What a challenging and insightful book Marilyn McCord Adams has given us. She opens (in “Posing the Problems”) by arguing that human existence involves “inevitable vulnerability to horrors” (“horrors” being “crises in personal meaning-making” precipitated by intentional acts of violence, innocently through unintended choices or by natural evils). Adams is a believer in free will (of the libertarian sort) though she says standard free-will explanations of our predicament don’t account for all horrors. Apart from our being free, the fact is that “human psycho-spiritual powers are not reliably great enough to achieve and sustain an appropriate functional coordination….” Given the natural contingencies and mismatches (mismatches described in Part 2) that define our life, horrors are inevitable, which leads Adams (as it does us all) to wonder why God would decide to include such inevitability. In this Part 3 I’d like to explore her answer, what she calls her “cosmological hypothesis.”
“…God must love material creation with a love that dual-drives towards assimilation and union. On the one hand, God wants matter to be as Godlike as possible while still being itself…Human nature crowns God’s efforts to make material creation – while yet material – more and more like God. On the other hand, God’s passion for material creation expresses itself in a Divine desire to unite with it, not only to enter into personal intimacy, but to “go all the way” and share its nature in hypostatic union.” (Emphasis mine)
The first assimilative aim goes a short way in explaining why God would create us in our sort of material world: we need room to grow into Godlikeness. But letting creation go to “do its thing” makes us radically vulnerable to horrors. Why, Adams wonders, wouldn’t God “settle for natural kinds that exhibit lower grades of Godlikeness but whose specimens are not so vulnerable to functional ruin” (e.g., pebbles and streams, mountains and frogs)? The answer for her comes in God’s unitive aim wherein God aims to share created nature in the most intimate way possible — hypostatic union. God’s assimilative aim entails a certain “letting go” of creation so that it can “be itself” in its Godlikeness while God’s unitive aim drives toward personal intimacy via hypostatic union. Personally I see these two as a single purpose at work in all that God creates but reaching its peak in divine-human hypostatic union in Christ. Ultimately it’s the Incarnation that fulfills God’s purpose for creation.
“[B]ecause God this aim is prima facie self-defeating, Divine intimacy with human persons – among other things – takes the distinctive form of identification with us in horror-participation, which prima facie defeats the positive meaning of God’s human career. Divine solidarity with us in horror-participation weaves our own horror-participation into the warp and woof of our own witting or unwitting intimate personal relationship with God.”
“Because Divinity so mismatches creatures that a metaphysical size-gap yawns between us, Divinity is a good incommensurate with both created good and created evils. Likewise, personal intimacy with God that is on the whole and in the end beatific is incommensurately good for created persons. By catching up our horror-participation into a relationship that is incommensurately good for us, Divine participation in horrors defeats their prima facie life-ruining powers.” (Emphasis mine)
“…God – metaphysically speaking, what God is – is the incommensurate good, radically outclassing any created goods or evils. Generally speaking appropriate relationship to good things is good-for us. We are good to children when we feed them nourishing food, provide them with a stimulating education, give them opportunities to view the world’s great art. Likewise, appropriately relating us to the right goods is one way for God to be good-to us. Christian tradition affirms that intimate relationship with God which is on the whole and in the end beatific is incommensurately good-for created persons. My conclusion is that the only currency valuable enough to make good on horrors is God, and the horror-participation’s overall and eventual beatific intimacy with God.” (Emphasis mine)
This beatific effect of the divine incommensurate good is made available to humankind through the Incarnation, though given our vulnerability to horrors this means God in Christ also becomes vulnerable to horrors; and his horror-defeating work is our salvation.
“To defeat horror-participation within the individual created person’s life, God must weave it into the fabric of that individual’s intimate and (overall in the end) beatific personal relationship with God.”
Horror-defeat takes place in three stages:
- Stage-I Horror-defeat: Divine intimacy between God and Creation via incarnation/hypostatic union becomes the occasion of divine horror-participation. Here the “materials for lending positive meaning to any and all horror-participation” are made available within history.
- Stage-2 Horror-defeat: Because meaning-making is a personal activity, and because our meaning-making capacities are so often distorted, these capacities require healing and coaching.
- Stage-3 Horror-defeat: The relation of embodied persons to their material environment must be renegotiated so that we are no longer vulnerable to horrors.
Stage-I horror-defeat is achieved in Christ’s facing-down and defeating our horrors on the Cross. Stage-II horror-defeat describes the life-long incorporation of Stage-I truths into our experience (privately and in the Church as that community where “healing” and “coaching” occur). Stage-III horror-defeat is the future glorification (“renegotiation”) of the material cosmos rendering it void of vulnerability to horrors.
She ends this chapter with the only question worth asking at this point: Who would Christ have to be, what relationship to God and humankind would Christ have to have, to accomplish this saving work?
Now we’re talkin’.