‘Cessation of consciousness’ and ‘being’ constitute each other in God?

JensonChris Green’s “Robert Jenson” may be the truest representation of Jenson out there, better than photographs of him for capturing the colorful fire of his intellect and work; and my thanks to Caleb Sanchez for alerting me to this passage in Jenson (from On Thinking the Human). I’m traveling for the next few days and will have to wait to gather my thoughts in response to it, but I’d like to post it now and invite others to think through it in the meantime.

Regarding death, Jenson writes:

It has often been suggested that our immortality is in the mind of God, that although my death is simply my non-existence, this is not a sheer occurrence of non-being because the whole of my experience is preserved in his universal consciousness, because I am remembered by God. Such proposals do not work if we leave the matter where it is usually left, that is, if we presume with modernity that God is a monadic consciousness. Merely that I am remembered by you, even if you are God, does not help with the problem that presents itself to us, does not help my effort to think my own death. For me, the cessation of consciousness is exactly the same and remains exactly as unrepresentable whether you remain conscious of me or not; and we have seen that also “for me” must finally be dropped.

But the matter works out very differently if the Christian dogma just adduced is taken into account. It is a point belabored through all the centuries of Christian reflection: my existence as an actual other than God, my existence as “a” creature over against a God who is someone other than me…is enabled only by and within the otherness of the Son from the Father. But the Son’s death is integral to this otherness and so to this Sonship, and therefore to the relation within which my distinct being is enabled. And therefore the non-being to which I as creature return at death is integral to that relation within which my distinct being is enabled in the first place. The vanishing of being belongs to that relation between the Son and the Father which is the very life that is God, belongs to the Being that grounds all beings. The ‘mind of God’ is the reason and will lived between the Son and the Father in the Spirit, and to be remembered there is to live.

It may perhaps a little help understanding, if we recur to the analogy just used, of the created second-person. There is after all someone who sees me whole, and that is any of you. For to you I am an object, that is, you can and in some circumstances must deal with me as if I were an already known thing, and that is, as if I were dead. But you know the object I am as a presumed consciousness; I am for you a person-type object. Thus you, who know me as if I were dead, nevertheless can address me out of that very apprehension. And in hearkening and responding to that address, I too have myself as my object, that is, have my dead self as the content of my consciousness.

With these reflections we may seem to have undone my contention: we may seem to have found a way to think my death without invoking God. But of course this does not quite work. In the dialectic just described, you and I remain each partly aloof from the relation between us. Thus your consciousness of my dead self can indeed be communicated to me, but this consciousness that you enable in me cannot be wholly identical with my consciousness of my self, and so is not truly a consciousness of myself as dead.

But in God, according to standard trinitarian thinking, the persons Father, Son, and Spirit are identical with the relations between them none of the three has any position aloof from his self-giving to or through the others. The Father knows the Son’s death as god’s own, and so as his own, suffered in the person of the Son. The Son knows the Father’s continuing consciousness of his dead self as God’s own, and so as his own consciousness of his dead self, active in the person of the Father.

Here we must again take a step taken before: my being is participation in his triune Being. Thus the cessation of my being for my consciousness is participation in a mutual consciousness in which cessation and being each constitute the other. And that is a thought which, however difficult, can be entertained.

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