul didn't. According to Barclay, and this goes to the point of this series on justification and judgment, Paul most definitely felt that grace should be repaid, that grace created bonds of obligation. As Barclay writes, "The incongruity of grace does not imply, for Paul, ... its non-circularity (since the gift carries expectations for obedience)."

Barclay calls this Paul's theology of "gift-obligation":
[T]he notion of a gift "with no strings attached" was practically unimaginable in antiquity...None of Paul's hearers would have been surprised to learn that as recipients of the divine gift they were placed under obligation to God.
For Paul, grace creates a covenantal bond, and covenantal bonds were most definitely circular and reciprocal. Think about how Paul, after describing the gift of grace in the first part of his letters, turns to the big THEREFORE in the second half, the part where Paul shifts to behavioral imperatives. Grace obligates you.

In short, Barclay makes the point that grace was unconditioned but not unconditional:
Paul thus combines two features that appear paradoxical only to us. On the one hand, he perfects the incongruity of the gift, its donation to those unfitting to be its recipients; on the other, he presumes its strongly obligating character...Here it is crucial to remind ourselves that a perfection of gift in one dimension does not entail a perfection in every other: Paul perfects the incongruity of the gift (given to the unworthy) but he does not perfect its non-circularity (expecting nothing in return). The divine gift in Christ was unconditioned (based on no prior conditions) but it is not unconditional (carrying no subsequent demands).
Grace is unconditioned, but not unconditional. I hope you can see how this insight illuminates the contrast between justification and judgment, how we can strike a balance between grace and works. 

Specifically, because of the incongruity of grace, that grace ignores the worth of the recipient, we get the idea from Paul that grace ignores our sin and our attempts at self-justification. Grace obliterates any distinctions of merit, and we can see how this obliteration did work for Paul in bringing both Jews and Gentiles to a shared table. We tend to forget how, for Paul, grace was primarily a tool for creating table-fellowship between Jews and Gentiles. This status-leveling in light of grace allowed Paul to form communities where Jews and Gentiles welcomed each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. As Paul sums it up at the end of Romans, Jews and Gentiles were to "welcome each other as Christ welcomed you."

Justification, then, is based upon grace, and due to its incongruity, grace really does ignore the merit and worth of the recipient. And yet, according to Barclay, grace is not unconditional. Once accepted as a gift you didn't deserve or merit, grace creates bonds of obligation. Grace perfects incongruity but leaves obligation intact. Grace requires repayment.  

This understanding of grace--incongruous but obligating--fits perfectly with the argument of this series. Justification does involve incongruity, a gift poured on undeserving sinners. But since this gift creates obligations, future judgment will assess how well we've fulfilled these duties and obligations. As Paul says clearly in Romans:
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8.1, 12-13)
Do you see it? There is NOW no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. THEREFORE we HAVE AN OBLIGATION. And if you fail in that obligation, if you continue to live according to the flesh, you will die. But if, by the Spirit, you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. 

The gift of grace is incongruous but obligating, and we will be judged accordingly.