God as Sacrificial Love

eikremThere is much to say about Asle Eikrem’s God as Sacrificial Love (T&T Clark, 2018). I got out of pure interest, suspecting it would be another run of the mill passibilist account of God as being the truth of our pain and suffering. But it’s not that. It’s much more. I’m nowhere near processing it, but I’ll offer his thoughts on one issue about which we agree – mortality:

“To begin with, I will argue that death, as such, is no penalty. It is simply a consequence of being a finite human. Furthermore, Jesus did not experience death as absolute ontological separation from God. Rather his death and resurrection revealed the only relational power able to transform the meaning of mortality as an existential condition of humanity in a way that overcomes it as the ultimate threat to fellowship. Jesus did not die the death of a sinner, but died in God and so ‘by the power of an indestructible life’ he freed those ‘who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death’ (Heb. 7.16; 2.14b, Mk 5.36; 1Jn 4.17). Does this mean that the death and resurrection of Jesus do not confront human beings with their sin(s)? No, but this confrontation is not related to the manner of his death on the cross, but to his prophetic critique of injustice, his practice of healing and forgiveness, and in his resurrection from the dead. Also, and importantly, the resurrection of Jesus is not only that of someone who died, but also that of a murder-victim. The way in which Jesus died was an expression of someone becoming the object of sin (Rom 8.3). It was not a divine penalty, but an affliction brought on him by the hands of human beings. God’s ultimate judgement upon sin did not manifest itself in Jesus’ suffering on the cross, but in the empty grave.”

Regarding love as essentially ‘self-sacrificial’, he writes:

“The second line of critique rejects that just relationships will ever be established if we depart from explicating the relationship in God, and between God and humanity, by recourse to such relational dynamics. If self-sacrifice means self-emptying (or selflessness) it is a relational problem, not a solution. Insofar as true love requires the existence of relaters who are truly other to each other, the absorption of one of the relaters into the other makes true love impossible. What we need then is a notion of God, the relational life of whom is one of strict mutuality (or equality), both in relation to Godself and in relation to humanity…True love (or justice) will only be actualized where two (or more) persons give to each other without giving up anything of that which constitutes them as persons, that is, their capacity to pursue their own aims in freedom. This will neither be achieved if we base our moral lives on a Trinitarian theology according to which the Son gives himself up to the Father, the Father gives up his Son, or where the Father gives up himself in the Son. Correspondingly, the Christological problem is that neither a Christ emptying himself of his humanity, nor of his divinity, will actualize true mutuality. True mutuality is only present where the personhood and equality of all involved are preserved and nurtured.”

(Asle Eikrem is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Norway.)