Words I never heard in the Bible 5

The Insufficiency of Revelation

“God is insufficient in himself.” These scandalous words ended my last blog on this topic. Of course, I want to add that God has made himself insufficient by being the creator of the universe(s). It is, if you like, God’s will that she/he should be insufficient. The promise of the eschatological passages in the Bible is that God’s sufficiency will also be the sufficiency of creation, when it is brought to perfection. God’s sufficiency is communal.

One question that arises is whether the perfecting of creation is imaginable. Indeed, by what sort of judgement have I decided that it is imperfect? May not the present universe be the best of all possible worlds? My answer is that it may be, if there is no God. But if there is the God of love and justice depicted by the Christian tradition, then surely the condition of the earth, where hatreds abound and millions of people and creatures live and die without justice, can reasonably be called imperfect. I guess I might without faith have judged the universe to be imperfect, but in fact this judgement is consequent on my faith: the condition of the world is a challenge to the honour of God.

If, then, the imperfection of the universe is all too imaginable, can we imagine its perfection? I have already described the eschatology of the Bible as evidence of insufficiency; and this is true not only of its critique of the present, but also of its vision of the ultimate future, which provides prophetic glimpses rather than any detailed blueprint: death will be swallowed up in victory, there will be no crying or mourning or pain, God will wipe away all tears, God will dwell with his people and they with God. These glimpses are more statements of faith that there will be perfection, rather than descriptions of it. That is because we are not the creator or the makers of perfection. When we try to create our own heavens, we make our own hells.

Recognising our insufficiency as makers or planners of perfection is a moral, religious and political virtue. God is the maker of perfection, and we believe it will have the same marks of God’s character as have already been revealed in the world, especially in Jesus. That’s why the eschatological promises envisage the return of Jesus. In the process of perfecting the universe, God requests our cooperation; that we should continue to publicise the story of God, building communities of faith which are capable, with the Spirit’s help, of “living tomorrow’s life today” by sharing God’s love and justice with each other, and with our neighbours.

This does not abolish our imperfection and insufficiency. There have been and are churches which have imagined that God’s perfection is incarnated in them or in their hierarchies, allowing them to pass judgement on other human beings, to make absolute declarations of right and wrong, and arrogate to themselves the holiness of God. This is the behaviour of the High Priest who is so certain of what is good that he secures the crucifixion of Jesus.

By this time my acute readers will have sussed out that my notion of insufficiency has similarities with classical doctrines of the sinfulness of humanity and even of the saints. I am not opposed to these doctrines, but think that they need to be revised and to find their true place within the broader framework of insufficiency which I have tried to sketch in these blogs.

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