Christ & Horrors—Part 5

CHRIST_SUFFERING_FOOLS_by_vmaximusAdams concludes chapter 3 with introducing her answer to the question of who and what Jesus must be in order to provide Stage 1-3 horror-defeat. Reconceptualizing the natural human condition as “vulnerability to horrors” with the “inevitable loss of meaning” such horrors precipitate and the ‘sin’ that follows as a consequence, and her agreement with the patristic conviction that “what is not assumed is not restored,” Adams concludes that it takes a God-man to do the job–all of which I agree with. I nevertheless have mixed feelings about her chapter 3 conclusions. Here I want simply to present Adams’ views without comment and postpone my critique for the following post.

To being with:

“Because State-I horror-defeat turns on Divine solidarity with human horror-participation, it sets up counterpresumptions that Christ’s ante-mortem human nature will be as much like ours as possible, and that Christ will identify more with our present condition than with any putative past or future uptopic state. First, and most obviously, Stage-1 defeat requires that Christ share human vulnerability to horrors which arises from our being personal animals in an environment of real and apparent scarcity.”

Christ’s body “must be urged on by life instincts of hunger, thirst, and sex, and threatened by the built-in seeds of its own demise.” This is all involved in his “assumption” of the
temptationnature needing restoration. Christ grew from infancy to adulthood facing and struggling with all the same developmental issues we face. He had to grow in his understanding and abilities and experience all the paradigm-shifts common to human beings. Following Forsyth, Adams argues that “Jesus struggled to win the right focus for, and eventual mastery with respect to, His vocation.” The cry of dereliction is to be read in the Lutheran sense as viewing Jesus to have shared our sense of abandonment by God and of divine condemnation “which,” Adams feels “is surely incompatible with simultaneous beatific intimacy, and plausibly at odds with any simultaneous face-to-face vision at all.”

“When His subjective world goes to small at six months, or at the terrible twos or the Oedipal threes, or at adolescence, He must share our initial incompetence and confusion, the anxiety and tension that goes with floundering around for a new integration. This includes the trial and error of false and rejected solutions, at the cognitive and emotional, moral and spiritual levels. Moreover, fully to embrace our vulnerability to horrors would mean struggle and the not merely apparent but real possibility of His not striking an appropriate Eriksonian balance, even of going seriously wrong.”


“[S]haring our vulnerability to horrors means living in a horror-prone environment: in a material world like ours, with real and apparent scarcities that arouse fear and provoke competition; being reared by and living among other human beings who have negotiated their own radical vulnerability to horrors in skewed and neurotic ways.”


“[T]he Synoptic career does not require Him to have attained the optimal Eriksonian balance at every developmental stage, nor to have arrived at the threshold of His free from neuroses. Biblical prophets, John the Baptist, St. Paul, voices God’s message, despite their eccentric and abrasive sides.”

She’s not saying we’re “free to attribute to Jesus Down’s syndrome or paranoid schizophrenia.” But she “leaves it open whether He was dyslexic or beset with other ‘learning disabilities’.” And not surprisingly at this point:

“Jesus’ New Testament roles as teacher, preacher, and healer do not by themselves require sinlessness or moral infallibility. St. Paul enters all those roles, despite his self-declared status as ‘the worst of sinners’….Role-wise, it is John’s presentation of the relation between Jesus and the Father as that of exemplary mutual indwelling that sets the highest standards…For now, it is enough to note that the role – by itself – does not force maximization.”

For Adams, Christ’s human nature is what allows him to join us in horror-participation, and thus…

“…this identification with us in horrors is essential to Stage-1 horror-defeat and means that Christ’s ante-mortem career will not fully anticipate Stage-2 and Stage-3 defeat. The result is that we do not need to take on a commitment to Christ’s utter human sinlessness. We are free instead to admit that Jesus had to outgrow parochial racism under the tutelage of the Canaanite/Syrophoenician woman (MT 15:21-28/MK 7:24-30) and to acknowledge that He might have been harsh with His blood relatives!”

If you’re panicking at this point, perhaps this will help (and perhaps it won’t):

“Overall, Christ’s soteriological role as horror-defeater combines with His Gospel career to set the following limits on how much and in what ways He identifies with us. First, Christ could have only those human faults and psychological peculiarities compatible with such clarity of Godward orientation that people could reasonably take Him to speak and act of God’s behalf in His prophetic ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing. Second, He could participate only in those horrors that could beset a self-conscious, highly integrated servant of God.”

Let me steal two more quotes from much later in the book that expand on just what Adams insists Christ’s sharing our human nature entailed:

“My focus on horrors leads me to agree with Swinburne that the Divine nature is mutable and passible, although ever exercising self-determination over whether and how it changes. Taking a page from Hartshorne, I want to say that Divine omniscience involves God in feeling all our feelings, while Divine love for the world expresses Itself in the Trinity’s experiencing God-sized grief and frustration over human horror-participation. Such Trinitarian sympathy would mean that Godhead changes and is very likely acted upon. But it would not suffice for Divine solidarity in human horror-participation, for, however ghastly the things that we and God experience, the Divine mind cannot be “blown” by them; Divine meaning-making capacities cannot be stumped by them. God’s comprehensive consciousness recontextualizes them in a field that includes joy and delight in the Divine perfections, in the Divine persons’ love for one another, in cosmic excellencies beyond our ken…Put otherwise, even if Divinity is mutable and passible, the Divine Perfections in Their Divine nature are not vulnerable to horrors. For God to share horrors, God has to become the kind of thing that can be radically vulnerable to horrors. And this will require a finite range of consciousness with limited powers to cope.

Hold onto your hats. One last elaboration:

“God’s feeling in the Divine nature all the pains that creatures feel will not constitute adequate solidarity with human horror-participants. Divine consciousness is of immeasurable scope. God’s clear and comprehensive awareness of the Good that God is would radically recontextualize any creaturely pain and suffering that God might feel: what swamps a human consciousness would be a minuscule fragment of what occupies Divine attention…To show solidarity with horror-participants, God must experience evils within the limits of a finite human consciousness, with a mind that can be “blown” and at least prima facie unable to cope with horrors. The two-natures theory, Incarnation of a Divine person into an individual human nature, fills this bill….” [emphases in all quotes mine]

The smelling salts are in the cabinet. I’ll be voicing my agreements, reservations, and objections in upcoming posts in this series.

(Pictures here and here.)

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